What To Say When Giving Feedback To Your Employee

Giving feedback is probably the most important thing you do as a manager.  Feedback is how employees know whether they're on the right track, and whether what they're doing will help in achieving the organization's goals.  Managers often miss opportunities to give valuable feedback, though, because they want to think about it or find the right time, and the right time never seems to come.  The key is to be ready to give feedback at any time, and there is a simple three-part model that you can use to give both supportive and corrective feedback at a moment's notice.

In order to be effective, feedback should contain three core elements:

  • Context: some reference to the situation in which the behavior was observed or occurred 
  • Behavior: what the employee did or said (or didn’t say or didn’t do)
  • Impact: how the behavior affected the individual’s and/or team’s ability to be successful


You probably already know that feedback needs to be specific and timely.  But what are you supposed to be specific about?  The purpose of feedback is to help the employee understand the impact their behaviors have.  To do that, you need to let them know what prompted the feedback.  This will help ground your feedback and keep you from making sweeping generalizations that will make the employee feel defensive.  Ideally, the feedback should be so objective and observable that the employee is not able to argue with it. 


The behavior component helps to identify specifically what the employee needs to do or not do.  Tying the feedback to actions helps motivate the employee to change (or to continue, in the case of positive feedback) because behaviors are easy to adapt.  The worst kind of feedback gets into character or personality issues - things the employee cannot change and probably doesn't want to.  The other benefit of being specific about behaviors that were actually observed is that there is no opinion involved.   


When you’re unsure about whether or not to give an employee feedback about something, focusing on the impact can be helpful.  A behavior that has a significant positive or negative impact on the team’s or individual’s ability to achieve the goals of the team, it is worth addressing.  This includes obvious things like meeting deadlines, but it also includes less-obvious things that affect team performance such as negative attitudes or unwillingness to pitch in on others' work.    If the "impact" is that it is different than how you would have approached it (while still arriving at the right result),  that's probably not worth giving feedback about.  

Each component is important, and you can cover them in just two sentences.  The basic template is: "When ____________, I noticed that you ___________.  That affected the team by ________________." You'll of course want to frame it in a way that is authentic for you - just make sure you have all three elements.


"When we had the XYZ presentation last month,  I noticed that the slides you used had outdated information and typos, and your talking points seemed unfocused and disorganized.  This affected our ability to get the input we needed because the confusion prompted so many questions from the participants."

"In the past two team meetings, you noticed when not everyone has spoken up, and you invited input from both Amy and Kevin in the discussion.  That helped us to identify some important potential issues we had not considered, and Amy and Kevin have been contributing more since then as well."

"I have received feedback from several people on the team that you have not responded promptly to their requests for information on the Acme project.  We've missed a crucial deadline because they weren't able to complete all of the necessary steps."

"When you were explaining our work to the new CFO on Friday, I noticed that you made several positive comments about the accounting team and the project our two teams collaborated on.  That affects our team by showing the new CFO that we are collaborative and a resource for her, which will make it easier for us to request additional budget if we need to."

There will be some cases where you need to add additional information or an explicit request for change.  Any time you give feedback, though, it should start with these three components: context, behavior, impact.  

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