How to Give Feedback That's Actually Helpful and Effective
Too many companies still give feedback in a very old-school way.
When I was working at Google from 2010-2012, every six months we had to do an exhaustive, 360-feedback process. I absolutely dreaded the three full days it took to write reviews on all the people I interacted with. And we had to do that twice a year, every year.
I don’t know if they still do things that way. But I do know that’s not the best way to give feedback. The best feedback isn’t given six months later–it’s given in real-time.
Most companies (and their employees) would be much better off creating a more natural feedback process and eliminating any long, drawn-out procedures they currently have in place.
When incorporating timely feedback, here’s what to keep in mind:
Focus on giving real-time feedback.
No one remembers a specific meeting from four months ago. They don’t remember a conversation from six weeks ago. By the time those individual moments come up in a performance review, they’ve long been forgotten.
But people do remember the conversation they had yesterday. They remember the meeting they held last Monday. That’s why it’s so important to give feedback in real-time. People can actually take your feedback, consider it in light of their actions, and learn from the experience.
If you sit down with someone at their one-year review, and they’re completely surprised at the dialogue you’re having, that’s an issue. The whole point of a yearly check-in is that there should be no surprise. It should be a conversation where both parties feel like they’re on the same page.
If that’s not happening, there’s something wrong with the way you’re communicating.
Involve both people in the process.
For feedback to be useful, both people have to be engaged. You need input from the person getting the feedback, as well as the person giving it.
Sometimes people will have no idea they did something that bothered you, and it may take them some time to process what you’re saying. But other times, they might affirm what you’re saying as soon as you give your feedback.
“I know. I totally messed that up. I realized I was talking too fast as soon as the meeting ended.”
They recognize it, they’re already thinking it through, and they’re taking ownership. That’s a good opportunity to let the person who’s getting the feedback come up with the solution and implement it on their own.
The more someone can respond to what you’re saying, the more helpful it is to them. It also may be the case that the person receiving feedback may need to process it and come back to you later on. And either of those outcomes is fine.
Always add context.
You should never tell someone, “Good job in that meeting!”
It’s a nice thing to say, sure. But it gives them no specific information on what they did well.
Instead, you should give them something they can use. “I thought you led that meeting really well. The addendum was very clear. You kept everyone on track, and you followed up at the end. I can tell everyone knows what they need to do next. Keep doing that.”
The same principle applies to negative feedback. You can’t just say you didn’t like something. You have to tell them exactly what you believe went wrong.
Without any context, people have no idea how to fix what they did–or how to keep doing a good job.
Make sure it’s timely.
There’s a difference between immediate feedback and timely feedback. Yes, you want feedback to happen in real-time. You don’t want to bring it up two months from now.
But sometimes you need space to ensure what you’re saying is as helpful as possible.
I used to be much more in the moment when I gave feedback. I’d pull someone aside right after a meeting to tell them what I thought about their performance. But over time, I’ve found it’s often better for everyone if I wait and fully process my thoughts. Sometimes, I’ll even delay my feedback until the next week.
I don’t wait so long that they have no idea what I’m talking about. Just long enough that I have time to think over what I’m going to tell them–and figure out the most effective way to say it.
The whole point of giving feedback is that it helps you develop relationships. Think of the best relationships you’ve had at any job. They were probably relationships where you were close enough to tell each other the truth.
When I was an investment banking analyst, I became really close with one of my associates. And I could rely on her to tell me when I did something wrong and how I could improve. I didn’t feel like she was chastising me. I felt like she had my back. She was watching out for me by letting me know when I wasn’t doing something as well as I could.
If someone takes the time to give you helpful feedback, that means they care about your growth.
If you want your team to grow, it’s essential for your company to develop a good process for giving feedback. If it’s done well, it builds trust, strengthens bonds, and helps people become their best.