Effective feedback gives employees information they can realistically use to increase their learning and improve their performance. It abandons a “fixed mindset” that sees skills as “innate abilities” and instead employs a “growth mindset” that sees skills as developed through continued effort and practice.
1. Don’t confuse experience with ability.
What appears as “smart” or as “innate ability” is usually a result of having had more useful exposure and experience. Employees who seem less adept at particular skills may just have less preparation, not less potential. Make it clear to your team that you understand that skill and ability improve with practice just as exercise strengthens a muscle.
2. Recognize that an employee’s performance on a particular project demonstrates their skill at a point in time not their ability or potential.
When employees make mistakes, stress that they have not mastered this set of skills or tasks “yet” but that you have confidence that with enough time and effort they can master it.
3. Focus feedback on progress, persistence, and effort.
Use specific comments like, “Great improvement on x; you’re ready to move on,” or “Good progress; you need some more practice with x.” Make no comments that imply the employee’s performance is based on “natural” ability.
4. Make feedback concrete and specific.
Avoid using vague characterizations about what employees need to improve, such as “your projects generally are not up to par” or “you need to improve your leadership or communication skills.” Instead, offer specific examples from past work that illustrate where this work falls short and specific suggestions for how to improve.
5. Resist the temptation to lower standards for success.
Set your standards high and tell employees the truth about how their performance compares with those standards thus far. At the same time, be sure to also ask the employee if you have provided all the tools they need to meet the standard, or if there might be additional resources they need.
6. Be sure that your feedback incorporates all four elements of “wise feedback.”
First, explain that you hold all employees to a high standard and that you believe feedback is crucial for meeting those standards. Second, clarify that your corrections identify where the employee has not yet met that standard. Third, offer suggestions that tell them what work at that standard looks like. Finally, express your confidence that the employee has the capacity to reach that standard.
7. Set realistic goals and timelines for improvement.
Identify the steps needed for employee growth, break these down into manageable goals, set a realistic timeline for accomplishing each goal, and identify the resources employees will need to meet these goals. Provide them with “stretch” assignments that help them to expand their skills without “biting off more than they can chew.”
8. Always offer the opportunity to discuss your feedback.
Ask the employee for their perspective and in the end, be sure that you and the employee fully understand the next steps the employee should make toward improvement.
- Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
- Cohen, G. L., & Steele, C. M. (2002). A barrier of mistrust: How negative stereotypes affect cross-race mentoring. In J. Aronson, Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education, 303-327.