Developing Your Talent

Employees Need Feedback to Get Great

By JC Heinen on March 6, 2013

Coaching is a delicate balancing act between knowing when to offer developmental feedback and when to praise. Without the balance of both, employees are less likely to stretch themselves, grow and excel in their roles. Your feedback helps them ‘get great’.

Unfortunately, some managers avoid delivering even the most constructive feedback because it’s uncomfortable and they don’t feel prepared to deal with possible reactions.  While other managers take a heavy handed approach and deliver feedback in an overly critical fashion.  Neither approach works effectively with employees who are struggling to master necessary competencies – and both fail to provide adequate coaching and support.

In her Harvard Business Review blog, Sometimes Negative Feedback is Best, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson makes a case for the importance of “critical” or “negative” feedback in the workplace. It seems that positive feedback is the darling of business experts, while negative feedback is largely ignored – or even disdained. Dr. Halvorson asserts that there’s a time and place for both, and that critical feedback is a vital component in performance improvement and talent development.

Dr. Halvorson cites a recent study that delineates the different functions of positive and negative feedback: positive feedback, for the most part, increases commitment to the work, offers encouragement and boosts confidence; negative feedback is typically informative and constructive – providing direction as to priorities and “insight into how [the employee] might improve.”

Here are four easy steps for tailoring your feedback:

  • Make it a habit. Build coaching conversations into routine meetings and daily interactions.
  • Be timely. Don’t wait too long or the opportunity is missed. Deliver “in-the-moment” feedback when behaviors are observed.
  • Coach. Offer guidance and support to help employees achieve desired goals.
  • Demonstrate respect. Provide developmental feedback in private with professionalism, tact and with specific examples.

Remember, newer hires require more positive feedback as they navigate new company processes, procedures, products, relationships and culture. More experienced workers also respond favorably to positive feedback; but, in addition, need critical feedback and coaching to stay on course and improve performance.

2 Responses to “Employees Need Feedback to Get Great”

  1. Tim Sarette

    Typical responses to critical feedback given to employees include a request for more details, and deflection to “others are doing the same thing”. I’ve found that being specific about the behavior needing correction, while suggesting that the person is performing well in other areas helps with the employee accepting the input. A reminder that the critical feedback is to help the specific employee, with a reminder that all employees are being held to the same standards may also help.

    • Lee Hecht Harrison

      Good advice, Tim! Criticism without context can feel threatening. It’s always a best practice to reinforce that the purpose of the feedback is to help the employee achieve their full potential. Thanks for your comments!


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