Effective Constructive Feedback

(This section deals with the basics of effective constructive feedback – content, timeliness and coaching.)

Dear Max,

You did a good job but it could have been better. (thinking: He needs to change)

Jan (Manager)


Dear Jan,

Thanks! (thinking: I did well..of course everyone can be better  – that’s what managers tell everyone. )



Hey Max,

You did a good job but it could have been better and I am kinda disappointed. (thinking: he is so messed up, it’s frustrating! If he does not change, I will have him fired.)



Hey Jan,

Thanks. I will try to improve. (thinking: disappointed? This is how I have been working since I joined and she’s never said anything! What is she disappointed about? Argh I wish I could ask her what she’s talking about BUT oh well..)




I know you try to do a good job but it could have been better and I am kinda disappointed. Maybe you should just look at other available opportunities.  (thinking: wow firing someone is a difficult job but he deserved it! Despite all these emails urging him to improve, he has not shown any improvement. Oh I should inform HR to prepare his exit documents.)




…(thinking: huh?)



This is an example of vague and ineffective feedback and the confusions associated with it. Chances are that at some point in your career, you have either been as vague in your feedback to your teammate or have been left similarly confused after receiving feedback from your manager. A lot of times the problem is because the manager is unsure about what “could have been better” really looks like till the employee has failed completely. Then again, a lot of times managers know exactly what could help the person improve but choose to steer clear of difficult conversations. It’s true – constructive or negative feedback makes hard conversations. But let’s face it – it could be the only rope for that struggling employee.

In this section, we will be discussing negative or constructive feedback and not positive or affirmative feedback. Although it is important to note that positive feedback works strongly to improve an already good performance. So be generous with that.

Most companies evaluate their employees on the basis on their reaction to feedback. However, it is unfair for an employee to be examined in that area if they haven’t really received appropriate feedback during their term of employment.

So what does effective constructive feedback look like? It includes relevant content, right timing, and follow-up coaching.

Relevant content includes accurate evaluation about an employee’s performance and clear instructions about any required steps to improvement. Feedback that is unclear or provided with the intention to micromanage can result in a lack of productivity. It takes into consideration the employees reasoning and ability to evaluate themselves. It enables the employee to identify their area of needed growth and equips them with tools to address it. Improvement can be quicker when the employee can have an example of the ideal.

Timing plays an important role in making the feedback effective. Feedback given too frequently or less than required, can both lead to lack of improvement. If feedback has been delayed for longer than the first few inadequate performances, you can expect more push-back from the employee and a slower rate of improvement.  It is therefore important to identify times when feedback needs to be immediate and times when it needs to be delayed.

Follow up coaching is important to enable the employee remain accountable and seek additional support in times of uncertainty. Sometimes employees benefit more from follow up coaching than from the original feedback. Coaching might seem time consuming at the beginning but it is worth the effort when results begin to show.

Since employees and managers have different trust levels and or different styles of communication, it is of utmost importance for all managers to get to know their teams in a way that fuels honest conversations. It helps identify the right kind of feedback and management that works for the team. Remember words are not always enough to understand a person so observe your team and learn about them. Today being a manager has assumed the role of a coach and you can only coach the people you have begun to get to know.

If providing constructive feedback is difficult for a manager, it could be the result of having older teammates, or being acquainted with the employee for too long without really having a trusted relationship, or impatience, or inability to handle difficult conversations. Whatever might be the reason, delaying constructive feedback does not really benefit anyone in the company. With some practice you will begin to see the results and believe that truth spoken clearly and sensitively has an effective impact. Although if that is not resulting in the desired outcome, there needs to be some deeper probing.

Sometimes feedback is best delayed or simply provided with the rest of the team around and we will discuss that in a different section.

If Jan were to rewrite the first message that she had written to Max, it would probably read like this:

Dear Max,

You did a good job at that presentation. The content was well researched and the slides were clear and precise. Although you spoke well, it was a little hard to understand the examples that you used about the penquin. Let’s discuss that a little more in person around 4 pm today. I think it would be safe to schedule twenty minutes for that meeting.



Dear Jan,

Thanks for the note! I will see you at 4 pm. I look forward to your feedback.


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