• Riley Steinbach

Mistakes to Avoid When Giving Feedback

Feedback can be a powerful tool to increase employees’ skills, enhance employee experience, and create a growth mindset. Although feedback is critical in the workplace, not all feedback is good. Poorly delivered feedback is as bad (or worse) than no feedback at all. In this article, we outline some common feedback techniques that should be avoided.

Feedback mistakes

1) Using the feedback sandwich approach

The feedback sandwich is a common method that managers would use to provide employees with negative feedback. This method includes managers providing positive feedback, followed by negative feedback and then lastly more positive feedback. There are a couple things wrong with this method: (i) employees will either doubt the sincerity of the positive feedback from their managers and/or (ii) undermine the negative feedback.


To avoid using the sandwich approach, managers need to deliver constructive, forward focused, and transparent feedback. Being transparent is a more effective way of delivering feedback because it saves time for both the manager and direct report.


When constructive feedback is given directly and honestly, there is no disrespect or disingenuity, and this allows managers and direct reports to have a more open-ended conversation. That's not say that there still might be a level of discomfort when providing developmental feedback. Over time, frequent feedback will allow both parties to become more comfortable receiving and giving feedback. If you have trouble giving feedback, check out this article on how to give effective feedback.


2) Confusing judgement and feedback

Less than 25% of managers have confidence in the performance evaluations process. Why? Many still view the process as subjective. Subjectivity and bias can be caused by many factors in the workplace. We have previously written on common unconscious biases in performance reviews. One example we will bring up here is recency bias. This bias is common when feedback isn’t given frequently enough. Managers will tend to judge an employee's performance based on their most recent accomplishments or shortcomings instead of taking into account their entire performance. This is particularly true with annual reviews. How can managers remember performance throughout the year? Simple answer: they can't.


Luckily, there are some actions that managers can take to reduce recency bias and the other common workplace biases. Managers should implement a culture of continuous feedback. Continuous feedback allows for managers to check in more frequently with their employees' performance than the traditional annual or bi-annual reviews. Yes, continuous feedback can still be subjective; after all, we are all human and we cannot be 100% objective. But continuous feedback can help significantly decrease the biases that plague the traditional annual performance reviews. Aside from reducing biases, there are many benefits to continuous feedback including increased employee engagement and increased trust between managers and direct reports.


An important note about continuous feedback: there should be a way to document the feedback. This allows for managers (and direct reports) to keep track of performance and progress, and ensures that there will be a well-rounded conversation during their formal reviews.


3) Sugar coating feedback

There is no doubt that feedback conversations can be stressful for both managers and direct reports. Managers may feel the need to sugar coat their employee's performance (particularly poor performance) to make the conversation go smoother. These conversations often lead the employee to think that they have no room for improvement since they are doing everything well or they are meeting expectations. In the long run, this can harm the success of the company, the employee’s chances of promotion, and cause disengagement for the employee as they perceive that they have nothing to improve on.


Sugar coating bad feedback or providing no negative feedback is a terrible practice, and managers should note that this is actually the opposite of what employees want. Employees actually want the negative feedback a manager hates to give! 82% employees appreciate negative and positive feedback when it is delivered properly. If managers prepare to give constructive feedback, the employee will respect the conversation a lot more than not receiving any tips on how they can improve.


To overcome sugar coating feedback, managers should prepare for the feedback check-ins. Bring documented feedback and provide specific examples of employee past performance for reference.


4) Only focusing on past performance

When managers provide employees with constructive feedback on past performance, the conversion is not over. A good portion of a feedback conversation should be collaborating on ideas on how to improve the employee’s performance. Remember that effective feedback is also forward looking: what can be done to improve or sustain performance? Managers should provide employees with tactical steps they can take to improve their performance.


Remember that feedback is about developing your employees. Managers have to be open, honest, and forward looking. Give feedback, but give it effectively.


How does your company ensure your feedback is effective? – Let us know!