How to Give Constructive Feedback as a Manager

Giving effective feedback as a manager
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How to Give Constructive Feedback as a Manager

Giving and receiving effective feedback is an important part of growing professionally and personally. Constructive feedback can motivate an individual to learn more and push them to be the best they can be. Insightful feedback, when delivered thoughtfully and objectively,  can show people you value them, boost their confidence, and even inspire them to learn and grow. 

Feedback can also cause more harm than good if shared improperly. If shared in the wrong environment or with the wrong tone, you could cause the recipient to become defensive, offended, and even closed off. That’s why it’s key for managers to learn how to properly deliver both positive and negative feedback efficiently and, most importantly, effectively.

In this article, we look at why effective feedback matters and how you can give and receive feedback that lands. From interesting metrics to helpful delivery frameworks, here’s your guide to giving effective feedback as a manager: 

Why Good Feedback Matters

It’s in managers’ and companies’ best interests to give constructive feedback; however, 23% of employees are unsatisfied with the frequency they receive feedback from their direct manager. Studies show that employees who receive feedback more regularly are more engaged, productive, and less likely to leave their organizations. Here’s a closer look at the data:

  1. Feedback Increases Productivity. Recognition is the number one thing employees say their manager could give them to inspire them to produce great work. In fact, 80% of Gen Yers said they prefer on-the-spot recognition over formal reviews.
  1. Feedback Boosts Engagement. 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized.
  1. Feedback Improves Employee Retention. A 2011 Gallup study found that individuals who received feedback on their strengths had 14.9% lower turnover rates than employees who received no strengths feedback (controlling for job type and tenure). 

Unfortunately, not all feedback is positive. Many managers dislike sharing negative feedback with their direct reports and actively put it off until performance reviews or until something balloons up into a larger issue. In fact, 44% of managers said they find sharing negative feedback difficult and stressful. But, putting off sharing negative feedback can hurt working relationships, hinder an employee’s ability to grow personally and professionally, and can even impact disadvantaged groups unfairly. 

It’s better to address an issue early on to make an employee aware and give them time to fix or improve their behavior. Plus, the more you give (and receive) effective feedback, the easier it becomes. Share your constructive feedback and share it often—your employees will thank you.  

A manager gives her employee a few pointers and shares effective feedback with her using the SBI model.
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

How Managers Should Give Effective Feedback

When it comes to giving effective feedback, there are three distinct steps to keep in mind. You want to remain objective by focusing solely on the situation, their behavior, and the impact of their actions. This is a common feedback delivery model called the Situation-Behavior-Impact™ model, or SBI™.

1. Situation

Giving effective feedback as a manager must start with you outlining the specific situation you want to discuss. This is to ensure you both understand the context behind the conversation and both agree on what occurred or continues to be an ongoing issue. Just make sure you conduct this conversation at the right place and the right time so your employee is more open and receptive to what you have to say. For example, saving your feedback for a private 1-on-1 conversation, rather than after a team meeting when prying ears might be loitering around or your employee might be on edge.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when outlining the situation:

  • Be Specific. Pick a specific and recent instance to discuss. Anchor your conversation around something that happened recently and that you both remember. Stay away from solely discussing something that happened weeks or months ago. Your memories of that event will probably be less clear and you might end up making generalized or accusatory statements that could set your feedback recipient off. 
  • Avoid Generalizations. Avoid using words like “always,” “often,” and “never” as these can immediately put your recipient on the defense. Notice the difference in tone between “You are always late for meetings” and “I’ve noticed you’ve been late to our last two team meetings.” The former leaves no room for discussion and generalizes all previous occurrences, while the latter is more open and simply lays out indisputable facts. 

2. Behavior

Next, you’ll want to address the precise behavior you want to discuss. During this step, it’s imperative that you share only what you’ve personally observed and you stay as objective as possible. Again, you don’t want your direct report to become overly offensive or they will shut out your advice, so simply state the facts and then move on to the next step of sharing effective feedback: Impact.

  • Stick to Observations. When you’re explaining the situation, stick with the facts, what you personally observed, or what you know explicitly happened. Don’t include heresay or any unvalidated remarks you heard from someone else, as this can make the recipient think that you are taking someone else’s side or that you don’t trust them. Use statements like “Yesterday, I saw…” or “The last two times we met with the Engineering team, I noticed…” so stick with indisputable, concrete examples that don’t come off as accusatory. 
  • Stay Objective. Be careful not to inject any of your own assumptions or biases into this part of the discussion. Stick with the facts only. For example, if one of your direct reports got into a heated argument with another teammate and stormed off in the middle of a meeting, you might address their behavior by saying, “It seemed to me you were frustrated in yesterday’s team meeting. I noticed that you left the meeting without discussing next steps.” If instead you shared, “I spoke with Jim after your altercation in the meeting yesterday and he is feeling very disrespected,” your employee might think you’re siding with Jim since you spoke with him first and start getting overly defensive, killing your shot at sharing effective feedback.

3. Impact

Next, you should share the broader implications of this specific behavior. Share the impact this behavior has on you, your team, your client, the rest of the business, etc. Take this time to explain the scope of the issue and why it’s important for you both to discuss it now

  • Share Why This Matters. You need to help the recipient understand why you’re discussing the feedback now and why this issue needs to be resolved in a timely manner. For example, if reckless behavior could cost you to lose a client’s business, if a rogue statement is hurting team morale, a mistaken calculation could jeopardize the success of a project, etc. This shares the gravity of the situation and gives context to why you’re bringing this to light now.
  • Ask to Hear Their Side of The Story. Sharing effective feedback is never a one-sided discussion. Once you’ve shared your observations, give them the opportunity to share their perspective. This can also help you discover the intent behind their actions and help you realize if this might actually just be a small misunderstanding with an easy resolution. Asking questions like “What is your perspective?” and “How does this resonate with your experience?” gives them the floor to share their side of the story and show you’re open to working with them to find a resolution.
A manager shares effective feedback with her direct report during a one-on-one meeting.
Photo by You X Venture Studios on Unsplash

4. Define The Way Forward

Now that your effective feedback has been heard, it’s time to ensure your conversation inspires change. Next, you’ll want to outline any next steps and come to a resolution with your employee. This is a collaborative step and it’s imperative you get your employee on board in order to find a lasting and effective resolution. After all, if you don’t have their buy-in, odds are any solution you propose will be short-lived.

  • Emphasize Finding a Solution. Here’s where your tone really comes into play. Try to keep the conversation and your tone pointed positively to the future. How can you both work together to improve the situation and keep the topic at hand from continuing? Try to frame the conversation around finding and working toward a solution together to avoid putting all the blame or burden on the feedback recipient.
  • Regularly Check-in. Once you have come to an understanding or agreed on an improvement plan, schedule a regular check-in to discuss progress or add it to your 1-on-1 meeting agenda. This will not only help you both stay accountable but also help you touch-base on the situation as it either improves or worsens. 

Finally, remember that everyone receives feedback differently. What works for one employee, might not necessarily work for another. If certain feedback doesn’t land well with a member of your team, don’t let the conversation develop into a blame game. Learn from the experience and try a different approach next time. Again, the more you share effective feedback, the easier it will become, so keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. 

Interested in learning more about how to give and receive effective feedback?

With classes like “Give Feedback That Lands,” you’ll learn a research-backed approach to giving corrective and positive feedback, and how to follow-up so that effective feedback leads to action. Learn how live online training can help your business and be scaled, delivered, and measured for any-sized remote or hybrid team.

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