Providing feedback is key to letting employees know how they are performing and what is expected of them, as well as supporting learning and development. It is important this feedback happens on a regular, ongoing basis – not just when performance reviews come around. So, how can manager’s best approach the kind of constructive feedback that deals with issues or shortcomings employees need to improve on?

Be problem-focused and specific

An important part of telling an employee when improvement is required is to explain why. For example, starting a conversation with, “You need to be getting to work earlier” assumes the employee knows why punctuality is so important. Instead, be clear about the actual problem at hand and structure the feedback around it.

The employee might not have all the background or context on an issue. So, if necessary, outline how the issue affects the team and the rest of the business. The more specific the feedback, the more actionable it will be.

Talk about the situation, not the individual

Constructive feedback is, by nature, focused on outcomes and impartial observations – not the employee’s personal attributes. Feedback centred on the individual could be taken as an attack motivated by personal feelings, rather than objective facts. By discussing the situation itself, it shows that the focus is about fixing the problem at hand and not criticising the employee.

Give praise where it is due

Giving employees positive feedback is essential, and acknowledging positives among negatives can be a good way to reassure employees that there is perspective. For example, “I think you did a great job with this account – sales are up since last quarter. But we have had a few customers tell us that response times have increased.” This tells the employee that it is not a criticism of their overall performance; just that certain aspects of the job need attention. It is important not to over-emphasise the positives, as this can appear uncertain or insincere.

Be direct but informal

Managers should avoid using email or text message to relay feedback, as this can lead to misinterpretation and make it seem less important than it really is. It is best to speak in-person, by finding a quiet space to allow for an honest and informal one-on-one chat with the employee. If that is not possible, a phone or video chat can work if that is a usual method of communication within the business. While the aim is to make it informal, it is best not to tip toe around any the situation – feedback of any sort is most effective when it is straight to the point.

Be sincere

If the tone and manner do not match the context of the feedback itself, it could send out a mixed message that confuses the employee. If the feedback is positive, show this through emotions that indicate appreciation. For negative feedback, a more concerned tone will indicate that the problem should be taken seriously. Most importantly, managers should always try to avoid displaying negative emotions such as anger, sarcasm, or disappointment.


When giving constructive feedback, managers should make sure the employee has a chance to respond. It should be clear that it is a two-way conversation, where the manager is prepared to listen to the employee’s concerns and interpretation of events. It is also an opportunity for the employee to express their ideas and become part of the solution.

Make it timely

As a manager, it is best to give praise when an employee’s achievement is still fresh. Timeliness is also important for negative feedback – except in a situation where an employee’s conduct may cause an extreme reaction. In that case, it is wise to allow for some time to ‘cool off’ before addressing the situation. This will help to ensure that any feedback is objective and not influenced by emotion.

Ultimately, the best kind of constructive feedback focuses on behaviour or situations, not people and personalities and is conducted in a tone and setting that conveys support and respect. Great constructive feedback helps employees recognise and avoid their mistakes and inspires them to achieve their potential.

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