Giving Effective Feedback to Employees: Do’s and Don’ts

Writing Performance Appraisals

The Dos and Don’ts of Employee Performance Appraisals

To my friends, I described it as ‘an out of body experience.’ It was in reference to the annual performance review given to me by my boss a few years back, which left me dazed and confused.  The reason being quite simple: he was ill-prepared, could not give any specific examples of how I did, and the whole time it felt like he was talking about someone else.  Not that the review was bad; I just had no idea what he was taking about.  After a 90-minute lunch at a local diner, I had nothing to take with me in terms of things I could improve upon, strengths that I should employ more, or any sort of direction for the next year.

Every year, most of us spend a lot of time evaluating employees and writing performance appraisals.  (Examples of employee performance reviews) But giving effective feedback to employees is about more than just a written document.  Unlike my own experience a few years ago, performance appraisals are about having a genuine, well-constructed dialog with each member of your team to discuss how they are doing, areas for improvement, and what you expect in the next year.  Because so much time goes into the process, the evaluation and the actual conversation, don’t blow them off.  Taking the time to do it right can help steer a high caliber employee in the direction, and can effectively address performance problems on your team.

So that you don’t give your employees an out-of-body experience like the one I had, here are 15 tips for giving effective feedback to your employees:


1.  Do Take Performance Reviews Seriously

Though in the grand scheme of things, sitting down with your employee for an hour or more once a year may seem like a waste of time, feedback is a gift.  Performance appraisals are a mechanism to help employees learn and grow, as well as a means of forcing certain necessary conversations that we as managers would sometimes like to avoid.  Take the process seriously to ensure the long-term health of your organization.

2.  Do Plan Ahead for Each Review

To get the most out of the feedback session with your employee, it’s best if you spend some time (before the meeting) going through your notes and preparing specific comments for each employee.  “Winging it” is not good strategy, because it’s very likely you will leave some comments behind and miss a few important points.  A full teleprompter speech is not necessary, but notes and main talking points are.

3.  Do Solicit Input from Others

A good vehicle for giving good, well-rounded feedback to your employees is to get input and feedback from others.  We all know you can’t be everywhere at once, so collecting input from other managers who may work with one of your employees on a certain project can give you some valuable perspective you may not otherwise have.

Follow This Path by Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina

Follow This Path is a fantastic book and guide for managers looking to improve the performance of their teams. Coffman and Gonzalez-Molina tap into mountains of data from the Gallup Organization to demonstrate how the best results come to organizations that enable employees to use their raw talents to the fullest. This is a very easy read and is full of real examples of how a modern approach to running businesses results in enhanced financial performance.

4.  Do Set Aside a Significant Amount of Time

With all the things that go on throughout the day, finding time to spend with your employees can be tough.  But setting aside sufficient time to meet with each employee is extremely important to make sure you are not rushed, and that the review can mature into a conversation.  Consider the time you spend giving feedback to the employee an investment into the next 12 months.

5.  Don’t Dive Right In

In order to make sure the feedback you give the employ is effective, don’t jump right into the commentary.  It’s quite likely the employee is walking into the performance review a little uneasy.  Take a few moments to break the ice and to help you both relax – talk about the game the day before, or the plan for the weekend coming up.

6.  Don’t Dominate the Discussion

Employee performance reviews should be two-way conversations, not monologues from you.  While you are indeed providing feedback, be sure to allow the employee to respond and reply to your comments.  A great way to do this is to ask coaching questions throughout the discussion.

Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore

John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance
is a light read containing many great tips and concepts that will help managers improve their mentoring and coaching skills. John uses various sport analogies and other simple examples to help convey ideas concerning the role of a coach, the relationship between coach and coachee, and the importance of teams, all of which translate well into the business world. Of particular use to the reader are the numerous lists of bulletized questions and notes, which serve as a quick reference guide for the reader.

7.  Do Make Eye Contact

Eye contact is extremely important when providing feedback to employees.  Even if the conversations is a difficult one, eye contact with employees makes the feedback you give real and sincere, to both you and the employee.  Even if they avoid looking at you, force yourself to look them in the eye when you’re telling them that spending all day on Facebook while at work is not acceptable.

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8.  Don’t Dwell on the Past

True, true, giving effective feedback to employees means you are talking about how they’ve done over the past year and identifying things they can improve upon.  But part of your conversations should also be about their future – their career interests, their goals, your vision for their future, your expectations, etc.  Don’t just critique what they’ve done the past year.  Treat the conversation as a moment in time, acknowledging the past, but also looking ahead toward the future.

9.  Do Say What Needs to be Said

Performance reviews are just that: a review of an employee’s performance, conduct and body of work for the year.  Though they can often be awkward for both the employee and you, the manager, both of you know the point of the discussion is to talk about performance.  If you have a performance concern, address it.  Even the most difficult conversations can be held in a professional manner.

10.  Don’t Focus on the Negative

With limited exception, there are positive comments you can make to even your most difficult employees.  Say what needs to be said, but be sure to provide positive commentary as well, to deliver balanced feedback.  Simply dwelling on the negative will leave the employee with not much to reflect upon except for all the things they’re doing wrong.

11.  Do Use Specific Examples to Make Your Points

A component of giving effective feedback to employees is to use specific examples of his or her specific behaviors.  Specific examples help make the feedback real and tangible to them.  Examples also give the employee a means of understanding to how their behaviors are perceived by others.  They may see their interjection of ideas as a good thing, when to you, interrupting an executive mid-sentence may not be acceptable conduct.

12.  Don’t Fall Into the ‘Weakness’ Trap

Giving effective feedback means you provide perspective – both positive and negative.  Too many managers equate feedback to correcting weaknesses.  Not everyone can deliver a speech like a CNN Anchor, nor will all of your people be able to think on their feet in the same way.  Embrace their differences.  Rather than trying to correct weaknesses, focus on maximizing strengths.

Please Answer This Question in Support of our Management Research!

(Results Will Display After You Answer)


Which best describes the work-from-home policy at your firm?
  • We have a highly virtual workforce
  • People can work from home whenever they want
  • Some people work from home, depending on their boss or job
  • From time to time, but not too often
  • We do not really encourage or want people working from home
  • Rarely, or not possible for our organization

13.  Don’t Generalize Where Not Appropriate

If an employee came to a meeting late two times over the year, don’t tell them they need to work on their timeliness.  If it was something that’s been observed by others or otherwise recorded, it may be ok.  Generalities, when unfounded, can be dangerous because they may lead the employee to believe you do not see their contributions. Only generalize when you have the data to stand behind.

14.  Do Document Your Comments

They’re people, not gadgets you’re writing about for the next issue of Consumer Reports.  Though some companies may be less formal, it’s always a good idea to document employee feedback such that the individual can go and read comments later.  Even if you don’t have a formal tool at your company, writing down your employee performance feedback serves as a formal record of the conversation.  Further, some employees will simply not hear what you’re saying because getting in-person feedback can be awkward.  A documented set of comments will give that individual a chance to read the feedback later when they’re in a more private setting.

15.  Do Ask for Feedback on Your Assessment

At the end of the review, specifically ask the employee if they disagree with any of the comments, or if they feel the feedback was fair and reasonable.  This is a great way to let the employee speak his or her mind, express any concerns or disagreement.  It’s not about having them shower you with compliments on how accurate your review was.  Rather, their response helps you gauge if your comments were reasonable and fair, and make sure both of your are aligned on the overall discussion.


Looking for more?  Check Out:

The Importance of Asking Coaching Questions

7 Ways to Boost Morale

How to Write a Performance Appraisal

How to Manager Your Friend




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