Giving feedback to your employees is vital to both your success and theirs. It helps them build strengths and overcome weaknesses. Plus, feedback can provide employees with a deeper understanding of their role, leading to higher engagement!
"Highly Engaged employees are 3.3x more likely to feel like they receive adequate feedback for their role and contributions than Actively Disengaged employees.”
–Bonusly's 2019 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report
But knowing how to give good, actionable feedback to employees isn’t easy. What exactly do you say? How do you say it, and how do you know your feedback is going to be helpful? We have some tips to keep in mind in this article.
When you’re ready to dive in and map out your feedback conversation, keep reading! ⬇️
Every conversation will be different, but wonder no more—this is our step-by-step guide to constructing a feedback conversation.
What about upward feedback? Read A Guide to Managing Your Managers During One-on-Ones
Constructing your feedback conversation
The specific details of every feedback conversation will vary, but as you give more feedback, you’ll notice that the basic structure of these conversations will stay the same.
We’re big fans of the SBI Model—Situation, Behavior, Impact—as a framework for giving feedback. Think of this as your scaffolding, if you will. 😉
When providing employee feedback, describe the situation where the behavior happened, like a meeting, an office encounter, a recent project. Be concrete! Don’t use vague language. You want to note a time and place where something happened, especially when giving negative feedback.
What were the specific actions that took place? Don’t make it about a personality trait. Instead, note a behavior in an objective way.
How did it affect another person, a group of people, or the whole team? This is where you tie the Behavior into the big picture. How does this behavior impact the whole team, project, or your employee’s career? They may not know why their behavior is a problem—or why it’s an asset. You can use I-statements (I’ve noticed… I feel…) which help the other person feel less defensive, as opposed to you-statements (you talk too much…).
Now, let’s dive into some employee feedback examples of this framework.
It’s important for your team members to hear what they’re doing well! When you give positive feedback, you’re reinforcing the behaviors you want to see in your colleagues and setting expectations for what success looks like.
Here’s an example of positive feedback, broken down into SBI components:
- Great job leading that meeting. → This sets up the Situation and connects praise to a specific action.
- Thanks for putting together an agenda, setting objectives, and assigning action items. → These were the Behaviors that contributed to a successful Situation.
- That kept us on track and all on the same page! It was very organized and made me feel energized and confident about this project. I’d love to see all our meetings like this! → This specifically highlights how the receiver’s actions made an Impact on the giver’s or team’s feelings, perspective, or way of thinking, as well as a suggestion for the future.
Negative feedback sounds so… negative! We prefer to think of negative feedback as opportunities for improvement. Everybody has their weaknesses, and most people are eager to understand how they can do better.
Many managers and peers are understandably nervous about giving negative feedback. It’s awkward and can be hard to anticipate how the receiver will react. Will they be defensive? Will they get mad, or hold a grudge?
We can’t control someone else’s response, but we can control our own. Let’s examine how to give negative feedback using the SBI model:
- Can I be radically candid about the projects you’ve taken on this quarter? → This sets up the Situation that you’re about to provide feedback on. We also highly recommend the Radical Candor framework (read more about it here!), because it sets up expectations about the following conversation.
- I’ve noticed that you’ve had to push back the deadlines on three of your projects recently. → This outlines the Behavior you’re about to discuss.
- Since these project launches are delayed, we may not be able to reach our quarterly goals. → This is the Impact of the Behavior.
For negative feedback conversations, we recommend adding another step: Exploration.
Negative feedback isn't meant to take someone down a peg or make someone feel bad—it’s to understand why the Situation occurred, and how you can help the receiver come up with a solution.
Your employees want to do a good job—they may already be aware of or be self-conscious about negative issues like missing deadlines or coming in late. You’re not here to scold them, and they will be less defensive if they know you have their best interests at heart.
4. How can I help you manage these projects? What if we bake in time during the planning stage to account for time spent on administrative tasks, in meetings, and any other extraneous events that come up? Would that be helpful? → Having some ideas for solutions is a great starting point to Explore pain points, and serves as the starting point of a productive, collaborative conversation.
It could be with a question if you’re looking to understand more about your employee’s point of view. It could be with a solution if you’re looking to simply solve a problem. Or it could be with a heartfelt thanks for positive behavior. The most important thing here is to connect with ongoing behavior.
What's happened is in the past—how would you like the employee to take this into the future?
Wrapping it up
The final part of a feedback discussion? It’s not talking—it’s active listening. Feedback conversations go better for both sides when everyone feels heard.
Asking questions is a good way to ensure the employee has an opportunity to address any of their concerns. Perhaps they didn’t understand a part of your feedback, or they may have a different solution in mind.
- What are your key takeaways from this conversation?
- Does this feedback align with your goals?
- What can I do to support you with this?
- Is there another way we can make this work?
It’s important to end the conversation with empathy. Make sure the person you’re giving feedback to feels heard and understood. This can mean acknowledging that the conversation was difficult and you appreciate their openness to discussing a tough issue. Ending a conversation on a high note—or at least, on a “let’s sit with this and circle back after we’ve had time to process,” note—makes giving feedback feel more productive and encouraging.
- Thank you for taking this seriously. I know these kinds of conversations are difficult.
- We’ll work together on finding a solution—this is a problem I’ve had in the past, too.
- Your contributions are appreciated by the whole team.
The purpose of these feedback conversations isn’t just to correct a problem—it’s to inspire employees to do their best every day, and give them the tools to do it.
Adjust and evolve
Giving employees honest and actionable feedback isn’t easy. But it does get a little easier with practice.
You shouldn't just wait for something wrong to pop up to use this framework, either! It’s important to give this kind of detailed, thoughtful recognition when they do something right as well. That encourages these behaviors in the future and makes people feel seen, valued, and appreciated. Consider baking time for recognition into your one-on-ones!
And if things don’t go quite as planned in your first feedback conversation? That doesn’t mean you failed. It’s just another opportunity to try a different approach. You won’t be able to use the same script for different employees, because everyone responds differently to feedback. This is another part of the Radical Candor framework we like—the ability to Care Personally, meaning that you understand your employees’ communication styles and languages of appreciation.
Adjust your conversations as you get more experienced and comfortable giving feedback. You’ll learn what works well for you, your team, and your colleagues. Your whole organization will benefit from your commitment to feedback, and you’ll find yourself a better communicator and leader for it.