Why constructive feedback matters
The end-goal of 360° Feedback is not to simply give feedback to the person being assessed.
The end-goal is for the person receiving feedback to make a positive impact to their work performance and career.
To do this, they need to:
- Use the feedback to understand what their top strengths and areas to improve are, and why
- Take action and improve their performance in the area that needs it the most.
Constructive feedback is essential. The feedback needs to be clear and useful. And it needs to be given in a way that leaves them feeling motivated to do something about it!
6 steps to giving great constructive feedback
Here are 6 steps you can take to ensure your feedback is constructive!
Focus on 1 to 3 areas
You may be asked to provide feedback on someone's top strengths, or their top areas to improve. And it may be easy to start listing off their strengths. Or - sadly - the areas you feel they need to improve in.
While this may feel therapeutic for you, this actually isn't so useful for the person receiving feedback. With both strengths and areas for improvement, a long list of areas can be overwhelming (and in the latter case, quite upsetting!). It won't be clear where they should focus their attention.
So make their life easier and decide on 1 to 3 areas that need the most improvement. Provide really good feedback for these areas, and leave the rest out for now!
When you talk about someone's biggest strengths or areas for improvement, it's easy to start summarizing them at a high-level. "You're an awesome sales-person!" or "You need to focus on improving your communication".
Unfortunately, while you know the reasons that you're giving this feedback, the person receiving it may be unclear. "Why do I need to improve my communication? My written communication or verbal? Should I take a course covering communication skills?!"
It's more useful to talk about specific events you've witnessed. Be clear about what happened, when it happened, who was involved and the impact.
For example, "I've spotted that you can be really quiet on the weekly team calls, particularly in the last month. It feels like we're not getting your input on designs as a result."
Providing this detail makes it much easier for the person receiving feedback to understand what needs improvement, why it needs improvement, and how best to fix it.
Describe the impact
When you describe a strength, highlight why this is great for you and the company. "Your sales presentation at Big Company Ltd was outstanding. I've started using the same approach and style and it's paying off!"
When you describe an area for improvement, highlight the pain that it can cause. "You're not delegating as much of the shop inventory review as you could. We feel like we can do more to help, and it's keeping you from the accounting."
Remember that you might not know the full story
When you give constructive feedback in person, you should take a pause after explaining the issue, and ask for their view.
In many cases, they may not have realized that there was an issue. In others, there will be a good reason for the issue happening that you were unaware of.
Why wasn't your boss delegating the shop inventory review? Perhaps company policy prevents it. The issue might not be that she's not delegating. The issue might be that she hasn't done a great job of sharing the company policy on this.
So, try not to be harsh! You can "soften" your feedback by explaining you might not know the full story.
For example: "It feels like you're not delegating as much of the shop inventory review as you could (- there may be a good reason for this? I'm not sure!). We feel like we can do more to help, and it's keeping you from the accounting"
Suggest improvements (but don't lecture them)
It can be really useful to suggest some actions to take to address areas that need improvement.
Just remember that - as you don't necessarily know the full story - you don't necessarily know the best solution.
So rather than saying "You need to take the sales presentation course", try something like "I'd suggest taking the sales presentation course". By offering a suggestion rather than a command, the person receiving the feedback is actually more likely to be happy with the idea!
Be professional (and tone any negative thoughts!)
Even if you follow all the guidance above, it can hard to contain your emotions when giving feedback. It's all-too-easy to include a comment that makes your frustration clear.
But remember: This exercise is not about helping someone to understand their shortcomings. It's about motivating them to improve areas that will help them grow. So try and keep your feedback positive and professional.
Before you submit your feedback, it's well worth taking a break - having a cup of tea (or your preferred warm beverage!) - and coming back to your feedback. Review it a final time and see if you can improve it to ultimately make it more useful for the person receiving it.