How to provide constructive feedback and why is it important?

Are you aware that 98% of employees tend to lose motivation and engagement when offered insufficient feedback (Hubspot)? Our tips for providing constructive feedback will encourage motivation and productivity among your employees. The use of SMARTER goals, that we will discuss below, will set achievable milestones and generate improvement.

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.

3 employees discussing in an office. To efficiently give feedback, they could use tips for providing constructive feedback.

Why do we need tips to provide constructive feedback?

The meaning of constructive feedback is to reflect effectively on an individual’s performance, acknowledging positives. However, a part of giving constructive feedback is also 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 solutions to suit the needs of your organisation. We offer both online and in-person qualifications across the United Kingdom. Request a complimentary consultation by sending us an enquiry.

Is constructive feedback regularly applied?

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. T

o learn more tips for providing 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 Sheffield and Barnsley training centres). 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.

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

Employees agreeing to a solution in a meeting

Tips for delivering constructive feedback

1. Apply 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. This way, feedback can easily become biased.

2. Be straight forward, but positive when applying feedback

Next of the tips for providing constructive feedback is to 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).

3. Apply effective methods of feedback – see more below

Speech bubble which is often used when referring to feedback

Ineffective ways to give feedback

1. What is 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.

2. What is 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.

Woman at work, focused

So what to do then? Effective methods of constructive feedback:

The next part of our tips for providing constructive feedback are the methods below.

1. WWW – What Went Well

WWW, or What Went Well, 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).

2. 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.

3. 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:

Worker giving feedback in an office

4. Discover issues

Identify any skill gaps or space for improvement and back it up with evidence.

5. 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?

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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?

Workers planning in an office. Are they using SMARTER goals?

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. The S stands for 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. Therefore, it 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 (find out more about Basegreen’s training offer).

2. The M stands for Measurable

Every goal needs an indicator of progress. Otherwise, we aren’t able decide whether we have achieved the goal or not. It’s no good to use tips for providing constructive feedback if we cannot measure the outcomes. 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.

Analysis - is your goal measurable?

3. The A stands for 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. The R stands for Realistic or Relevant

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. The T stands for 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:

Man working in an office, seems happy

6. The E stands for 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. The second R stands for Recorder 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 tips for providing constructive feedback above into your feedback sessions. They should also be given advice for improvement.

A worker in an office. Does he apply constructive feedback?

How do SMARTER goals contribute to our tips for providing constructive feedback?

For example, using these tips for providing constructive feedback, 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 has been performing well in his role. However, 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. It creates an emotional connection to a goal, which will motivate to strive to be better.

Analysis using charts

Will you apply these tips for constructive feedback?

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Article by Judith Gallova