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How to Give Feedback: 7 Tactics

What's a cheap, fast, and easy way to stoke employee productivity and interest? Tell them how they're doing.

Most executives are more knowledgeable about hardware infrastructure and software applications than they are about the people they work with. But investment in people delivers far higher returns. Companies don't come up with ideas; people do. So stop agonizing over your IT spend and start developing your people.

Here are seven approaches to keep in mind:

Dole out feedback immediately

Feedback should be relayed as soon after an event or action as possible. Otherwise, the input isn't memorable and may not come across as sincere. If someone was very helpful, creative, or insightful at a meeting, say so before you leave the room. One of the reasons computer games are so compelling is because they deliver instant feedback to drive engagement. There's a lesson in that.

Make it frequent

Don't wait for annual or quarterly appraisals. On a regular basis, think about the key people you work closely with and ask yourself: What have they done recently that was great? Then email or call them and communicate these messages. Make this a habit. Actively look for feedback moments.

Offer detailed comments

Generalized, vague feedback–"You're doing a great job"–is nice but not effective because it doesn't tell the recipient what they can do more of. So describe specifically what was good and why it was important. This kind of feedback is more powerful because it shows you paid attention and it shows you are sincere. It also tells your colleague what to build on and repeat.

Be appropriate, of course

Negative feedback should almost always be articulate privately and is always better face to face. It should always be accompanied by recommendations for improvement. "This didn't go well but it will go better if you..." Negative feedback without any recommendation provokes anger or frustration and is likely to leave the recipient feeling powerless.

Make sure you get your facts right before making a judgement, too. Don't just assume you know why a mistake happened. Questions are better than answers here: What went wrong? How do you think we could have handled this better?

Consider how the individual receiving feedback likes to communicate. Some like email, others like phone calls, some prefer texting, or instant messaging. Different generations have distinct preferences too. Where possible, give feedback how the other person desires to receive it.

Offer relevant points

Only give feedback on stuff that matters. Compliments on clothes, sun tans, or, say, weight loss are great for friends but not for colleagues. All feedback should focus on behavior that makes a difference to the business or an individual's ability to conduct business.

Be careful with comparisons

Where appropriate, make comparisons with prior performance ("We're getting much better at this!") or with competitors ("Exxon could never do this!"). This builds pride and a sense of accomplishment, which both drive the desire to do better still. Do NOT ever compare employees with peers or direct reports or any one else inside the organization. That only creates gossip and politics.

Make a difference

Without feedback, people feel invisible and insignificant. They may feel that they, and their hard work, are taken for granted, or that you don't care about them or their work. This only makes it more likely they won't care about you and your work either. Feedback builds and reinforces the connection between you.

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Last updated: May 15, 2012

MARGARET HEFFERNAN

Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.




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