“Say What?” — How to Offer Effective Employee Development Feedback

By Plum

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Foster Feedback Success with Strategies and Best Practices for Evaluating Employee Performance


There is no shortage of ways to provide employee feedback. Holding one-on-ones? Using a 360? Offering in-the-moment feedback via an app? Soliciting self evaluations? Rating people on scales or against behavioral checklists or career objectives?

Still, for all the ways we have developed to review performance, many people struggle with offering effective feedback. Here are some actionable ways to offer effective employee development feedback.

Feedback Obstacles

There is little more frustrating than trying to improve when you lack a clear idea of what you’re doing wrong. Yet while many organizations today provide employee feedback, they aren’t always effective at offering actionable input.

Research shows that despite the popularity of 360-degree feedback, this form of employee development intervention typically has only modest effect and “when done poorly may lead to both disengagement and a decline in performance.” In fact, a separate academic study suggests feedback interventions decreased performance in over one-third of cases.

What stands in the way of successful behavioral change? Researchers have identified several stumbling blocks:

  • Negative reactions to criticism can undermine absorption of the feedback
  • Individual personality traits can exacerbate negative reactions (e.g. narcissism or self-esteem and emotional stability levels)
  • Individuals don’t see the importance of the desired change
  • Lacking the control (or perceived control) to affect the change
  • Motivation and attention to change can lapse, which causes relapse to old behaviors
  • Progress requires repeated practice.

Fostering Feedback Success

Ultimately, what helps employee development feedback have a positive impact on professional development? Taking a consistent approach to offering feedback, providing support, establishing follow-up activities, and reinforcing the value of sustaining the new behavior.

Approach — Be consistent in providing feedback — whether to a top performer or not. This means:

  • Doing your homework
  • Gathering data
  • Offering details to support your feedback
  • Focusing on what can change in the future
  • Checking for understandings
  • Agreeing on next steps

The feedback session should focus on three levels: current performance, next performance level, future goals and aspirations. Notice we aren’t spending time dwelling in the past.

Support — Offering feedback is not simply a matter of telling someone what to do better and expecting him or her to change before the next review session. A focus on what is going wrong or what is needed will not be as effective as discussing how someone might improve. You could offer support by using the feedback session to help the individual:

  • Brainstorm some ways to approach improvement
  • Tap into his or her intrinsic motivation to make the change
  • Identify potential obstacles that will need to be overcome
  • Frame feedback in the context of long-term goals.

Also, keep in mind, feedback has less impact when setting goals for simple tasks. However, when it comes to more complex tasks, research shows that pairing feedback and goal setting can have a much greater effect. So, the more you are asking of someone, the more your support could matter.

Follow up — Part of your offering support is following-up with some frequency. Now, this isn’t to say that “more is better.” In fact, research questions that assumption. Yet, you also don’t want to expect someone to simply hear your suggestion and suddenly succeed. One study of 800 insurance professionals determined that monthly feedback is the most effective, leading to 46% better performance.

Consider also that there are many ways to follow up with an employee along the way after providing feedback in a more formal fashion. You might schedule a quick check-in, email an article relevant to the issue the employee is addressing, stay behind after a group meeting with that one individual to recognize his/her progress and ask a prompting question such as: “how did it feel different to you?”

Reinforce value — Feedback can be more useful when it is “big-picture focused” and “organizationally aligned.” This is something that the individual offering the feedback may be better able to offer as he or she, as a manager, may be better informed of organizational strategy and long-term goals.

Also think about linking feedback to impact. For example, telling employees they are a clear and concise communicator may help them to feel good about themselves. Nevertheless, suggesting that this talent for communication helps them better motivate colleagues and build relationships with clients provides more of a reason to continue to prioritize this behavior.

Consider also that an individual can only do so much at once. Overloading employees with several areas of improvement is sure to overwhelm them. Focusing on particular talent areas for specific attention can make the feedback more useful and help individuals to feel more invested in success.

Introducing Plum Talent Grow

At Plum, we believe that offering effective employee development feedback starts with an individually customized professional development roadmap that can be accessed and referenced by both the employee and manager. That's why we've release Plum Talent Grow talent-based online professional development guides to grow your employees in areas such as innovation, communication, adaptability, and more. 

Introducing Plum Talent Grow

In this two-part series on talent-based professional development, we've reviewed the shortcomings of popular skills- and strengths-based professional development. We've also explored why the transferability of talents-based professional development is integral to preparing your workforce for the future of work. And once you've implemented the right professional development software or service, you need to effectively offer feedback. 

Plum helps companies do all of the above. To learn more about Plum Talent Grow, and how it gives employees the development they crave (while also developing talent to align with business future needs), schedule a demo with Plum today.