Five Tips to Make Feedback Count

When leveraged appropriately, feedback can be a tool to further employee development; however, in many companies, the process of delivering feedback becomes an “event” and ultimately undermines employee engagement.

In the latter instance, employees can become defensive rather than receptive; managers often dread having performance conversations; and the organization does not benefit from a potential increase in productivity or innovation that a candid, constructive dialogue might provide.

Here are five points to bear in mind when providing feedback:

Make it consistent. Feedback should not be an “event” that’s tied only to performance reviews, or worse, only to performance improvement plans. The leaders who are most respected are those who take the time and are involved enough with their employees to provide meaningful feedback on a regular basis. Acknowledging employees when they are doing well and quickly addressing areas that need improvement in the moment builds trust and respect in the long term because employees know they are getting the straight story in real time, and that there will not be any surprises at review time.

Don’t base information on impressions or assumptions; ask questions. For example, if an employee needs to be given feedback on not handling a client request well, leaders can consider asking questions about what they were hoping to accomplish in the interaction. What did they think the client was really asking for? How did they did decide on their approach? What type of outcome were they hoping to achieve? By assuming that employees’ intentions were positive, it takes them off of the defensive, allowing for a problem-solving discussion where both parties are invested in getting to a better solution or outcome.

Tie feedback to employees’ personal or professional aspirations. Leaders must take every opportunity to become an “ally” rather than a “critic.” If employees are working to get to the next level but need to work on presenting more professionally, the leader can let them know when their messaging or delivery is sub-par by offering constructive suggestions on their presentation and tying feedback to the achievement of their goals. At this point, the communication becomes less about “fixing” something and more about helping them get where they want to be.

Link feedback to the big picture. Good leaders give meaningful, informed feedback and tie it to honoring the needs and values of the business and its stakeholders — customers, investors, suppliers and other employees. When having performance conversations, leaders must be sure the feedback they’re sharing is tied to the bigger picture as it depersonalizes the information.

Allow feedback to go both ways. Employees needn’t be the only ones who grow based on constructive feedback; leaders can consider soliciting it as well — that way, employees will know that they’re walking the talk. Requesting feedback enables leaders to enhance their rapport with direct reports, who are less likely to perceive feedback as a personal attack and will likely feel less vulnerable in receiving difficult information.

Deborah Busser is a partner at Essex Partners, a consultancy that specializes in senior executive and C-suite career transition. She can be reached at