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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Illustration of six icons depicting feedback
Lexi Croswell, author

Lexi Croswell

Writer, Culture Amp

Ongoing employee feedback is key to moving away from outdated performance reviews and towards driving employee development. Employee feedback is information given about a person’s actions or accomplishments at work, which is then used to guide future improvement.

However, when we think about receiving feedback at work, the first thing that comes to mind is often not-so-happy memories of our last performance review. The typical annual performance review process doesn’t inspire self-confidence or a feeling of excitement, nor do they really drive employee development or growth.

Don't you think it's time we changed that?

A culture of feedback is only possible when we learn to give feedback in impromptu moments, not just during the formal performance review process. In this blog, we'll be sharing examples of employee feedback that you can use to guide yourself and your team towards a culture of continuous feedback.

Whether you're a manager or a fellow team member, giving feedback to others doesn’t need to be intimidating. Below, we provide examples of the different types of employee feedback, how to ask for and learn from feedback, and things to keep in mind when giving feedback.

Types of employee feedback

We often think of feedback in terms of "positive" or "negative." However, there’s a different way to think about this distinction: reinforcing or redirecting.

Reinforcing feedback is given when we want someone to keep doing a certain positive behavior (e.g., being proactive about taking on new challenges). When we give this type of feedback, we’re verbally reinforcing the positive effects of someone’s actions.

If we gave someone strictly negative feedback, we’d only be telling them to stop doing something. With redirecting feedback, we’re telling someone that we want them to stop doing X and start doing Y (e.g., start speaking up more at meetings).

Illustration of three feedback "sandwiches"

You might be familiar with the old adage of the “feedback sandwich" in which you "sandwich" negative feedback in between two pieces of positive pieces feedback. While this "sandwich" format isn’t strictly necessary to give effective feedback, we do recommend providing more reinforcing than redirecting feedback. That’s one of the reasons why participants in our employee effectiveness surveys can choose up to five strengths, but only up to three areas of improvement.

Now that we’ve explored the two types of feedback, let’s look at some examples.

Examples of reinforcing employee feedback

Reinforcing feedback can be given at any time. The more often you provide useful reinforcing feedback to your direct reports, the better.

Josh Sloan, a People Scientist & Data Lab Lead at Culture Amp, explains:

“Feedback doesn’t have to be when you’re sitting down for a 1-on-1 meeting. It’s valuable to get feedback (especially when it’s positive) at any time. It’s like when you get a present on a day that’s not your birthday - it’s extra special because it’s unexpected.”

Use these examples as a framework, adjusting the language to what feels natural for you.

1. “Something I really appreciate about you is....”

Example: “Something I really appreciate about you is your aptitude for problem-solving."

2. “I think you did a great job when you…[insert specifics] it showed that you had….”

Example: “I think you did a great job when you ran the all-hands meeting. It showed that you are capable of getting people to work together and communicate effectively. I admire your communication skills."

3. “I would love to see you do more of X as it relates to Y”

Illustration of a person giving reinforcing feedback

Example: "One of your most impactful moments was how you handled Project X. You showed the power of user testing in shaping a feature roadmap. Your efforts increased the likelihood that we satisfy and delight our users. I'd love to see you do more of this.”

4. “I really think you have a superpower around X”

Example: “I really think you have a superpower around making new hires feel welcome."

5. “One of the things I admire about you is…”

Example: "One of the things I admire about you is your ability to manage a team remotely."

6. “I can see you’re having a positive impact in…”

Example: “I can see you’re having a positive impact in your new office, people seem really happy to have you on their team.”

Redirecting employee feedback

Illustration of a person giving redirecting feedback

While reinforcing feedback can also be given at any time, it's good practice to ask before providing someone with redirecting feedback. It's important to make sure the recipient is in the right mindset to receive whatever it is you have to say. Before you give feedback, try and get a feel for how the person is feeling, and whether or not that person is aware of the topic you want to give feedback on.

After ensuring that the recipient is prepared, you can use the following examples to guide your feedback:

1. “I’d like to give you some feedback, is now a good time?”

This is a great way to open and kick off the conversation. It signifies to someone that you are about to provide feedback and that you are thinking about how they’re feeling.

2. “Do you have a moment to catch up about how X went?”

This is a good segue to use after a project or presentation. The person’s response will often clue you in on what they’re thinking about. Then, you can expand on the areas of improvement you noticed.

3. “Can we debrief on X?”

This phrase is especially useful in a project-based environment but can be utilized anytime to start a feedback conversation. Be sure to give the person time to share their own feelings on the situation.

4. “Can we talk about X - what do you think is going well or what didn’t go well?”

This phrase comes in handy when you want to check in on how your direct report thinks things are going. It sets the stage for a feedback conversation that they can lead, rather than leaving them surprised by the feedback.

5. “This is difficult for me to say...”

This is most appropriate for intense, extreme, or challenging situations. It can be a good way to prompt or notify someone that you will be providing significant feedback. Acknowledging that you’re nervous shows that you want to start a productive conversation, not cast blame or make them feel bad.

Giving third party feedback: "Can I share with you a bit of feedback that I/we have been hearing?"

If you're a manager, you'll sometimes receive feedback about your direct report from others. Giving third-party feedback is tricky because feedback should generally avoid hearsay and focus on an individual’s unique experience. Nonetheless, you should have a plan to discuss third-party feedback, as it can come up.

The above phrase is a great way to get the conversation started.

Five tips for giving effective employee feedback

The examples above are intended to help you give effective feedback to fellow team members or direct reports. It’s important to note that there are many factors that go into giving someone feedback, besides the language you use to start the conversation. With that in mind, here are five tips for giving effective feedback.

1. Be conscious of timing

Put yourself in the shoes of the person about to be given feedback. Consider whether they are in the best mindset to receive your feedback and if you are in an open mindset to give it. Strong emotions can cloud a person’s ability to accept feedback, whether it's reinforcing or redirecting. Wait for a more neutral time to provide feedback.

2. Be prepared

Think about the person you're about to speak with before giving feedback. What is the purpose of your feedback and what do you want the outcome to be. Do you see value in the person changing or repeating their behavior? How do you think they could do so to achieve this outcome? Your employee feedback needs to give enough information for someone to either continue what they've been doing or change it.

3. Provide specific examples

Illustration of someone holding up a feedback sandwich

Whether providing reinforcing or redirecting employee feedback, specificity is important for learning. Specific feedback also serves as a basis for measuring growth and guiding future behavior. Telling someone they did a good job is a nice compliment, but that person won't know which specific behaviors they should repeat in the future.

4. Make feedback actionable (and future-focused when possible)

Give employee feedback on behaviors that someone can actually do something about. Avoiding personal feedback such as “You are lazy” is crucial to providing effective feedback. Research shows that when we aren't motivated to change when we receive criticism for past behavior. We simply shut down and become defensive. In contrast, it's empowering to receive feedback that taps into what we can do to reach our goals or improve ourselves.

5. Make employee feedback a regular process

Not every action or situation will require feedback, but it's important to make regular feedback a priority. When reinforcing feedback is given often, redirecting feedback becomes less of an ordeal. Regular feedback also shows people that you care about them personally.

How should I ask for feedback?

One way to diffuse tension around giving and receiving feedback is to ask for it more often. The more feedback is incorporated into your regular routine, the less stress builds up around feedback conversations. While we might be biased towards feedback at Culture Amp (one of our values is to learn faster through feedback), we really do believe feedback is the best way for people to grow and develop.

Start soliciting feedback from your team by using the following questions:

1. Is there something I can do to improve?

2. Can you tell me how you felt about that?

3. What did you like about my project/presentation?

Five steps for learning from employee feedback

Feedback is a two-way street. When we show others that we're capable of incorporating feedback to drive our own development, other people in the organization are more likely to see the merit in applying feedback. However, learning from feedback - particularly when it’s redirecting - can be difficult. Here is a five-step process for learning from feedback.

1. Just listen

Approach feedback with one goal in mind: listening. Listening to feedback is the first step to learning from it.

Chloe Hamman, a Lead People Scientist at Culture Amp, elaborates:

“Critical feedback can put us in a defensive mode and restrict our ability to focus on solutions - we want to react. Knowing this, we can see why it is important to develop the habit of first just listening to feedback, rather than reacting.”

2. Remain receptive and open

Everyone has room to learn and grow, but we can only do so if we're aware of those opportunities. When trying to make sense of feedback, focus less on whether you did or did not do something specific. Instead ask yourself, "What is it about my behavior that could be leading to this perception?"

For example, you might be given feedback such as “You need to be more assertive.” Though this isn't the best example of effective feedback, you would then ask yourself, "What could be influencing people to perceive me this way?"

3. Ask follow-up questions

If you don’t fully understand someone’s feedback, ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Consider the feedback example, “You need to be more assertive.” You could ask, “Can you tell me more about what being assertive would look like?” By asking follow-up questions, you can gain more insight into the behavior and understand what you should stop, start, or continue to do in the future.

4. Act on feedback

Take the time to process feedback. Focus on what specifically you will do to change or reinforce a certain behavior. Taking the same assertiveness example, your next step might be to speak up more in meetings.

5. Say thanks and show gratitude

Giving feedback can be a challenging and scary thing to do. Few people enjoy confrontation, and even fewer people like to hurt others' feelings. If you show gratitude and appreciation to the people who have provided you with feedback, it will reinforce their efforts. You'll also be more likely to get valuable feedback in the future. Not least of all, you'll be helping to build a culture of ongoing feedback in your company.

From performance reviews to a culture of feedback

So, what does creating a culture of feedback mean for the future of performance reviews?

Well, annual performance reviews were intended to improve performance and increase return on investment. Historically speaking, they've generally accomplished neither. Providing feedback on an ongoing basis is a better way to help people grow and develop at work.

To start transitioning from annual reviews to ongoing feedback, create a regular cadence of 1-on-1 meetings within teams to set new expectations. Feedback also doesn’t have to be top-down. Peer-to-peer feedback is just as important for people’s development, so encourage those conversations as well.

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