A Manager's Playbook: Perfecting Feedback Delivery

April 1, 2024

We’ve all been there.  Sitting in anticipation as we dial into our annual performance review discussion cautiously awaiting feedback.  Our palms sweat as we envision how our manager will attempt to condense our six months of hard work into a 30 minute chat, in a non-awkward way.  With our expectations lowered, the conversation begins and our fate is delivered with a lot of fluff or no explanation at all.

As employees, our performance review experience has most likely run the gamut across our careers, including everything from a terrible performance review discussion to never having one at all.  Performance reviews are known to be high stress and low impact in organizations, which as an employee keeps you waiting, wondering, and worrying about your future, your impact, and your bosses qualifications.

As a manager who delivers feedback to your employees, how do you set yourself up for success?

It starts with self-reflection and an openness to feedback yourself.  What do you bring to the table in these situations based on your own experience as an employee, and your skillset as a leader?  Have you taken the time to learn feedback delivery best practices, or have you been thrown into a management role with little to no training?  Maybe you even find yourself  being asked to review the performance of your former peers who are resisting your promotion since they were passed over.  

Despite the process that currently takes place within your organization, I’m willing to bet that what you’ve personally experienced as an employee throughout your career has impacted the way that you deliver feedback. Have you stopped to consider what your feedback process consists of?  Have you ever asked your employees about how receiving your feedback makes them feel? Have you reviewed your performance review performance?!

Whatever the politics, past, and pressure of your particular organization and team members, there is some good news for managers.  At the end of the day, you’re in control of these conversations! As a manager, your role in providing constructive and effective feedback is pivotal to fostering a positive work environment. In this blog post, we'll explore what you can control, and how you can assess and enhance your feedback style to better support your team members.  So let’s dive in.

Reflect on Your Communication Style:

Begin by reflecting on your communication style. Consider whether you tend to focus on strengths, areas for improvement, or a balanced combination of both. Assessing your natural tendencies will help you understand your default feedback approach so you can adjust as necessary before you begin the conversation.

Analyze Consistency:

Consistency in timing, frequency, and communication across all team members. Inconsistencies can lead to confusion and a lack of clarity regarding expectations. Strive for regularly scheduled feedback discussions outside of the official performance review cycle – even better if you help your organization move away from annual performance reviews!  Start with bi-monthly meetings and see how that cadence works for your team.

In addition to aiming  for fairness and equity in your assessments, it’s crucial to deliver real-time feedback to your employees in order to give them the highest chance of transforming their future behavior, reactions, or performance.  Whatever feedback situation you find yourself in, don’t let the fear of saying the wrong thing hold you back from connecting with your employees.   You can always leverage tools like Pando that surface career frameworks to help you ensure the feedback is relevant to your reports level, role and  is actionable.  

Seek Employee Input:

Encourage open communication by seeking input from your team members. Ask them about their preferences regarding feedback delivery. Some employees may prefer direct and candid feedback, while others may value a more collaborative and constructive approach. Tailor your style to meet individual needs and help your people feel seen and heard.  

Set Clear Expectations:

Ensure that your team members understand the expectations for their role and level. Clearly communicate goals, milestones, and the criteria against which they will be evaluated. This clarity not only helps in performance assessments but also empowers employees to proactively work towards their objectives. Getting employee buy in on expectations…

Focus on Specifics:

The power of feedback really comes down to timely and specific feedback.   Take time to prepare your conversation by anchoring your comments to specific competencies/expectations previously outlined and agreed upon during the previous development discussion.  Generic feedback can be less impactful. Instead of providing general statements, focus on specific examples to illustrate your points. This not only adds credibility to your feedback but also helps employees understand precisely what behaviors or actions are being addressed.  You can use career frameworks as a reference to ensure your feedback is relevant to the level of your report.

Emphasize Positive Feedback:

While addressing areas for improvement is crucial, don't underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Acknowledge and celebrate achievements, milestones, and positive contributions. As humans, we need 5 positive interactions to counterbalance one negative interaction. Recognizing and celebrating wins creates a motivating and supportive atmosphere.

Encourage Goal Setting:

Collaboratively set future goals with your team members. Use employee calibration conversations  as an opportunity to discuss career development, skill enhancement, and professional growth. Engaging employees in goal-setting fosters a sense of ownership and commitment.

Stay Open to Feedback Yourself:

Finally, be open to feedback from your team. Create a two-way dialogue where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on your management style by requesting feedback regularly and in specific areas you are developing. Use their input as a valuable resource for continuous improvement.

Be Fearless:

As a manager, it is important to expect the unexpected.  Bring awareness to your own emotions about giving and receiving feedback and remember that you’re human too.  This process isn’t about being perfect; it really is about an opportunity to be honest and foster connection with your team.   Dare I say it? Be vulnerable.  It’s okay to say “Hey, these conversations can be a bit awkward at first…” The more straightforward you are, the more your employees will respect you and the less you and your team will fear these conversations.  

Mastering the art of feedback is an ongoing process.  By reflecting on your communication style, ensuring consistency, seeking employee input, setting clear expectations, focusing on specifics, emphasizing positive feedback, encouraging goal setting, and staying open to feedback, you can enhance your effectiveness as a manager and contribute to the overall success of your team. Remember, effective feedback is a powerful tool for fostering growth, engagement, and a positive workplace culture.  It’s also the most important way you can impact your people, grow as a leader, and find value in your own contributions to your organization.

Ashley Paré is the CEO & Founder of Own Your Worth®.  She’s helped thousands of women grow careers on their own terms by being authentic in tough conversations, building bridges through negotiation, and trusting “no” is not the end.  As a Leadership Coach & Keynote Speaker, Ashley gives clients the tools to own their worth in order to create wealth, power and impact.   

Join us April 16th for a live discussion and Q&A

If you're looking for more insight into empowering managers, join Ashely for an interactive training and coaching session to learn best practices for supporting your managers in the best feedback delivery tactics.