It is never an easy conversation when you have to confront an employee about something they are not doing correctly at work, but following these steps can help lead you in the right direction. Here are 25 of the best examples of constructive feedback for managers to use.
1. Focus on Alternatives
As a manager, you are primarily responsible for providing a path to success for your employees. This also extends to any mistakes they might make. But when you provide constructive feedback, it’s often a better idea to focus on alternative solutions rather than emphasizing the mistake in question. Having a solution up your sleeve before the constructive feedback meeting even begins also makes you look quite capable to your subordinates.
2. Be Upfront About Mistakes
While you can’t be too negative to your employees unless you want their feelings to be overly hurt, you shouldn’t sugarcoat things. It’s important that constructive feedback is known for what it’s saying: the employee could be doing something better. Be upfront about what they are slacking on and what they need to improve without going overboard and making it seem like a personal issue. Oftentimes, employees don’t mean to do subpar work, but something got in the way and prevent them from giving it their all.
3. Avoid Too Much Negativity
As mentioned above, it’s a wise idea to avoid turning constructive feedback sessions into overly negative moments in an employee’s day. It only takes a single bad conversation to ruin the day for some people, and this can turn into an entire workday of productivity down the drain. A good idea is to come up with what you’ll say to an employee beforehand before actually having a constructive feedback conversation. This will help you avoid saying anything that’s too dramatic or aggressive, especially as you take individual communication styles into account.
4. Individualize Your Feedback
Similarly, treating every constructive feedback conversation as an individual discussion between you and an employee is by far the better way to go. Reading a constructive feedback conversation from a piece of paper or from rote memory is a great way to lower employee interest and help them tune out everything you’re saying. Take their individual skills and experience into account as you provide your feedback and talk to them in a way that works best for information transmission. Your employees are individuals, not robots.
5. Give Clear Guidelines
When you have a constructive feedback conversation, it’s important that you include clear guidelines about employee activities and their future performance. Using actual metrics like goals for weekly or monthly improvement is often a great idea. This gives your employees clear expectations and provides a timeline. They know they need to improve or fix some aspect of their behavior before this point or you’ll have another constructive feedback conversation.
6. Bring Up Positive Stuff
Managers who are dealing with particularly sensitive employees will likely want to use this tactic fairly liberally. It’s a proven strategy to sandwich criticism between two compliments, as this lessens the impact of the negative feedback and let the employee know that you do recognize their positive contribution. Again, you can’t go overboard with this unless you want to risk your employee taking the wrong message from the conversation as a whole. But there’s nothing wrong with pointing out victories as you discuss places where improvements could be made.
7. Talk in a Private Place
Managers should always provide constructive feedback in locations away from the prying eyes of the public and other employees. Many people feel embarrassed even if the constructive feedback isn’t that drastic or terrible. Making your employees comfortable by having the discussion in the break room when no one is there or in your office will help them receive your feedback more graciously and will prevent them from feeling resentful.
8. Listen to Their Responses
Too often, bosses and managers give out constructive feedback and expect that the conversation is simply over. But oftentimes, employees may have well thought out and mature responses. It will do you both good to hear these responses, even if they are just excuses. This binds you together more completely and tells the employee that you are willing to listen to any possible reasons they might have poor performance. You may even discover that they had a perfectly good reason to be late, for instance.
9. Offer Ways in Which You Can Improve
Many times, it’s not just a single employee’s efforts or failures that cause a problem; it’s oftentimes a group effort where multiple people make mistakes. A good tactic for managers to use is to point out their own laws are places where they could improve. Not only does this show humility on a personal level but it tells the employee that you’ll both be working together to get better, making them feel less alone and strengthening your team spirit.
10. Allow Written Exchanges
Some employees just do better with written constructive feedback rather than verbal. Maybe it’s less intimidating or they find that they get flustered when they have to explain themselves in person. If you have several individuals like this on your team, you might consider delivering constructive feedback in a written format. You can also include a response sheet with the feedback if you want to follow the response advice mentioned above.
11. Be Patient
When offering constructive feedback, many managers expect that a single conversation is all that will be necessary for a problem to be solved. But some employees, even though they are great and other aspects, may take several conversations before they make meaningful change. It’s important to moderate your impatience and give people a few chances to improve depending on the severity of the issue.
12. Be Consistent
If you do need to punish someone or offer constructive feedback, you must remain consistent with your interactions between your workers. If people say that only certain employees get constructive feedback for actions while others are let off the hook, those you offer constructive feedback to will likely not listen.
13. Provide Resources
Managers often make mistakes during constructive feedback conversations when they don’t offer resources or training materials to help the employee correct their issue. In fact, many employee problems arise from improper training or from them not knowing the proper procedure for things. Giving them the materials they need to immediately improve shows that you are willing to work with them on the path to bettering their performance.
14. Don’t Hold a Grudge
After the constructive feedback conversation is over, that’s it. Don’t bring it up again unless your employee does voluntarily and don’t treat them differently at other work events or in the near future. Until an employee proves otherwise, you should treat them as mature adults who know how to change their behavior and act accordingly.
15. Be Prescriptive, Not Accusative
Tailoring your constructive feedback can be tricky, but being prescriptive rather than accusative is always the way to go. Prescriptive means that you explain what the employee did wrong and have a solution ready for them to take up. Accusative means that you point out their failure as if they meant to do you personal harm. This causes resentment and is the opposite effect you want from one of these conversations.
16. Don’t Take Things Personally
Whenever a manager runs a team or small company, it’s tempting to take any infraction personally, especially if you identify with your company strongly. But remember that your employees don’t make mistakes on purpose (most of the time), so don’t let any real frustration bleed into your constructive feedback. Employees pick up on that stuff and may react poorly as a result.
17. Be Precise With Your Feedback
It does no one any good to be too general with your feedback, either positive or negative. When you offer constructive feedback, you need to be specific about the things your employee could improve on and possible solutions. Don’t be so abstract and just tell them they need to improve their customer connection or be better at sales. This will require that you study beforehand, but it’s needed if the feedback conversation is to be a success.
18. Make Deadlines Real
Some employees have had too many constructive feedback conversations to count. As a result, they may not treat these conversations with all the seriousness they want. It’s uncomfortable at this happens to you, but you must hold fast to your deadlines and take reprimanding action if your employee does not improve on time. This serves as an example to the rest of your employees and may have the desired constructive effect that the conversation was supposed to inspire in the first place.
19. Be Open to Suggestions
While it’s your job as a manager to have several solutions on hand before you begin a conversation, your employee might also have a few solutions of their own. For instance, if they don’t work well with one of their coworkers, they might suggest transferring to a different department. Don’t let your predetermined solutions like you to other alternatives, which may work better than what you thought up.
20. Never Get Angry
A boss or manager is supposed to be above many of the petty emotions of an office or business. Even if an employee gives you a rebellious attitude or talks back, you must retain control of your emotions and never get angry. Not only does this protect you from legal action but it also shows you as a respectable and mature individual to your other employees.
21. Don’t Gossip
If you do give constructive feedback to one of your employees, don’t spread it around. Just like you are supposed to get this feedback in a private spot, you should also not tell anyone else about your personal business between you and that employee unless they bring it up first. Even then, it’s probably best not to talk about the feedback at all; after all, it doesn’t involve anyone but you and the original employee.
22. Offer Praise Accordingly
Constructive feedback is all well and good, but you should also praise your employees if they make meaningful changes and take your suggestions into account. Employees are more likely to do better than before and continue improving their efforts if they know you are noticing their actions as a result of your feedback. This doesn’t have to be anything blatant; just a note on her next performance review is usually enough to do the trick.
23. Ask For Their Side of the Story
If there’s ever an interpersonal issue you need to provide feedback on, it helps to get both sides of the story, not just the accuser’s. As a boss or manager, you are supposed to be relatively impartial in any disputes. Make sure you don’t feel like anyone is being treated unfairly by asking for everyone’s side of the story before handing out your feedback. This also helps avoid bias in potential situations where you might be blind to one side of the conversation or unintentionally favor somebody who may actually be at fault.
24. Be Prompt with Feedback
If an employee makes a mistake or does something necessitating strong feedback, handle it by the next day at the latest. You don’t want to let too much time pass between the incident and your feedback. The issue remains fresh only for so long and an employee could feel that you are being arbitrarily mean or unfair you bring up any infraction they performed many months prior. This is also difficult to record for HR purposes and in case you need to move on to harsher reprimands and potential termination.
25. Be Sincere with Your Concern
It’s important that your employees know that you are sincere with your concern about their performance and their effect on the company, not just harping on them because they did something wrong. This is easier if your employees already feel like you care about their well-being and performance, so this aspect of constructive feedback begins with your day-to-day activities in the workplace. But even during the conversation, you can say things or take steps to make it clear that you are providing feedback for the general well-being of everybody, not just because you like to punish rule breakers.
The keyword here is constructive. Getting angry and accusing your employee of doing something wrong will only lead to feelings of resentment, and in turn an unfixed problem. Following these guidelines and showing your employees that you care for their growth in the company will lead to a solution that works for both of you, and for the betterment of the company.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.