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Employee Feedback: The Ultimate Guide
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April 18, 2023
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Humans have been talking about feedback for centuries. In fact, Chinese philosopher Confucius spoke in 500BC about the importance of communicating difficult messages well. Fast forward to the 21st century, where sharing opinions across your organization sets the tone for creating a culture of continuous development. Even better, employee feedback builds stronger teams and reduces staff turnover.
Need some social proof? Companies like Google and Spotify have already invested heavily in their employee feedback systems, moving away from outdated appraisals and towards real-time, actionable feedback that benefits both employer and employee.
Our ultimate guide for employee feedback will show you how to gather feedback effectively, use it to improve performance, and continuously engage employees.
🔄 What is employee feedback?
Employee feedback refers to sharing information and opinions within an organization.
Traditionally, this feedback has flowed down from employer to employee in a performance review setting. However, companies now actively seek employee feedback from the lower ranks, asking poignant questions about their job satisfaction, overall company culture, and working relationships with their managers.
The performance review process is the most traditional form of feedback in the work environment. It is often linked to HR-related areas such as salary raises and bonus allocations. Typically, these occur annually. However, many companies now offer frequent check-ins to keep employees engaged and motivated.
360-degree feedback looks beyond the linear employee-to-employer relationship and seeks peer input too. In a 360-degree review, colleagues rate each other, offering a well-rounded view of their performance and validating feedback from other areas of the organization.
Customer feedback is similar to 360 feedback in that it looks at an individual's interactions with others. But the difference is they're external customers rather than internal peers. By understanding how employees interact with customers, you'll improve the customer experience and, in turn, business results.
Example: Companies might ask customers to complete a survey or questionnaire periodically or after a customer service query.
💬 What types of employee feedback are there?
As you can see, employee feedback is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Instead, companies tailor different types of feedback to different situations and objectives.
Modality: formal vs informal Feedback
Formal feedback is often given in writing and includes elements like performance reviews, objectives, and KPIs. This type of feedback is planned in advance and may be infrequent, such as a quarterly or annual review.
In contrast, informal feedback is spontaneous and often involves day-to-day conversations. Employers share this feedback more frequently (e.g., weekly or monthly). Informal feedback is a great way to keep employees engaged and motivated.
Content: positive vs negative feedback
Positive feedback is also known as reinforcement feedback. It focuses on what employees are doing well and encourages and motivates them to keep up the good work.
Negative feedback, on the other hand, is a type of redirectional feedback that points out areas for improvement. While giving employees constructive criticism is essential, ensure this feedback doesn't demotivate or discourage employees. It all comes down to the delivery!
Timing: real-time vs delayed feedback
Real-time feedback happens in the moment, often in response to something that's just happened.
For example, if an employee makes a mistake, their manager might provide on-the-spot feedback.
Real-time feedback helps employees quickly course-correct and avoid making the same mistake again.
As the name suggests, delayed feedback happens after an event has taken place. This form of feedback is problematic if the guidance is outdated or the feedback provider has forgotten the details.
Direction: downward, upward, self-appraisals and peer reviews
Some of the most common feedback flows throughout an organization include:
- Downward feedback comes from a manager or employer to an employee.
- Upward feedback flows in the opposite direction, from employees to their managers.
- Self-feedback is when individuals take the time to assess their personal performance, perhaps through a development plan.
- Peer feedback is when employees give feedback to their colleagues.
Initiator: push vs pull feedback
We may also classify feedback according to who has initiated it. With push feedback, the focus is on giving employees the information they need to improve their performance.
Pull feedback, on the other hand, is more proactive. Rather than waiting for a scheduled performance review, employees actively seek out feedback from their managers or colleagues. Alternatively, leaders request input from their direct reports, giving them a chance to speak up.
Purpose: developmental vs. evaluative
Developmental feedback aims to improve employee performance. It looks at an employee's strengths and weaknesses and provides suggestions for future development.
Evaluative feedback assesses an employee's current performance against predetermined standards, including core competencies of their role.
🆚 What should you choose between developmental vs. evaluative feedback? read our in-depth analysis to conclude what’s the best approach for your organization.
❗️ Why is employee feedback important?
To understand why employee feedback is critical, you only have to look at what happens when companies don't take workforce voices seriously.
For example, in November 2018, over 20,000 Google employees staged a series of walkouts at global offices in Tokyo, Singapore, Zurich, Haifa, Berlin, London, Dublin, and more.
These employees protested against forced arbitration, systemic racism, sexual harassment, and gender inequality, each a longstanding problem in Google's work culture.
Anyone involved in the protest left a note on their desks, reading:
"I'm not at my desk because I'm walking out in solidarity with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that's not working for everyone. I'll be back at my desk later. I walked out for real change."
Google employees forced their CEO Sundar Pichai to listen to their message and take action to meet their expectations.
Similar tech activist walkouts have occurred at Netflix in response to a transgender row, Amazon due to climate policies, and Facebook due to lack of action over Donald Trump's controversial posts. These walkouts have all been the last resort to get management's attention. However, all could have been avoided by reacting to employee feedback.
Chris White, former director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan, explains,
"We need to continually invite people to speak up at work. Making these invitations a routine part of how we engage in the workplace lays important groundwork needed for those times when people have to speak up and be heard on issues that are hard for management to hear."
Tip: Employee feedback goes beyond overhauling company culture and directly impacts individual development and performance.
The impact of feedback on employee development
Feedback gives employees access to rich insights regarding their growth potential. This powerful tool helps them identify their strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and track their progress over time.
"Feedback is queen. It's the fastest way to learn and the key to winning favor. But only if you study it, ask questions, and apply it." - Erica Schneider, Head of Content, Grizzle.
Regular feedback also fosters a culture of continuous learning in your organization, encouraging employees to experiment, take risks, and embrace new challenges.
The impact of feedback on employee performance
To enable employee development, leaders must provide employees with a performance baseline highlighting what they're currently doing well and where they need to make positive adjustments.
For example, the Stop, Start, Continue method is a popular addition to performance reviews, where managers and peers identify the behavior they would like the recipient to stop, start, and continue doing.
🛑 Stop: "I noticed that you tend to interrupt your team members when they're presenting new ideas. It makes it difficult for them to share their thoughts."
🟢 Start: "I'd like to see you getting more involved in team meetings. You have some valuable ideas to share, and we'd love to hear them when called upon."
📈 Continue: "It's great you're always willing to lend a helping hand to your teammates. Your colleagues benefit enormously from your experience. Keep up the good work!"
This leadership investment is just the kick some workers need to perform well. Some 69% of employees commit to working harder when they receive recognition through feedback. Why? You might ask. Because they receive a motivation boost when their employer notices their work and proves their career growth is a priority.
🔍 3 common ways to collect employee feedback
Companies may request employee feedback at multiple points throughout their journey at work. Here are some of the most common ways to gather these opinions.
Pulse surveys are a simple way to collect employee feedback regularly. These surveys are typically short (no more than 10 questions) and focus on a specific topic, such as job satisfaction or company culture. They're snappy and engaging, so employees have time to complete them. And because companies send them out regularly, pulse surveys allow you to track changes over time.
New hire surveys
Onboarding is a crucial point in an employee's journey — we know that new hires are 2x as likely to seek new jobs in the future if their introduction to a company has been negative. New hire surveys gather information on things like the onboarding process, training, and development opportunities. HR leaders use these to improve the onboarding experience for future employees. If you're a remote-first or distributed company, this is also a great chance to learn if your recruits are settling in well and bonding with their colleagues.
An exit interview is a meeting between an employee and their employer when the employee is leaving the company. It's an opportunity for the employer to find out why the employee is leaving and get feedback on the company. Exit interviews identify trends or issues that may be causing employees to leave. They also improve the employee experience and future retention rates.
Forbes recommends you ask questions like:
- Did you feel valued and appreciated?
- What made you look for a new job?
- How was your relationship with the manager?
- Would you recommend working here?
- Were you fully embraced for who you are?
🚀 Building a feedback system and culture
Investing in your feedback culture will improve communication skills and collaboration and create a learning environment in which employees feel safe to experiment, take risks and grow.
An effective employee feedback system should center on the methods and strategies you'll use to collect valuable insights on employee experience, engagement, performance, and more. Through these, you'll identify skill gaps, employee retention issues, and other problems early and take proactive steps to overcome them.
Pro Tip: The key is consistency so employees feel they can approach you with any concerns or issues.
A healthy feedback culture depends on buy-in. Before speaking up, employees must trust their voices will be heard and that managers take their feedback seriously. Companies build this culture over time through transparency, communication, and follow-through.
To get started, consider what values you want to encourage within your team or organization and how feedback helps foster them.
For example, to promote creativity, you might ask for input on ideas during team brainstorms. To prioritize customer satisfaction, you might ask for feedback after every customer interaction.
💡 Best practices for giving, receiving and asking for Feedback
Our experience with feedback may differ depending on whether we're dishing it out or are on the receiving end. Whichever position you find yourself in, try to see the point of view of the other person.
How to properly give feedback
LeeAnn Renninger, Cognitive Psychologist and Founder of LifeLabs Learning, explains that the way that most people give feedback isn't brain-friendly.
"People fall into one of two camps. Either they're of the camp that is very indirect and soft, and the brain doesn't even recognize that feedback is being given. Or they fall into the other camp of being too direct, and with that, it tips the other person into the land of being defensive.
There's this part of the brain called the amygdala, and it's scanning at all times to figure out whether the message has a social threat attached to it. With that, we'll move forward to defensiveness, we'll move backwards in retreat, and with that, the feedback-giver starts to dysregulate as well. They add more ums and ahs and justifications, and the whole thing gets wonky really fast."
Try following this four-part formula when giving employee feedback:
- The "micro yes": at this stage, you're creating a moment of buy-in, allowing the recipient to participate (or not) in your feedback thoughts. You'll ask, "Do you have a couple of minutes to discuss how our last client meeting went?" or "Are you available for a chat? I have some ideas I'd love to share with you about X." The beauty of the micro yes is that it signals to the recipient's brain that feedback is coming, so it's less of a shock.
- Use actionable data: provide specific examples to your feedback recipient and eliminate anything vague like "You're not reliable." Instead, use evidence like "You promised you'd deliver the project by X date, but it's late."
- Demonstrate impact: explain how the evidence impacted you; for example, "The missed deadline blocked the team from progressing with the project for two weeks."
- Always end on a question: remember that feedback is a two-way street. The aim is to make this a conversation rather than a monologue. So ask the feedback recipient for their thoughts on what they've heard.
How to properly receive feedback
It's natural to feel defensive when we're on the receiving end of feedback. But if we take a step back and see the situation from the other person's perspective, it'll be easier to process what they're saying and use the information to your advantage.
Try following these three steps when receiving feedback:
- Listen with the intention of understanding: it's easy to start preparing our response as the other person is talking, but this will only block us from hearing what they're saying. Instead, try to focus on understanding their point of view.
- Don't take it personally: try not to think of feedback as a reflection of our character, but it's important to remember that it's usually about our behavior. Feedback is an opportunity for us to learn and grow, not an attack on who we are as a person.
- Respond with appreciation: even if the feedback is difficult to hear, try to find something you appreciate about the situation. For example, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I hadn't realized that my behavior had that effect."
Deborah Grayson Riegel, instructor, Women in Leadership at Columbia Business School, explains:
"Any professional who's committed to getting better at their current job and to career advancement down the road knows that negative feedback, when delivered appropriately, is critical to growth and improvement.
Far too often, we fail to digest negative feedback because we're more committed to protecting ourselves and our egos against it. We'd rather be right than have something to learn. We'd rather catastrophize than put it in perspective. We'd rather make it about someone or something than make it about ourselves."
How to ask for feedback
If you've always been on the receiving end of feedback, it might seem unnatural to ask questions instead. What if you don't like the answers? But actively asking for feedback is what we refer to as pulling feedback. This is an incredibly powerful move as it establishes you as a continual learner.
Asking for feedback also builds trust and credibility with your colleagues, demonstrating that you value their opinions. Here are our top 3 tips for asking for feedback:
- Pick the right time and place: you don't want to ambush your colleague with a request for feedback. So make sure to choose a time when they're free and won't be interrupted. Better yet, send out surveys and give them access to tools they use on their schedule.
- Be specific: have a few specific questions in mind that you want to ask. This focuses the conversation and ensures you get the information that you need.
- Explain the value of their feedback: if someone is hesitant to give you feedback, explain how much you appreciate their time, their opinion, and how you're hoping to grow from the insights they're willing to share.
⬇️ Employee feedback examples
All of us can probably agree on the importance and usefulness of employee feedback. But how do you give it? What do you say to get your point across without causing offense and sending your colleagues running for the exit?
There's an art to giving positive and negative feedback – it should be valuable, actionable, and specific. Follow the examples below to share your points effectively.
Positive employee feedback examples
Positive feedback should motivate team members by highlighting strengths. By pointing out what they're doing well, you'll encourage them to progress with this type of behavior.
Pro Tip: Remember to avoid generalizations and empty compliments in favor of clear positive statements.
Don't say: "You did a great job on that project."
Do say: "I appreciate the creativity you brought to X project last quarter. It paid off and produced X results for the team."
Negative employee feedback examples
Negative feedback supports employees with their performance. Managers should target redirecting behavior, focusing on the future rather than dwelling on past mistakes.
Pro Tip: When giving constructive feedback, always aim to be specific, so that team members know what they need to work on in the future.
Don't say: "You're always late for meetings."
Do say: "I noticed you were late for our morning team meeting. Please try to be on time in the future so we can start the meeting together and not hold up our colleagues."
⚙️ 2 practical employee feedback tools
It's best to avoid "one-size-fits-all" employee feedback systems – you need a tool that moves and sways to the tune of your organization. A couple of practical and entirely customizable solutions are:
Create a 360-degree feedback culture at the click of a button with Zavvy. You'll boost development and performance by setting up meaningful 1:1s, monthly and quarterly reviews, and development talks. These instruments have two things in common: they're transparent and fair.
With Zavvy, you'll create a feedback cycle that works for you — be it upward, downward, peer or self-feedback. In addition, our software makes it a cinch to share recommendations with your colleagues so you grow with precision.
If you're looking to create employee engagement surveys, then Typeform is a simple way to create a beautiful, custom form. Measuring employee satisfaction and engagement are excellent indicators of whether your team members are happy or may be seeking a role elsewhere.
Choose a template as your starting point, define your questions, and have an analysis plan ready for the data you collect. If you're conducting the survey anonymously, share this fact with your feedback participants.
📝Employee feedback form and survey questions
An employee pulse survey is a listening tool that tracks metrics like:
- employee wellbeing and sense of belonging
- alignment with company culture
- workplace engagement and satisfaction
- personal development
- perception of the relationship with managers.
Questions are short and often use a multiple-choice format to encourage employees to participate regularly. With this data, you'll identify and be able to address issues early.
When it comes to the feedback form and survey questions, here are a few to get you started:
- Do you feel like you have the opportunity to improve your skills?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your satisfaction with your current role?
- Do you feel like your manager values your ideas at work?
- Do you have the opportunity to contribute to decisions that affect your hard work?
- What should my company start doing/keep doing/stop doing?
➡️Download a full employee pulse survey template here.
➡️ Summing up: nourish your employee feedback culture today
Giving feedback is an essential part of being a leader, but it's not always easy. If you're starting from scratch, ensure you're armed with effective positive and negative employee feedback phrases that allow you to deliver your message clearly, concisely, and constructively.
There's no one-size-fits-all feedback solution – what works for one team might not work for another. The best way to find out is by experimenting and implementing a flexible feedback system adaptable to your organization's specific needs.
But most importantly, listen to the voices of your workforce. They have valuable opinions to share!
Book a demo to start building your feedback culture today.
❓Employee feedback FAQ
Should employee feedback be anonymous?
Anonymous employee feedback may prompt people to be more honest, but it also has drawbacks. If you choose the anonymous route, be aware you may not be able to follow up on specific comments, and you'll miss out on the opportunity to build trust and rapport with your team.
Where to get started with employee feedback?
1. The first step is to decide what type of employee feedback you want to collect.
2. Then choose a tool that gathers and tracks it.
- For example, a pulse survey is a great way to take the temperature of your team regularly and track employee satisfaction over time.
- Alternatively, a new hire survey gets crucial feedback from employees during their first few weeks on the job.
3. Once you've chosen a tool, start by creating a list of questions you want to ask.
When should I give employee feedback?
The best time to give feedback is as soon after the event as possible, which allows the recipient to process the information and take action if necessary.
How often should I give employee feedback?
Frequent feedback allows employees to receive timely guidance to improve their performance. Gallup data reveals that when employees strongly agree they have received "meaningful" feedback in the past week, they're four times more likely to be engaged than their peers who haven't.
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