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How to provide constructive feedback and why is it important?

98% of employees tend to lose motivation and engagement when offered insufficient feedback (Hubspot).

Feedback promotes personal and professional growth. It is about listening actively, taking the time to analyse and then thinking of the best possible solution to perform better. It provides positive criticism and allows to see what everyone can change to improve their focus and results. Constructive criticism in a workplace is important for the development of the workforce, whether it is a manager delivering a performance review to a member of a team, or an employee giving briefer feedback to a colleague. It’s likewise important in an education environment to ensure students will be as successful in their learning as possible, and to remove any possible challenges in the way.

Why give constructive feedback?

The meaning of constructive feedback is to reflect effectively on an individual’s performance, acknowledging positives, but identifying where their skills are lacking and providing productive and constructive advice, which will help them improve in the identified area. Are you considering filling skill gaps in your organisation? Basegreen Academy provides tailor made learning solution to suit the needs of your organisation. Request a complimentary consultation.

Sadly, statistically individuals only apply feedback 30% of the time, according to neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner from Columbia University. Constructive criticism is an important communication and management skill which leads to the improvement and motivation of a workforce. Managers who received feedback on their strengths have shown to be 8.9% more profitable (LinkedIn study). Any continuous good efforts should be praised, whereas any unsuccessful attempts or mistakes should be criticized effectively in a way that leads to productivity, rather than shutting down the employee’s drive and positivity. The same applies to learners in education. To further learn about constructive feedback and applying effective feedback methods in the education sector, consider our Level 3 Award in Education and Training, which serves as an introduction to the further education sector (available online or in our head office – upcoming dates: 16th of August; 22nd of November). The topics covered also include maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment, relationships between teachers and other teaching professionals and assessing learners. For those wishing to progress further, we also offer a level 4 certificate and a level 5 diploma in Education and Training.

Please feel free to view and print our Constructive Feedback Poster to use in your office space or classroom (structured by Charlotte Leary and designed by Judith Gallova).

In this article, we will thoroughly discuss and advise effective ways to deliver feedback, taking into account constructive feedback methods for leaders in a workplace, managers and other individuals in a place for authority, as well as teachers, individual employees and even students, who may want to give feedback to their peers.

Tips for delivering feedback:

1. Help the recipient of feedback feel comfortable: This is usually a long-term process rather than something that is easily created in one session, though both in long-term and short-term timing efforts should be made for the individual to feel safe. Creating good and trusting relationships in a work or education environment creates a friendly space and opportunities for open, two-way conversations. It encourages the individuals to receive feedback and provide their own input. Good communication increases productivity and morale of your workforce or learners. View our article “The Skills and Characteristics of a Good Manager” to read more about effective communication and the importance of trust and positive relationships in managing, leading and inspiring others.

2. Apply the feedback in relevant timing: Frequent performance reviews provide a more specific and accurate evaluation of efficiency for the individual. It can be hard for individuals to sum up their action and performance over a long period of time, and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Providing infrequent performance reviews can also have an effect on the manager’s or other reviewer’s memory and the feedback can easily become biased.

3. Be straight forward, but positive: Negative feedback should be given honestly, with no “sugar coating” – however, it should always be delivered using positive language, such as saying “What can you do to further improve your knowledge in this area?” rather than “Why are you under-performing?” Ensure to also recognise the individual’s positive efforts. 78% of employees feel motivated when they are recognised (Hubspot).

4. Apply effective methods of feedback – see below:

Feedback can be delivered ineffectively:

Destructive feedback: Destructive feedback is a non-efficient, unproductive way of criticism, which can go as far as to feel like a personal attack. It doesn’t acknowledge any positives or suggest any constructive advice for improvement. This method is a complete no-go and should always be avoided.

The feedback sandwich: The feedback sandwich is a method that is intended to assist in providing employees with feedback, making it easier to provide any negative criticism. It consists of starting with praise, blending in some criticism and finishing the conversation with more praise. However, it has been found to be a largely inefficient method of giving feedback. The problem with this method is that mixing both negative and positive feedback undermines and lessens the effectiveness and seriousness of both. For example, if an employee is told “you are organised and have a great work ethic, BUT you need to develop your customer service skills”, the feeling of achievement and praise immediately reduces, because there is a “but”. Likewise, ending the discussion with positive feedback softens the negative feedback, and while it may feel more pleasant at the time, it makes the negative feedback seem less serious.

So what to do then? Effective methods of feedback:

WWW – “What Went Well”: WWW is an example of positive feedback and means expressing how valuable the individual’s efforts are, as well as asking positive questions such as “What went well? How are you going to continue to improve?” 69% of employees have reported they would put more effort into their workload if their continuous efforts were being recognised (LinkedIn study). This is space to give praise for employees’ (or students’) hard work and recognise all of their effort. It’s productive and beneficial to go into detail, as when we are going to provide criticism, we likewise need to mention specifics, in order to come up with a plan for improvement (see “‣ The meaning of setting SMARTER goals:” below).

EBI – “Even Better If“: Praising alone does not help an employee or student in their development and career or in the growth and success of an organisation. Rather than blending criticism with positive feedback, it is advantageous to make negative criticism very clear, but deliver it with positive language. An example of constructive criticism is “it would be even better if…” As mentioned above, it’s important to go into specifics, in order for the individual who is receiving feedback to be able to learn and grow from it, instead of just feeling disapproval but left with no targets or aims to improve.

Feedback cycle: 68% of employees who receive constructive feedback report feeling satisfied in their job role (Clutch). Employee satisfaction potentially leads to further success for the organisation. Companies that offer regular feedback report 14.9% lower turnover rate (Hubspot). Providing constructive feedback effectively, specifically negative feedback, can be done using the following cycle:

  1. Discover issues: Identify any skill gaps or space for improvement and back it up with evidence.
  2. Analyse causes and consequences: Examine the situation: why is this person struggling in this area? What are the negative consequences of this situation? Is this a problem to this person’s career or our organisation, and if so, how impactful is it?
  3. Create solutions: Seek to create a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic solution within a reasonable time frame (see “The meaning of setting SMARTER goals:” below). Deliver feedback to the individual, provide constructive advice and discuss solutions with them.
  4. Commit to action: When the action plan has been created and confirmed, action should be taken. We can refer to our SMARTER plan to manage our timing and measure progress.
  5. Evaluate performance improvement: The last step is to use evidence to evaluate and record all of the progress. Did the plan work? Where is there still space for improvement? How valuable was setting this goal to this individual; what difference will this make? Will a similar plan be potentially applied to other individuals in our organisation/education department?

The meaning of setting and using SMARTER goals:

Feedback, if given correctly, sets clear expectations and allows employees to set and achieve SMART goals; or better yet, SMARTER goals. SMARTER objectives and SMARTER targets make our goals clear and easier to achieve,

What does the SMARTER acronym stand for?

1. Specific: The more specific and clear we are about what we want to achieve, the simpler it will be to identify the right way to accomplish it. Setting vague goals doesn’t create a clear expectation or send us in a single direction, and therefore doesn’t help us realise what we need to do in order to achieve these goals. For example: it’s not useful to merely set a goal of “increasing sales”. Rather, we want to know the details of where we aim to be; a goal of “increasing sales by 20% by November” is much more productive and helpful. Specific goal setting also means a group agreement on what we want to achieve. For example, an employee and a manager should both agree on the improvement of the employee’s customer service skills. Then they can work toward ways to achieve that goal, such as further training.

2. Measurable: Every goal needs an indicator of progress – otherwise we couldn’t decide whether we have achieved the goal or not. If an employee’s personal goal is to, for example, gain extra skills in management, they could complete a test and repeat this test after they have been trained. The test would in this case be our means of measuring this employee’s goal. The way we measure our goals are vast, as it greatly varies depending on the goal we want to achieve. Our progress should be tracked throughout our journey to meet our goal, and examined to see if our efforts are effective in getting closer to achieving it.

3. Achievable: The achievability of individual and company goals largely relates to time and resources. If we can estimate our progress in the next 5 years, we may find that we are able to set much higher long-term goals than our short-term goals. To successfully identify which goals we’re able to achieve, it’s good to ask: Do we currently have the resources and time? Have others completed a similar goal in a similar position?

4. Realistic: Are your goals within reach? While our goals should be challenging, we have to be realistic about them: a small company cannot overtake Apple overnight. They can, however, take smaller steps and become a rising competition over time. Smaller, but challenging goals are reasonable, and contribute to growth of both companies and individuals.

This point is sometimes replaced with Relevant, depending on what it is we’re setting to improve. Indeed, both Rs can be used. To make our goal relevant means to evaluate whether it is profitable to invest time and resources in pursuing this goal. For example, if we are a owner of a restaurant, and we find that our chef could improve their customer service skills – is this something worth investing in, if they rarely communicate with customers? Would they benefit more from a management course?

5. Time frame: Taking into consideration all of the other SMARTER points, what is the best time frame we can set to achieve our set goals? A tight time frame can be motivating to us when we take steps to achieve our goal, but we want to be realistic as mentioned above. However, setting a time frame that is too long can also lead to demotivation and a sense of nonurgency. The ideal solution is to find the right balance between the two.

After completing these steps, and coming up with a plan to reach goals of improvement, we want to go a step further and apply the two remaining letters of SMARTER:

6. Evidence (or Evaluate): Referring back to “Measurable”, we want to examine the evidence of our problem, as well as the evidence of our improvement, what effect it has on our workload and how it will help us to improve further. The aim is to reflect on the efficiency of the plan – did it work? Which aspects of our goal have been achieved and where is there room for improvement? Can we apply the solution to future goal setting?

7. Recorded (or Re-evaluate): In terms of both feedback and goal-setting, it’s good to keep track of all the above points, and which goals we have been able to meet. This gives insight into the bigger picture and future development. If a similar opportunity to set a goal arises, we can use the recorded data and re-evaluate the success.

If you are in a position of giving feedback to employees, learners or other individuals, it will be valuable to incorporate all of the above points into your feedback sessions, while giving them advice for improvement.

For example, the feedback process for someone working in an office environment could go as follows: Thomas has just been promoted to a manager of a team of 5. He is very good at his job, but data and feedback in the company (Evidence) shows he sometimes struggles to lead others, create strategic plans and manage progress and individuals in his team. As he is the manager, the reason for concern in his skill gaps is relevant (Relevant).
He needs to improve in these areas, and in order to do this, he will complete a Level 3 Management course (Specific). The course lasts 12 months, and Thomas will be expected to achieve his goals of improving in leadership and management by this time (Time frame). This is achievable, as other students have successfully taken the same course (Achievable). Thomas is able to complete this on a flexible learning schedule which will adhere to the demands of his work schedule (Realistic). Thomas’ progress will be tracked using evidence methods of data and feedback, as well additional feedback from his tutor and the success of his assignments (Measurable). Finally, all of the above will be recorded for the purposes of keeping track of the bigger picture of Thomas’ professional progress, as well as development of his company (Recorded). It is important to note however, that in every company there are different demands and opportunities in development and goal setting.

The ideal way of delivering people doesn’t put us in control of other individuals, but puts the control in their hands, and creates an emotional connection to a goal, which will motivate to strive to be better.

Use training to develop your workforce’s management, teaching or communication skills further

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