How To Give Negative Feedback To Direct Reports

Kuba is the Founder of Zety — a career advice site visited by over 40 million readers a year.

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Giving negative feedback is anything but easy, especially if you’re a first-time manager.

If you deliver it right, you could elevate a direct report’s performance, improve morale and generally turn their trouble spots into superpowers. Do it wrong, however, and you’ll likely bruise the person’s feelings and prompt them to disengage and potentially start looking for greener pastures.

The good news?

There are a few strategies you can use to give negative feedback to direct reports with care and empathy, even if you have to do it remotely. Here’s how:

PROMOTED

Set the scene.

As a leader, it’s your job to give your people feedback. After all, you’ll be doing them a service, and many working professionals actually want to receive feedback, even if it’s negative. Furthermore, a survey by Zenger and Folkman found that negative feedback helps improve workplace performance.

While it might seem counterintuitive that workers could benefit from negative feedback, it makes a lot of sense. That’s because direct reports who don’t get feedback from superiors might feel their work goes unseen and unappreciated. But if you want employees to be receptive to what you have to share, you need to take the necessary precautions before the feedback session:

• First, throw out a hint to your direct report that a critique is coming, particularly if you don’t have a transparency-rich environment where people are used to voicing their issues. It’ll give the person time to reflect and process things.

• Second, always keep the discussions of feedback separate from pay and promotion. The idea behind feedback is to help employees improve. If money is in the mix, you’ll create an environment of fear and job insecurity.

• Lastly, avoid stockpiling negative feedback because it can be overwhelming. Instead, deliver corrective feedback in small chunks to help the employee better understand their areas for improvement.

Deliver constructive criticism.

Delivery is the most critical component when it comes to giving effective feedback to direct reports. Here’s how to get it right:

• Start positive. Rather than zeroing in on blame, spin your feedback in a way that it’s clear you want to give the employee a chance to improve, grow professionally and generally streamline their workplace problems. It’ll make them much more receptive to your message.

• Always be clear and specific. Ensure your feedback revolves around specific, concrete behaviors that can be changed instead of focusing on vague generalizations. To help you stick to the facts, collect two to three tangible examples of the direct report’s missteps, and explain their effects on the team and the company.

Agree on a further course of action.

Feedback is a two-way process, so allow the employee to give their point of view on your comments. It’ll help you see things from their perspective and potentially uncover the source of the problem.

Then, put together a plan. Provide the direct report with actionable suggestions for improvement, and paint a picture of what “killing it” in their role would look like. Also, assure the employee that you’ll spend every ounce of your energy to help them get back on track; this underpins your dedication to their growth.

Don’t forget to follow up.

While it might be tempting to deliver corrective feedback and leave it in the rearview mirror, your message might get lost.

To avoid this, put aside some time to check if the direct report moves in the right direction and makes progress in their weak spots. In this context, monthly check-in meetings could come particularly in handy.

While you might be hesitant to give your employees negative feedback and point out their shortcomings, it’ll benefit them to a great extent. As Bill Gates once put it, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

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Kuba is the Founder of Zety — a career advice site visited by over 40 million readers a year. Read Kuba Koziej’s full executive profile here.

 

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