Ongoing employee feedback is the key to moving away from outdated performance reviews and helping people develop. Well-constructed employee feedback examples are great tools for you and your team to start creating a culture of feedback.
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 in us.
It’s time to change that.
What exactly do we mean by employee feedback?
Employee feedback is information given about a person’s actions at work, to be used as a guide for future improvement.
Giving feedback to team members doesn’t need to be intimidating. Here, we provide examples of the types of employee feedback, how to ask for and learn from feedback, and things to keep in mind when giving feedback. In addition, we’ll talk about how performance reviews are changing in favor of a culture of feedback.
Feel free to navigate throughout the article with this clickable table of contents:
- What are the types of employee feedback?
- How can you ask for employee feedback?
- How to give effective employee feedback
- How to learn from employee feedback
- From performance reviews to a culture of feedback
When we think about giving someone feedback, we often think of it in terms of positive or negative. However, there’s a new way to think about this distinction: reinforcing or redirecting.
Reinforcing feedback means that we want someone to keep doing a certain positive behavior. 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.
You might be familiar with the old adage of the “feedback sandwich” where you give someone negative feedback, ‘sandwiched’ in between two positive pieces of feedback. While this specific format isn’t necessary, the idea of providing more reinforcing than redirecting feedback does hold merit. That’s why we’ve provided more examples of reinforcing feedback, and why in our employee effectiveness surveys participants can choose up to five strengths and only up to three areas of improvement.
Now that we’ve explored the two types of feedback, let’s look at some examples for both.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the examples in this section is this - use them. Reinforcing feedback can be given at any time, and the more you provide useful reinforcing feedback, the better.
Josh Sloan, People Scientist and Data Lab lead at Culture Amp says, “Feedback doesn’t have to be when you’re sitting down for a 1:1 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 in a proactive way."
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”
Example: "One of your most impactful moments were the insights you gleaned based on Project X. It showed the power of user testing in shaping a feature roadmap and increases 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 happy.”
7. "Can I share with you a bit of feedback that I/we have been hearing?"
Sometimes a manager will receive feedback on their direct report. This is a tricky situation, because feedback should generally avoid hearsay and focus on an individual’s unique experience. However, you should also have a plan to discussing third party feedback (especially if it comes up often). This phrase is a great way to get the conversation started, and share that it is coming from a third party.
While reinforcing feedback can be given any time, it is good practice to ask before providing someone with redirecting feedback. We’ll cover more on this in the section on how to give feedback but making sure someone is in the right mindset to receive your feedback is important.
Also, before diving right into redirecting feedback, get a feel for how the person is doing. Build a sense of their self-awareness of the feedback topic. This will help you gauge if you’re about to start a conversation about something the person is unaware of, or if it’s something that’s already on their mind.
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, and 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?”
Also 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 particularly when you’re managing someone and you want to check in on how they’re thinking things are going. It sets the stage for a feedback conversation that they can lead, rather than feeling surprised by feedback.
5. “This is difficult for me to say...”
This is most appropriate in more 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 conversation, not make someone feel bad.
One way to diffuse tension around giving and receiving feedback is simply 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 learn faster through feedback, after all) we really do think it’s the best way for individuals to grow and develop.
Start soliciting feedback 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?
The examples we’ve provided are intended to get you on the right track towards providing effective feedback to fellow team members. 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 steps to 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.
3. Provide specific examples
Whether providing reinforcing or redirecting employee feedback, specificity is important for learning. It also serves as a basis for comparison and a guide for future behavior. If you tell someone they did a good job, it's a nice compliment but they don't have a specific behavior to repeat in the future.
4. Make it 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 X,” is crucial to providing effective feedback. Research shows that when we receive criticism for past behavior it does not motivate us to change - we simply shut down and become defensive. In contrast, feedback that taps into what we can do to reach our goals is motivating and makes us feel good.
5. Make employee feedback a regular process
Not every action or scenario requires feedback, but it is important to make feedback a regular process. When reinforcing feedback is given often, it prevents occasional redirecting feedback from becoming an ordeal. Giving feedback regularly and explaining why you are doing so shows people that you care about them personally.
Now you have the tools to give employee feedback, but we all know that feedback is a two-way street. When we’re capable of learning from feedback, and showing people that we’ve heard them, others are more apt to accept our feedback for them. However, learning from feedback, particularly when it’s redirecting, can be difficult for us. Here is a five step process to learning from feedback.
1. Just listen
Approach feedback with one goal in mind: listening. Listening to feedback is the first step towards learning from it. Culture Amp Lead People Scientist Chloe Hamman says, “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 specifically. Instead ask yourself, ‘What in my behavior could be leading to this perception?’
For example, you might be given feedback such as “You need to be more assertive.” This is rather broad and perhaps not the best feedback, however, ask yourself what you could be doing that would lead to this perception.
3. Ask followup questions
If you don’t fully understand someone’s feedback, ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Considering the feedback example, “You need to be more assertive.” You could ask, “Can you tell me more about what being assertive would look like?” The questions following feedback should help you understand behaviors you can stop, start or continue in the future.
4. Act on feedback
Take the time to process feedback and understand if there are behaviors to stop, start or continue now. Focus on what specifically you will do to change or reinforce a behavior. For example, from your follow-up questions on assertiveness you might identify that you need to focus on speaking up more in meetings. From this you may work on your communication of ideas by test running them with your team in one-on-ones first.
5. Say thanks and show gratitude
Giving feedback can be a challenging and scary thing to do. No one intentionally wants to hurt someone's feelings; quite the opposite. If you show gratitude and appreciation to the people who have provided you with feedback it will reinforce their efforts. You will be more likely to get valuable feedback in the future and you will be helping to build a culture of feedback in your company.
So, what does creating a culture of feedback mean for the future of performance reviews?
Annual performance reviews were intended to improve performance and increase return on investment. Historically, they've accomplished neither.
Providing feedback on an ongoing basis is a better way to help people grow and develop at work. It's an important part of an overall employee feedback strategy that includes measuring for employee engagement.
To start transitioning from reviews to ongoing feedback, create a regular cadence of 1:1 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.
Now, the big question is, if you let go of performance reviews, how will you set compensation?
Culture Amp Lead People Scientist, Chloe Hamman, says you can establish a reward system with one simple question, “Will you ‘pay for performance’ or will you base compensation and reward decisions on other factors, such as improvement or growth?” The answer, she says, depends on what kind of culture and workplace you’re creating.
Organizations can choose to base employee rewards on a variety of factors, including:
- Performance - individual, team or company
- Progress - individual, team or company
- Market factors
- Individual role responsibilities
Transitioning away from traditional performance reviews might seem like a big undertaking, but the positive returns for your people’s development and the organization’s success overall make it worth taking on.