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How to Provide Developmental Feedback


We dread feedback. We fear hearing it. But feedback is the key to improvement.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”– Bill Gates

Feedback is not simply evaluating performance. It goes above and beyond telling an employee what they have done well or wrong. Rather, feedback should focus on the “how”- how can performance can be improved. Despite the importance of developmental feedback, it can be difficult to give it as many people rather give praise than developmental feedback.

In this article, we give some tips on how managers can provide developmental feedback to their direct reports.

How to give developmental feedback

1) Focus on behaviors and be specific

The benefits of behavior-based feedback (instead of trait-based feedback) has been discussed by numerous psychologists.

Let’s compare the following pieces of feedback

Example 1: You are awesome and you did a really good job yesterday.

Example 2: The three examples you gave in your presentation quarterly yesterday were very helpful to the non-tech team in the meeting.

Which example do you think would be better at driving performance? Example 2 of course – it is specific and describes a behaviour that the employee can continue to do.

When describing behaviours, it is also important to take the time to be specific and provide context. The receiver of feedback may understand conceptually what “continue to provide great examples during our meeting” means, but giving past examples of performance will give some context to the behaviors and help ensure that the direct report is on the same page.

Check out these effective employee feedback examples for more help. In the examples, make note of the verbs that are used (they are action-based verbs, not trait-based verbs).

2) Do not sugar coat the feedback

A spoon full of sugar will not make developmental feedback go down. Sugar coating developmental feedback, using the feedback sandwich, or choosing to use ambiguous statements when giving feedback will not improve employee performance. Moreover, your overall message may be diluted (i.e, the employee may think the one piece of critical feedback isn’t a big deal or isn’t high priority if you give that feedback with two pieces of positive feedback). At the end of the day, improvement in employee performance is the goal. Be direct and be kind.

Because many managers can struggle to give feedback, providing the right education/training/workshops on feedback (the importance of feedback, how to give feedback, how to receive feedback, etc.) and the right tools (how will feedback be documented?) is essential.

Recommended tool: If you are looking for a continuous feedback software to document your check-ins or a performance review software that truly develops and motivates employees, feel free to check out Pavestep.

3) Encourage a two-way conversation

During feedback conversations, managers should encourage their employees to voice their own opinion on what they think they are doing well or where they are struggling. These types of conversations allow the employee to provide context for any potential performance gaps. It also gives employees the opportunity to ask their managers for advice, which helps build trusting work relationships. To facilitate open ended conversations, managers should ask open ended questions (see below for some examples).

Useful Phrases for Giving Feedback

If managers are having difficulty initiating developmental feedback conversations, we outline some useful phrases and questions below.

Phrases to begin the feedback conversation:

  • I’ve noticed that __________.
  • What do you think the reason is for __________.
  • I’d like to talk about ____________ with you, but first I’d like to get your perspective.

Phrases to suggest improvements:

  • [X] needs to be improved so that __________. Let’s look at how we fine tune your approach to [X].
  • [X] and [Y] are great, but [Z] needs work. How do you think you can improve __________? What obstacles would be in your way to improve __________?
  • Instead of doing [X], what are your thoughts on doing __________?
  • Here’s what/how I need you to improve __________.

Questions that facilitate two-way conversations:

  • Do you think I give you enough feedback? Do you want more feedback?
  • What could I do (as a manager) to make your work easier/ more effective/ more productive?
  • How can I better support you? Is there anything I could be doing better or differently?
  • Is there a situation/objective/task you’d like my help with?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

We hope you find these points insightful. For tips on setting managers up for success to give constructive feedback and encouraging a two-way conversation, check out our webinar recording with LifeLabs Learning!

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