One of our goals at Elevate is to create a culture of continuous learning for our staff, and one of the best ways to do that is by regularly sharing feedback.

Since regular feedback is closely linked to employee engagement, we recognize that the more insight we give our team members into where they are doing well and where they could improve, the better we can work together.

At Elevate, Directors are primarily responsible for leading client teams, which presents a range of challenges and opportunities around sharing feedback, offering constructive criticism, and fostering the team’s overall growth. Recently, Elevate’s Team Directors got together as a group to discuss their role in sharing and receiving feedback on their teams. Here we are sharing some of the key takeaways from that conversation, as well as links to other resources that may be helpful for anyone wanting to incorporate more regular feedback-sharing into their work relationships.

As team leaders, how do we navigate the reality that we don’t always have the full picture of our supervisees’ workload?

The reality is that no supervisor goes into a feedback conversation knowing their employee’s entire life story. In any company, there may be a variety of personal or professional reasons why someone may be approaching their work in a way that doesn’t align with your expectations as their supervisor.

The key to giving any type of feedback is to approach it as a conversation, not as a directive. Explain what you have observed your colleague is doing well or could improve on, and then ask them how they would approach that situation in the future. By approaching this as a conversation, you don’t risk giving someone advice that doesn’t make sense for their overall situation.

For example, perhaps someone got hit with a complex editing process on another client and couldn’t put as much time or attention into their work on your team. By asking them to share their thoughts about why a particular work product wasn’t as strong as it could have been, you give that person an opportunity to provide the context you need to find a solution together.

How do I give good feedback?

Okay, so maybe no one at the meeting asked this question verbatim, but here’s an answer anyway! Research and years of management best-practices suggest that the most helpful feedback — whether positive or constructive — has the following characteristics:

Clear & Concise
  • Providing feedback can feel very challenging, so our instinct can be to ramble. That makes it difficult for recipient to understand the issue, which is actually a much worse experience than simply hearing some constructive feedback. Plan ahead so you know exactly what you want to communicate.
  • Avoid the compliment sandwich. While it can feel easier to squeeze in constructive feedback between two positive comments, this structure has a tendency to make people doubt the validity of the positive feedback while also potentially losing clarity, about what they need to improve.
  • Don’t let a negative response pull you off your main point. It can be tempting to try and soften the impact of what you are trying to communicate when someone has a hard time hearing the information. Be kind, but clear!
  • Use “I” statements – make it about your experience and observation of the behavior and do not insert your own subjective opinion. i.e. “I’ve noticed that the past 2 drafts got to me a few days after the internal deadline, which can make it difficult for me to turn around edits in time for the client to review.” rather than “it seems like you’re not planning ahead enough to meet our internal deadlines.”
  • Be clear about how the work or behavior you have observed has impacted you and your team — don’t try to extrapolate out to other situations.
  • Avoid blaming someone else. While it’s tempting to frame feedback as something we “have to do to make [some other internal or external party] happy,” that can actually be a pretty demotivating way to communicate the need for extra effort or attention in a particular area. Instead, take ownership of your request, and be open to feedback that maybe there’s another way to achieve the same goal.
  • Check-ins are critical for providing regular feedback. If you incorporate reciprocal feedback into your regular meetings, it will feel more natural and support stronger collaboration over time. It also makes remembering to share positive feedback a lot easier!
  • Feedback is time-sensitive. Nobody likes to hear that they’ve been doing something right or wrong for six months before anyone mentioned something! If you see something worthy of either positive or negative feedback, bring it up at the first opportunity.
  • Balance positive feedback with constructive feedback
  • It typically takes hearing positive feedback 7 times as much as it takes for negative feedback to 1 time
  • Important to include what team member is doing well, even if you think it is obvious or feel like there are bigger issues to tackle on other client teams.
  • The more specific your feedback is, the better it is for your colleague’s professional growth. For example, feedback is far more useful when it sounds like: “I noticed that you faced some challenges answering this question in the last proposal. Can I show you how I would have approached that part of the narrative?” rather than, “You could improve your drafting skills.”
  • This is also important for positive feedback – e.g. saying “great work” – does not provide specific feedback on what they can continue to build on in the future. It doesn’t help someone develop their skills professionally or build self-awareness about their key strengths.

This is great – but I don’t want to scare my team members by suddenly giving them a ton more feedback that I have been up until now.

We all struggle to make feedback part of our day-to-day work! The key is to be transparent with your team members about wanting to incorporate feedback into your work together. Here are some quicks steps to take to make this happen:

  1. Let them know that you are working on giving and receiving feedback more regularly and would like to make it part of your work together.
  2. Clarify that you’d like their feedback as well. Consider asking them for input on your work first, a system a lot like the Management Center’s 2X2 structure. Be sure to respond to the feedback you receive — if people feel like what they say is repeatedly ignored, they’ll stop giving us the information we need to improve our work.
  3. Ask how they would like to receive feedback. Some people respond better when they receive feedback in writing, others don’t want to dwell on something before they discuss it with you. Either way, don’t assume others prefer to receive feedback the same way you do.
  4. When you do offer feedback to someone, demonstrate that you want to support them in their professional growth in addition to sharing where you think they need to grow. Improving our work takes time and support, and being a partner to your colleagues during this process can only help.

  • Did you know employees receiving predominantly negative feedback from their manager are over 20 times more likely to be engaged than those receiving little or no feedback? (Gallup, 2009)
  • In addition to these general guidelines, we recommend using models like SAW or AID so you can get into the practice of structuring clear feedback conversations.
  • It turns out that we struggle to receive constructive feedback because we are all so bad at giving it. Our very real, physio-emotional response is uncomfortable and can actually make us subtly restructure our social networks at work to avoid people who give us that constructive feedback. Check out the WorkLife TEDx Podcast “How to Love Criticism” by Adam Grant for more information.

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