Leadership insight: giving feedback that works

Posted by Cranfield School of Management on 08-Dec-2015 12:34:06

Organisational success is hugely influenced by people and individual development should always be a priority. This should be the driving force behind any feedback given and should be seen as a way to achieve career progression.

Giving feedback is an integral, but challenging part of a manager's role. It shouldn’t be a forum for criticism, but instead a ‘development conversation’ and tool for an employee to address their personal growth. If done right it should leave them feeling empowered and not anxious about their position or comparing themselves to colleagues.

In the recent New York Times exposé of the working conditions at Amazon it was revealed that an internal phone directory gives instructions on how to send secret feedback to each other’s bosses. One employee commented: “You learn how to diplomatically throw people under the bus…It’s a horrible feeling.”

With this example fresh in the collective consciousness, it seems an apt time to discuss feedback and how to give it effectively. As a manager a good deal of self awareness and knowledge of the political currents within the organisation is essential for giving constructive feedback. In order to improve development conversations with employees, managers must have an external perspective on how their comments are received by others.

One of the hardest things to influence is ingrained behaviours within an organisation, but it can be done. Ways of reaching business objectives can be mapped out with logical steps, but human behaviours have just as much influence on outcomes.

Here are some tips on giving constructive feedback:

Ask questions

Think about how someone’s behaviour is working for them. For example if they are not good at communicating their actions to the rest of the team, ask how they find the process. If they become defensive simply ask how it could be done better to benefit everyone, reminding them that you’re all working together and have shared aims.  

Intention vs outcome

The vast majority of the time people don’t want their behaviour to have a negative result. So focus on the outcome an employee desired, and talk through more productive ways to achieve it in the future. Focusing on or labelling problematic behaviour is only likely to meet with resistance.

Wording matters

Perhaps the most important thing when giving feedback is not to make it personal. Make suggestions on how to improve and focus on the benefit of doing so to them. For example instead of saying “You’re not focusing on the detail enough”, try “With a bit more focus on the detail your work could be even better". The difference is slight but powerful.

Don’t overwhelm

Prioritise and be realistic about what can be achieved in a given time. Setting some goals will help make sure it’s an improvement plan to help someone progress. Make it about their career progression and reaching their next goal.


How we can help

Within Cranfield School of Management, our Centre for General Management Development (CGMD) runs several leadership development courses for executives. There’s our advanced development programme for senior managers preparing for director-level leadership, and our directors programme for senior executives looking to maximise their strategic leadership.

Within these general management courses you will learn how to position yourself more effectively at director-level, develop the perspectives required to inform your strategic goals, and nurture your business leadership skills.



Sign up for more Leadership Insights