Avoid These Pitfalls When Giving Employee Feedback

A comment made at a recent team meeting made Andrew realize that he had not provided any meaningful performance feedback to his employees for a very long time. Managing through the roller coaster ride of pandemic-related business challenges had been exhausting and distracting. It had compressed Andrew’s sense of time — where did 2021 go?… Or 2020 for that matter?

So he jumped into it. He was shocked at the response to his feedback.

Many of his team reacted emotionally to critiques of their work and were upset when Andrew told them where he felt they were falling short. He identified issues and situations (going back to the summer of 2020!) that they had no idea of — there had never been any hints from Andrew of short-comings or concerns: it was all news to them!

Of course, Andrew waited way too long to give feedback to his employees. Feedback should be provided on an ongoing basis, particularly as concerns or issues reveal themselves. For more about effective ways to provide consistent, ongoing feedback, read Arden Coaching’s blog, “The Benefits of Using the SBI Feedback Model.”

As a result, much of his feedback was a surprise to his employees. “I had no idea that my limited availability for remote meetings early in the morning was a concern to Andrew,” said one of his team. Another commented, “Some follow-up work for Andrew did fall through the cracks a few months ago. Andrew never mentioned it, and by the time I realized it, I thought it was no big deal. I just found out it was!” When giving feedback — especially when it’s in a more formal quarterly, semi-annual, or annual review setting — there should be no surprises. Ever!

To make up for lost time, Andrew spent a significant amount of time with each employee. He developed and reviewed an extensive laundry list of issues, problems, and shortcomings, along with a few positive comments and compliments. After the first 5 or 6 bullet point topics, people had glazed-over and stopped listening.

In Andrew’s enthusiasm to make up for lost time, he provided too much feedback. His list was too long. When receiving feedback, people need time to absorb and process what is being shared. For feedback to be useful, employees need space to digest and think through what’s been said. 

In addition, some of the feedback Andrew provided was based on the observations and opinions of others. For example, Andrew told one employee, “A team member said you didn’t provide the information they needed to complete their element of the deliverable.” To another, he said, “You were rude to a team member and behaved unprofessionally in a virtual meeting last October,” — a meeting that Andrew did not attend.

Andrew should not be making assessments or judgments based on other people’s descriptions of an event, or their opinions or interpretations. Feedback should be based on information that is seen, heard, or read directly.

Any assumptions, interpretations, or underlying meanings embedded in an event should be explored and challenged before accepting it as “truth.” For example, Andrew later learned that the employee mentioned earlier DID provide the information needed to their colleague. However, the information did not support their colleague’s point-of-view, and was not what they wanted.

For more about separating “facts” from “assumptions and interpretations” read, “Shape Your Mindset: How Do You Choose to View the World?

Don’t be like Andrew! Don’t let the rush of every day demands — remote or not — distract you from important leadership duties: communicating effectively and providing positive, useful feedback. For an additional perspective on giving feedback, read “A Leader Knows How to Give Feedback. True or False?,” by Arden coach Margaret Enloe, JD, PCC.

To learn more about giving (and receiving) feedback, and strengthening your leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.