4 Key Feedback Principles

4 Key Principles for Delivering Feedback to Your People

Many of us are in, or entering, the so-called feedback season. Yearly performance reviews can be a gut wrenching thing if you’re on the receiving end… even just thinking about the fact the so many people have criticized you can make you want to implode! It’s a similar experience for the person on the other side of the table delivering the feedback. Some managers just ain't good at the “people stuff,” yet many firms still give these managers the incredible task of telling their people how they are doing. I want to share 4 tips for delivering feedback that will help prevent explosions (or implosions).


For just a minute, I actually want you to stand up tall on your high horse. You need to do this in order to "see" the importance of the job you have in delivering feedback. This must not be viewed as just another item on your to-do list. Own up to the authority and responsibility you have in shaping someone’s perception of themselves. Spend the time needed to get QUALITY input. If you suck at giving feedback, invest the time/money/energy needed to improve. This part of your job is much bigger than you, and your skill or comfort should not diminish the impact you can have in someone’s career… in someone’s life.


Don’t assume you know everything about the person or what they need. Just because you see something a certain way doesn’t mean your are right. Your perception is YOUR reality, not theirs. Get off your high horse. Take off your cape. Return to your heavenly throne o ye lord our savior. Please note the sarcasm. There can be a tremendous amount of value in what you have to share, and if you really want them to receive that value then I’d recommend building a bridge before you tell someone to cross it. Try exploring, together with the person, certain topics and themes within the feedback before giving your diagnosis of the “problem." If the goal of the performance review is to help them, then you must be willing to step into their world before you can change it. You won’t truly influence them if you aren’t willing to be influenced by them. Without applying this, your feedback will be more like the 3rd definition in the picture below.


It’s somehow become taboo for employees to admit they have career aspirations outside of their current team or company. It’s even taboo for you as a manager to discuss the various plans you have for your employee. Rest assured, agendas exist on both sides. The spirit of feedback should be about individual development, not relative evaluation. It’s very difficult to help someone develop if you do not know what they are developing toward, and you can’t know that without creating a safe space for them to share their plans without fear of being ranked or paid lower than their colleague who “says” they want to work there forever. For someone aspiring to run a department, feel free to spend plenty of time telling them how terrible they are with whatever they’re currently running. For someone who has no interest in managing people, why are you putting them in that position and then spending valuable resources judging their performance, be it good or bad? For someone who has no career plans (aka filter for receiving the feedback), how do you know if you’re truly helping them? In some ways this is about you acknowledging and accepting them for who they are (everyone can’t be everything, right?). In other ways this is about knowing how to best position what you have to share so you can benefit from their "self-corrective action" (see definition #1).


This principle is often understood, but very rarely applied. Unlike your birthday, wedding anniversary, or favorite holiday, delivering feedback cannot happen once every year! It can’t happen twice a year. I know you know this. I know you know this has to be an ongoing conversation, so is it happening that way? Feedback starts well before the performance review, and it continues well after. I agree that it’s ultimately the employee’s job to make sure they are getting feedback, and I also think it’s your job as a manager to make sure they are getting it. Feel free to simply let your people know they are not doing a good enough job of getting continuous feedback from you. I understand concerns about the time it takes to deliver feedback. But if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? Feedback done right cannot be done once.During the year end review, spend a few minutes co-creating a follow up plan that works for both you and them. You’d be surprised how little time it actually takes, and how much time and stress it will save.

Feedback isn’t right. It isn’t wrong. It just is. If you remember these principles then you can trust you are doing a good job delivering feedback to your people.