How to Give Great Feedback to Your Staff

Motivating your employees is about more than your charisma and vision for your business. To help your employees perform their best, as their leader you need to provide feedback – the right kind, at the right time. Feedback is an essential tool for any manager, whether you run a small business or a large company.

Just as they need blood and oxygen, our brains need to receive comments about how they’re doing. Feedback works on the emotional system in the brain. It enables the brain to use higher-level thinking skills to decide how to continue doing good work, make the good work better, or make changes to get more positive responses and work harder toward company goals. Your leadership skills rely heavily on your ability to give and receive feedback.

Here are some ways in which you can feed your employees’ brains and give great feedback:

Be specific and timely. Comment while the task is still in the mind of your employee. This is especially important if you’re working toward a specific goal and you want to keep the momentum going. Specific feedback corrects or reinforces certain behaviours, enabling the brain to focus on something concrete, which it doesn’t do from a simple “Thank you.” If you decide to congratulate employees as a group, be sure to talk to each one personally as well.

Fit the feedback to the person. Now and then you may need to provide a pat on the back to one of your employees, or a nudge in the right direction, in a subtle yet supportive way. For such feedback to be really motivational, provide it in a way that’s best suited to the recipient.

Connect your feedback to company goals. Goals help the brain focus. Make your employees feel that their contributions are valued and create a positive emotion with the feedback. Some employers want to encourage competition, so they make sure that the entire company or department sees how everyone is doing.

Set up a schedule for follow-up conversations. A quick memo or email can easily be misinterpreted, so continued face-to-face feedback is best. Studies have shown that negative feedback may be less stressful to the brain than no feedback at all; for this reason, follow-ups are especially important for employees who need improvement. Put your message in writing as well as delivering it verbally.

Build on employees’ strengths when giving negative feedback. By beginning with the strengths, you involve the prefrontal cortex right away. If you begin with negativity, the information may never reach the frontal lobe; it may get stuck in the primitive emotional areas and put the employee in survival mode. Always give suggestions for improvement.

See if you can work all these points into your appraisals, or any time when you’re giving feedback and you’ll find it much easier to deliver, as well as much more effective in creating improvements in your employees’ performance.

With thanks to Marilee B. Sprenger, author of The Leadership Brain For Dummies