feedback examples

Here Are Examples of How to Give Effective Feedback

This time of year brings performance reviews, which are a pain. Here are feedback examples that will help you and your employee.

Even though the annual performance review is still alive, it’s on its way out. Adobe, Expedia, Microsoft, and Kelly Services are just some of the firms that have dropped the annual review. That process, developed in the 1940s by big business, has long been a plague to managers and employees alike.

It’s time to find examples of feedback that are more palatable to all and that are more effective. That’s the purpose of this article.

Before going into what to do, let’s start with what not to do. Have you been using the sandwich method to give feedback? If so, it’s time to move on.

Forget the Sandwich Method

The sandwich method has you start with praise, then layer in the negative feedback, then end with praise. The idea is that praise at the beginning and end eases the pain of the negative feedback, for the manager who has to give it and the employee who receives it.

The problem with the sandwich approach is this. In any conversation or encounter, we remember first what we heard last (praise). Then we remember second what we heard first (praise). Everything else (negative feedback) is quickly forgotten.

The next time you hear a speaker, pay close attention to where the speaker puts the greatest emphasis—on the beginning and the ending. The words in the middle almost disappear.

What Works When Giving Feedback?

I encourage an approach that ties the feedback into an employee’s goals. I believe it’s important that we revisit our performance goals often, so we can accomplish them. Going over goals once a year leads to those goals being forgotten.

It’s also important that the feedback is given in focused, smaller chunks that the employee can absorb and act on. That’s why I’ve developed the Feedback in 15 method. It’s easier on the manager and more meaningful to the employee.

It’s what we do when raising children. Catch them when they’re doing something right and praise. Correct them before a small mistake or questionable judgment becomes a major problem.

Feedback in 15

1. Set aside time for the session. Plan for 30 minutes, but aim for 15. With experience, your sessions can be so focused that you and the employee can achieve your goals in 15 min.

Nothing else takes place during that time. No phones, no email, no interruptions unless someone is dying.
Conduct the sessions in a neutral setting, such as an unused office or conference room.

If at all possible, be at a round or square table. That equalizes the encounter. If you’re sitting behind your desk, you are reinforcing your stature as the boss. If you’re at a conference room table, sit on the side of the table, not at the head.

2. Be focused. You can only tackle one topic in 15 minutes.

If the employee has asked for feedback, have them think through their issue ahead of time and bring notes. By thinking through the problem in advance, they can focus their message and not get distracted by miscellaneous details.

Ask them to address these points:
• Why this issue is important to me
• Relevant background information
• Challenges I’m facing
• Options I’m considering
• What help I want from my manager

3. Opening lines …

The purpose of our meeting today is for you to catch me up on your progress and for me to coach you around a specific area or problem that needs to be improved.

What are you most proud of since we last talked that you want me to know about? Follow up with questions about what the employee learned, whether he get out of his comfort zone or took on responsibility for fixing something that no one else had noticed.

You did a good job with __________

4. Probing questions…

I’d like to hear how you tackled X problem.

Help me understand your thinking in that situation? NOT: What were you thinking?

What have you learned from that experience?

If you’re in the same situation again, how would you do it differently?

What do you need to learn in order to do that differently/achieve better outcomes? Who can advise/teach you that?

5. Questions to move on . . .

How can I help you? [builds positive relationship with employee]

Where will you learn that X and by when? Let’s set a specific goal around that.

Which of your personal goals does this situation fit under?

6. Restate the outcome. . .

I’ve heard . . . and this is what you’ve committed to do. (Paraphrase or summarize your discussion.) Do you agree?

Let’s plan to meet again on date and time. Keep up the good work.

Other Approaches

Marshall Goldsmith, a well-known speaker and writer, has a system called Feedforward. As the name implies, it focuses on the future, not the past. You can learn more about his approach here.

Paul English, CEO of Kayak, uses a 5-word method to give feedback. Read this interesting interview with him to see if this approach would work for you.

An interesting study of feedback in the Journal of Consumer Research concludes that as an employee get more experience, he is more interested in negative feedback. “Positive feedback increased novices’ commitment and negative feedback increased experts’ sense that they were making insufficient progress,” the authors write.

This Inc. article quotes a study where researchers found that 19 words made feedback 40% more effective by beginning the session saying this: I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.

© Pamela A. Scott, 2106

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