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How specific is your feedback?

I am a strong advocate for employees and employers engaging in a genuine, honest two-way dialogue. I truly believe that delivered appropriately, feedback (or feedforward as some would say) is not only incredibly valuable, but something that we generally welcome. I mean, who doesn’t want to be the best that they can be? So it probably isn’t surprising to learn that when given the opportunity I will always ask for feedback.

I recently did just that and the feedback I received caused me to pause and reflect on the difference between helpful feedback that leads to continuous improvement and the kind that is like is like a pat on the back. It makes you feel good, but doesn’t do a good job of reinforcing or shifting behaviour.

Now don’t get me wrong, the feedback that I received wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t particularly valuable. Instead it was vague and left me wondering what I needed to do more of or do differently. What did they mean when they said ‘there are times’? What times were they referring to? Or, when they said that I was ‘clear and precise’, what was it that made them feel that way?

So, as organisations prepare to go into in the performance review process and managers begin to think about how each of their staff have performed, I thought it would be useful to give you my top three tips for providing great feedback:

  1. Understand your intentions. There are only two reasons for giving feedback. Either you want to encourage someone to continue doing something or you want to change their behaviour. Providing feedback for any other reason is unhelpful and only damages the relationship. So evaluate your motives before you provide comment. If your desire to give feedback is driven by frustration or simply because you don’t like someone or something, say nothing.
  2. Be specific. Good feedback is like a movie. The person should be able to visualise the situation you are referring to. They should be able to see all the great things that you believe they should keep doing and understand where there is an opportunity for them to shift their behaviour. If they can’t build a picture of what you are talking about the person is likely to end up confused or worse, aggressive and defensive.
  3. Be timely. Feedback should be provided as close to the situation being referred to as possible to ensure the employee can connect the feedback to their actions. I recommend applying a 24 hour/1 week rule. Anything older than a week should be considered a missed opportunity.   When that happens you need to wait until the next time the situation or behaviour arises to provide comment. If you wait too long to give feedback you jeopardise the trust in your relationship and can create suspicion about the other things you haven’t said.

The purpose of feedback is to be helpful. By following the suggestions above you can enhance the quality of the feedback you provide and drive improved performance.

About the Author

Christine Bau is the founder and Principal of People Focused, a HR consulting firm that specialises in working with professional services to improve the performance of their people. Christine runs workshops on how to have meaningful conversations in the workplace. She also teams ups with organisations to ensure that they have the right tools in place to maximise employee performance. For more information contact Christine on 0434 534 747 or visit