Giving Feedback … for improvement!

Performance FeedbackAs a team leader we must let people know when they could have done something more effectively, what they could have done instead, and why the alternative would be better.  The goal is to help team members to improve their performance so they can build on current performance for even better performance.

Here are a few suggestions:

Consider creating a cue card to help you to use a consistent approach. Always provide a complete review of the situation, task, job, project or other duty for the team member or the entire team so that they understand the problem, business opportunity, special challenge, or routine task. Then describe and review the actions previously taken by the team or member that was used to solve the problem. Next, describe in detail the results of their methods, processes, techniques, timing or other course of action. Once the team member or the entire team understands the less than satisfactory results of their efforts, this is where the coaching actually begins.

As the team leader, you must research the situation and recommend credible alternative methods or processes. After the team understands and has had an opportunity to discuss and ask questions, you can explain the alternative actions that may be more effective. Make sure that your presentation specifically compares current performance to goals, so the team can see clearly what adjustments they need to make to ensure success in the future.

Timely feedback is important while details are fresh and you can explain exactly what was less than effective. You’ll help people make adjustments before they face similar situations. Of course, the feedback must be balanced with some positive feedback so you maintain a person’s self-esteem and openness to feedback. Even when someone or the team has performed poorly or made a mistake, it’s still possible to balance feedback and to find something the person or team did well.


I would not recommend saying, “Jim, when you were teaching Adria to operate the heavy duty scanner system, you told her she just wasn’t ‘getting it.’ She got angry and stopped asking questions. You need to go easier on her.” This feedback doesn’t describe any particular alternative approach, method or technique or the potential alternative result it would achieve.

An alternate approach might be to acknowledge that it’s difficult to operate the system and that her questions are appropriate. That would have maintained her self-esteem and encouraged her to continue reading the manual and trying to correctly operate the scanner.”


Vague and unsupported feedback is incorrect and unhelpful. If you only offer generalities rather than specifics, you risk seeming empty or insincere. Saying “good job” but not supporting it with details makes it seem as if you don’t know what was done or why it was valuable. Don’t say that someone did something well when you don’t believe it because it is insincere and dishonest. The team or group might think you’re being manipulative and wonder about your real motives for providing the feedback. Your credibility will suffer.

Feedback based on assumptions or guesses can weaken your feedback and give people the impression you’re making excuses for them or don’t believe what you’re saying and don’t provide enough specific information about what needs to be done differently. If you use words like always and never, you’ll sound like you’re describing a long-standing performance trend and anger your team for not providing the feedback sooner. The person or team will think their general performance, not just performance in this situation, is unacceptable and become demoralized.

Defensiveness and resistance will cause the person providing feedback to feel that their ideas are not valued or trusted; appear closed-minded, guilty, or not accountable for their actions. The team leader may be reluctant to provide you with positive feedback that you want and feedback for improvement that you need to be more effective in your job.

If you don’t balance positive feedback with feedback for improvement, the team will miss opportunities to become even better, think you’re being dishonest or become overconfident in their abilities and, as a result, make mistakes.

Related Articles:   Coaching … how did I do?   and   Performance … the 5 to 1 ratio!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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Posted in Coaching, Performance Management

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