As a leader you need to be able to provide feedback to your team. If you are unable to provide effective feedback, you are not going to be able to keep employees engaged or improve performance. Despite feedback being a critical component of the leader’s role, most leaders are unsure how to give feedback. There is also a group of leaders who know how, but do not enjoy potentially difficult conversations. But by providing effective feedback both employee retention and performance will increase.

Do not be afraid to have the difficult conversation

Did you know a majority of employees would rather receive negative feedback than no feedback at all? In fact, Gallup found that an employee who receives no feedback is twice as likely to be disengaged as an employee that receives negative feedback. Do not be afraid to have that difficult conversation with an employee. By avoiding the conversation, you are going to lose the employee. Think about this logically, if an employee is doing something all year and you have not said anything, they are going to assume they are doing their job fine. When you give them a less than positive year end review and they do not get that promotion, how are they going to feel? As far as they were concerned everything was great. If you had told them, they would have improved it so that they got a better review and hopefully a good bonus and promotion. It is in an employee’s interest to take feedback on board.

Do not Sugar Coat your words

Providing direct unfiltered feedback is proven to be the most effective way of giving feedback. This surprises many, because we are taught from a young age to be polite and not to say anything that may upset someone else. But the truth is direct feedback is more effective because it is clear and concise. If something is not good, say it is not good. Be specific and clear as to why it is not good. By being clear about what was wrong and why, an employee is in no doubt as to what went wrong and how it could be improved. There is no misunderstanding.

By sugar coating the feedback, and using what is known as the sandwich technique, a method by which you provide both good and bad feedback together, you water down the significance of the negative feedback. If you tell someone that 8 things are great and 1 thing needs to be improved, the area that needs to be improved will not be seen as urgent or important, because they are doing so many other things well. This is why leaders often feel that employees are slow to react to feedback, it was so sugarcoated, an employee did not think it was a big deal.

Keep it professional not personal

It is important to remember the difference between providing direct feedback about the quality of a piece of work and being rude to an employee. When providing the feedback, it is crucial that you keep the feedback focused specifically on one piece of work and being matter of fact. There is a huge difference between “That report was not good, because it was missing X, Y and Z. In future please include X, Y and Z as its important data for our year-end figures. Can you include it next time and if you are unsure how, I can take some time and show you” and “That report was rubbish, are you stupid?”. In one example you have been clear on what is wrong, why and offered to help provide support, in the other you are attacking the employee.

Do not wait for the quarterly, half year or annual review

The best time to provide feedback is in the moment. It is better to highlight an issue right away. If you wait a few months before bringing the issue up, it is likely to have happened several times and will lead to larger issues. More importantly, if you bring this up in the first instance an employee is much less likely to get defensive over the conduct. Most mistakes occur when someone does something for the first time, and it is likely that they were unsure of the best way to do it. It’s a lot easier to have that conversation at that moment, than 6 months later.

Not all feedback should be negative feedback

Finally, it is important to also recognize all of the positive work your team do. You should not provide this in tandem with the negative feedback because as discussed it waters down its impact. But you should also provide positive feedback as and when the opportunity arises. Research has shown that employees who feel that leaders regularly appreciate their strengths have only a 1% chance of disengagement. So, if the employee in the example above gave one report that was bad. Criticize that report. But if they provided 11 other good ones over a 12-month period, remember to also provide positive feedback on those.