Giving better feedback for better performance

Go beyond ‘good job!’ to help people learn and thrive

feedback

Feedback in itself shouldn’t be that scary. It’s merely information that follows an action. We tell a joke and people laugh (or not). We hold a door open for someone and they say “thank you” (or not). We pet a cat and it purrs (or not).

When we receive quality feedback from our teammates and managers, we learn. This helps us proactively adjust our behavior in the future, leading to better work.

 

Dr. Kristen Swanson, Director of Learning at Slack
Dr. Kristen Swanson, Director of Learning at Slack

 

“If someone tells you that you ‘buried the lede’ by beginning with a stodgy research quote, you probably won’t make that choice again,” says Dr. Kristen Swanson, who, in her role as Director of Learning at Slack, is charged with teaching people how to improve their technical and interpersonal skills. “You’ll use that feedback to coach yourself more effectively each day as you work, which creates a very large cumulative effect over time.”

The thing is, most people tend to associate feedback, even the constructive kind, with delivering bad news. Swanson cautions that critical evaluation is really just one kind of feedback that ought to be balanced with another important form of feedback: appreciation.

When you express appreciation, you’re supporting someone’s behavior and encouraging them to do more of it. Many managers assume a well-meaning, “Good job!” will suffice, but researchers say that generic, vague expressions of praise or gratitude can be detrimental to young adults’ growth. In the workforce, a recent study shows women often receive less feedback than men and a good amount of it is abstract, which has been proven to hold them back from future opportunities.

Being purposeful and precise in how you deliver appreciation is therefore just as important as the way you handle critical feedback and, done right, can be equally as valuable in motivating a team member’s performance. In Swanson’s experience, the most effective positive feedback is:

  • Specific — The simplest way to keep feedback specific is to tie a person’s action to an outcome. Point out exactly what a person has done and why it matters.
  • Not personalized — Phrases like, “You’re a rockstar!” are problematic not just because they’re vague, but they can actually be reinforcing social status or personality rather than someone’s work. Be conscious of how you phrase things to keep feedback at the workplace fair and performance based rather than personality based.

 

 

  • Timely — A person is much more likely to remember appreciation when it’s given in the moment, so don’t wait until a scheduled meeting. Recognizing achievements large and small as they happen helps to reinforce good behaviors and keep things moving in the right direction.
  • Noted and shared — If you’re a manager, write down your feedback and share it with your team member. Logging your positive feedback in a mutually accessible place — like a shared document — will help team members feel it’s permanent and official. Keeping track of good feedback you’ve given also acts as a diagnostic tool: it gives you a fuller picture of a person’s achievements over a long term so you can see areas where they’ve repeatedly shined and shown interest, which gives you better insight into the kinds of opportunities that will help them grow and excel.

Specific and sincere appreciation gives people a clear picture of where they’re adding value, helps them understand their strengths, and (hopefully) gives everyone on the team equal opportunity for improvement and reward.

 

Lima Al-Azzeh prefers bowls over plates.

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.