by Kate Russell

Delivering feedback

It is human nature to want to know how we’re doing, so you need to master the skills of giving constructive feedback.

In general, you should not wait until the formal performance review to give feedback about related problems. Ordinarily, performance issues brought up during a performance review will already have been discussed with your employee. During the performance appraisal period, provide feedback about performance regularly. When employees receive feedback that is timely, frequent and specific, they are more likely to understand what is expected of them, to repeat successful performance and to improve their work when necessary.

Feedback describing observed or verifiable behaviour and facts is different from feedback containing evaluations of the person based on assumptions, interpretations, generalisations and judgements about what the behaviour or facts mean.

Compare the following statements:

  1. ‘That was a very poor report. I wish you were more committed to doing a good job.’
  2. ‘Your report was not formatted according to standard practice and the content was based on data which is a year out of date.’

Note that in the first statement, the manager has judged the employee as lacking commitment, while the statement about the report being ‘poor’ is subjective and therefore not very helpful. In the second statement, the manager tells the employee exactly what needs to be improved, without judging his or her character or motives.


Employees’ performance is more likely to improve when you ask them to do something differently rather than asking them to be different.

When feedback about successful performance is given in specific terms, the employee knows which behaviours to continue or repeat.

Feedback about performance in need of improvement is best delivered in private to avoid embarrassment to the employee. (Some people are also embarrassed when feedback about successful performance is given in front of others.)

Notes that you make or records that you keep about employee performance should also be phrased in specific terms. Avoid statements that could be interpreted as judgmental or prejudiced about the employee’s personality, character or motives. Encourage your employees to keep records of their own accomplishments.

Both parties should exchange performance-related information throughout the review cycle. At these discussions, take the time to discuss the person’s achievements and needs for further training, as well as any problems or concerns. If there are performance problems, schedule meetings at regular intervals for the purpose of providing feedback on performance. This practice will ensure that you address issues promptly and foster a problem-solving approach between performance manager and employee.

Occasionally, performance problems may arise that will require performance counselling or more serious steps. Before initiating any formal corrective or disciplinary action, contact your Human Resources advisor for guidance and assistance.

Guidelines for giving feedback

  1. Feedback should be based on specific observable data or data capable of being confirmed and should be delivered as close to the event or behaviour as possible:

‘I noticed that you arrived at 8:30 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday rather than at 8:00.’

  1. After describing your observations to the employee, ask for his input before you decide what the behaviour means. For example, you may observe that an employee has been arriving late over a period of days. Before you decide that the employee is being irresponsible, get more information. You may find that there is a valid reason for the behaviour or there are other factors which would contribute to your understanding.

‘I’d like to talk with you about the reasons for your late arrival.’

  1. Discuss the impact of the performance or its consequences, but never make threats or promises of promotion:

‘As a result, other staff had to leave their work to cover our service desk.’

  1. Communicate by your words, body language and tone of voice that your intention is to be helpful when giving feedback. The goal of feedback is to reinforce or redirect performance so that the employee can be successful.
  2. Give feedback as close to the original event as possible.
  3. Describe specific work-related behaviour or results observed.
  4. Ask for employee input and feedback.

Feedback is valuable when describing performance which needs to be improved, because the employee learns which specific behaviours to change rather than receiving general comments which don’t give much information. Compare the following statements.

‘This was not your best work.’

‘This project was completed three weeks later than you originally estimated and the result is that our client is thinking about bringing in an outside consultant next time. What will it take to deliver on time in the future?’

The first statement is vague and does not tell the employee what the specific performance problem was. The second statement gives the employee a more complete picture of what needs to be improved and the importance of improving performance. It also enlists his support in improving future performance.

With poor performers, we owe a legal and moral obligation to give feedback. We are required to do the following:

  • Establish the standards of performance and behaviour required by the job
  • Give feedback when performance falls short of those standards
  • Develop a joint action plan to get them back on track.

You must never allow an appraisal to degenerate into a disciplinary discussion. If you do that you will irretrievably flaw the process and are likely to be in breach of legal requirements (see the Discipline topic).

However, if a disciplinary matter has already been started and is ongoing, you may refer to it and review progress. It is quite possible to reiterate the targets set at a disciplinary hearing and to include them in the final objectives.

There is also a topic with much more on Feedback.