Effective feedback: creating a motivating and constructive process

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24 May 2021
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Effective feedback

No one should be expected to be absolutely perfect at their job, at least not straight away! There will always inevitably be things that take time to learn. This is why feedback and development should be viewed as natural and positive aspects of work.

As a manager, you should establish a relationship between you and the members of your team where feedback is a constant, constructive and motivating process. This means cultivating a culture where mistakes are recognised as learning opportunities rather than embarrassing failure. Listen to your team more than you talk, and be honest with your opinions while encouraging self-reflection.

Our five stages take you through the entire feedback process, from giving your initial comments, discussing their thoughts and agreeing next steps. We’re going to take an in-depth look at the conversation, but really most of this can take place over a few sentences. Your feedback should be a quick and painless chat, rather than relying on big, formal conversations.


1. Talk about their actions

Start warmly, by saying you want to give them some feedback on what they’re doing. Maybe this is your regular time to talk to them or you’ve just noticed something they’re doing as you walked past them. Whatever the scenario, keep it light and friendly.

The feedback you give should always be directly linked to what they actually did. This means either having an example ready or referring to what you can see them doing. This helps you explain your point clearly rather than talking in hypotheticals.

Avoid using hearsay. This weakens your position and makes it sound like you’ve been listening to gossip rather than viewing their actual behaviour. You should also refrain from using judgemental or opinionated statements.

Generally, this part is very quick. Something to the effect of: “Hi, I can see you’re working on your new report, and that section doesn’t look quite right because…” is usually all it needs. As we keep saying, when you’ve established a process of ongoing and informal feedback, you won’t need to make each time a big deal.


2. Look at the impact of their actions

Following directly on, you should describe the consequences of what they’re doing. Is it making things harder for themselves or others, or is it not up to the expected standards? Again, be specific and keep it relevant.

Remain judgement free. You’re here to talk to them about what they’re doing, not to start telling them off or making accusations. This is the moment to simply say what happened; for your feedback to be genuinely helpful, it has to have a clear focus.

Returning to our example, you could tell them: “that section doesn’t look quite right, because our clients won’t see the right data.” It’s fast, it’s direct and it helps them understand what they’ve done and why that’s important.


3. Discuss it together

Once you’ve made your points, turn it into a two-way conversation. Give the other person a chance to say their thoughts on the matter, what happened and why. Ask them if they agree with your analysis and how they see the situation. Listen to their side of the story and be open to their perspective.

Understand that they may not always agree with your assessments or may find it difficult to accept your comments. In this case, keep the conversation focused on solutions and start with the areas you can agree on.

Adopt a coaching style – talking through the problem and coming to a solution together. This is much more effective than simply lecturing and telling them what you believe to be the best thing to do. It turns your team members from passive bystanders, waiting for instructions, to active partners in their own development.


4. Agree the next steps

Ultimately, the purpose of giving your feedback is to either reinforce positive behaviour or to inspire change and development. Therefore, after discussing the situation, you should look forward together towards practical next steps. Make the plan as specific as possible, giving them very clear goals.

Coming up with the plan together gives them a level of control, responsibility and ownership over their next steps, without it feeling like a punishment being forced upon them. However, as their manager, you may need to steer them in a particular direction that you think they should go in. Guide them by asking questions and getting them to assess their own development.

Depending on the feedback you gave, these don’t need to be especially large targets. It might be enough to simply say that they should keep working on what they’re doing, or to show you when they’re finished so you can review the finished product together, or they may need to seek out more formal training. Keep it relevant and judge each situation on your team member’s own specific needs.

When giving regular feedback in this style, you shouldn’t have to create major plans because each conversation can lead to sustained incremental growth, rather than relying on one conversation and one big development push to do all the work.


5. Create a process of constant review

Now you’ve agreed a plan, it’s important to continue the cycle of continuous and regular feedback. Make it a joint effort. They agreed to their next steps, but so did you. They have the responsibility to do their best, and as their manager, you’ve also got to do your best to help them achieve.

You should both recognise that learning and development is an ongoing process, and you should check-in with each other, either formally or informally, to monitor how it’s going. If they still need help, find out why and what more you can do to help. Discuss the issues again as often as needed.

Finally, make sure you’re acknowledging their improvements, not just commenting if they’re not quite living up to their targets. It can be disheartening when they feel their efforts to unnoticed, and positive feedback can be much more motivating than negativity.


The entire feedback process should be a chance to check-in, assess the current situation and, when necessary, make small course adjustments. By following these stages, you can turn every conversation into an opportunity to develop your team and bring out their very best.


For more practical advice on improving your Leadership and Management skills, take a look at our Learning Solutions.