You’ve had an employee blow a deadline or miss the mark on a project or presentation. But you’re avoiding providing feedback.

Key Tips for Delivering Feedback:

  1. Prompt but not “in the moment”
  2. Constructive and with intention
  3. Treat it as a conversation
  4. Focus on details
  5. Don’t Over-explain or sugarcoat it
  6. Provide action items

Prompt

Give the feedback promptly. Don’t wait until the employee’s annual review to tell him/her about it. He/she will have no time to fix the issue before it negatively affects his/her performance review and raise. Plus, you will be dealing with months of sub-par performance.

On the other hand, do not provide feedback in the heat of the moment. If you are particularly annoyed or mad, the feedback will come across more reactive and emotional. Give yourself time to cool off and then provide the feedback while the details are fresh in your mind.

Constructive

The goal of feedback is to improve the employee’s performance and help the employee succeed. Keep that intention in mind when delivering the news. If you strike a tone that shows that you care about the employee’s success, the employee will be more receptive to the feedback.

Conversation

Approach the meeting as a conversation. Ask the employee if it is a good time to have a conversation. If it is not, the message will get lost. Come back when the employee is less busy or distracted.

Ask the employee about the project: What went well? What could have been better? Maybe the employee is aware of the issue already but unsure how to fix it.

If possible, deliver the message face-to-face. If face-to-face is not an option due to work location, use a video conferencing or telephone (if no visual option exists). Reading non-verbal cues can be critical to determining if the employee understands the message and is on board. Email is the worst form of communication for feedback. It avoids confrontation, but it can be easily misconstrued.

Details

Focus on the details and actions that fell short of your expectations. Rather than saying, “you don’t seem focused on your work or committed to the company,” give details about how the employee has missed project deadlines and turned in finished work with errors. Inform the employee why their behavior affects the company or organization. It may seem obvious to you that late work or tardiness affects the company, but their impact may be lost on the employee.

Don’t Over-explain

At the same time, do not provide too many details that your message gets lost. Sometimes, in an attempt to soften the message, managers provide too many details and filler content. The message gets watered down, or worse, lost entirely. The commonly given advice to sandwich constructive criticism between two items of praise is ill-advised. It hides the real message. Promptly give positive feedback when it is warranted, and the negative or constructive feedback will be better received, since the message is not always negative. In addition, providing prompt positive feedback encourages the desired actions and behaviors to continue.

Action

Provide the employee with specific goals to achieve going forward. Be specific about the behavior you want to see going forward. Rather than say, “you need to turn it around,” say “you need to turn your work in by 5pm on the date you said that you would have it completed and ensure that it is spell-checked and proofread.”

Other examples of action items include:

  • Specific hours of work arrival and departure
  • Required training courses to complete
  • Defined objective measures of quality or productivity as goals

If the issues are serious and ongoing, schedule regular check-ins to discuss the progress on the action items. If there is improvement, be sure to inform the employee. Recognizing the positive change will encourage more change and build trust.