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How to Give Specific, Constructive Feedback at Work

The mere thought of giving someone feedback on their work performance can cause even a seasoned manager to pause. It's not always a pleasant conversation.

While giving feedback certainly applies to people and their work performance, it also applies to projects, events, products, and more. It best serves you to be prepared to weigh in with your comments in a respectful, productive, and accurate way.

Here's a simple framework you can use any time

I call it the feedback sandwich.  In a nutshell...

  • What are three specific things that are great?
  • What are three specific things that could be improved?
  • Overall, what's great?

Let's Break it Down

What's great?

Set others at ease and acknowledge them and their work right out of the gate.

(Side note: In DISC language, D's and C's prefer you to acknowledge their work. I's and S's prefer to be personally acknowledged. For more information on your Behavioral Blueprint, visit HERE.)

Feedback is not strictly about what is wrong. It's just as much about what's going well! Starting on a positive note sets the right tone and will help you build rapport, an important ingredient when you have tough news to deliver. 

Be as specific as possible. Avoid general statements like "Great job" or "Nice work!" State specifics to let the person know what to continue doing.

For example, "Your end of month reports are always on time and highly detailed, which gives me critical insights into what strategies to employ next." Not only is it nice to be appreciated, but it also helps one to know their time was well spent since there's rarely a shortage of tasks to complete.

What could be improved?

What, specifically, impedes results for the individual, team, or company? 

Be mindful of how you deliver this information. While people are usually happy to get a pat on the back, they don't always want their shortcomings pointed out.

What have you observed? It's best to point to behaviors, not the person. Can you hear the difference between

You've been rude to customers lately.

and

I've noticed you haven't been walking customers to the merchandise they're asking about.

???

In addition to pointing out the behavior you'd like to see change, offer suggestions about what you would like to replace that behavior. If you know, don't make the person guess. If it were clear, they'd probably already be doing it.

"When a customer asks where to find a product, please walk with them and point it out. Then, tell them your name and ask if you can answer any questions or show them anything else."

Debriefing an event, product, or project is easier as those are usually group activities and less personal than a performance review. Specificity still rules. "The sign-in process was slower than ideal, causing some attendees to miss the opening remarks. We should consider ways to speed up this process or make it obsolete." is useful feedback because it points to something specific, why it's unsatisfactory, and suggests a way forward to improve it.

Overall, what's great?

At this stage, you've already delivered the meat of the conversation. It's time to put the focus back on the positive and wrap it up.

It's okay to use more vague comments like "Well done" and "Glad to have you on the team." It's also acceptable to give broader statements that mirror your previous positive comments. "Keep up the great work on the monthly reports."

If appropriate, you could offer support, such as assisting him or her in carrying out the improvements discussed.

So there you have it - the feedback sandwich.

This easy framework can help get you started organizing your thoughts and preparing your input.

P.S. - 

 

If the thought of going on vacation and leaving key results to your team makes you realize Stephen King doesn't know the meaning of the word suspense, then you should hire me now.

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