Let your employees grow through feedback

The more often an employee receives feedback, the more they will grow and feel valued. Especially if the feedback stresses how they can use their strengths, argues HappinessBureau co-owner Lucas Swennen. How do you encourage feedback in the workplace and how do you substantiate feedback?

The purpose of feedback is to get better at your job or grow as a person. Research shows that 85% of workers (in Dutch) report that feedback from colleagues has spurred their personal growth. Swennen explains why having only managers give feedback results in a drop-off of 5 percentage points: “When employees give feedback to each other, you get a more complete picture of someone's performance and with that, their opportunities and challenges.” Swennen is co-owner of consulting firm Happinessbureau and conducts annual surveys on work happiness issues, including how to get better at your job. 

7 tips 

How can you encourage your employees to give feedback to each other? Swennen explains what to look out for. 

Tip 1: Establish yourself as a learning company 

If you value feedback, let it show. “Explain why giving and receiving feedback is so important to you. Stress that feedback is not a way of judging people for their failure to achieve a goal or to pay them a throwaway compliment, but that it serves to achieve a goal, improve cooperation, or increase job satisfaction. Striving to do even better next time will help you improve.” 

“As an employer, when you actively encourage feedback and let your employees know about it, you contribute to a working environment where employees give and receive feedback faster. Establish your company as a learning organisation, both internally and externally. This starts with the recruitment process: explain that your culture revolves around giving feedback and growth in the job description and on your ‘about us’ page. Lay down a feedback method in your employee handbook. This will tell employees what to expect. Make yourself part of the learning organisation as well. Let your employees give you feedback. Go full circle.” 

Tip 2: Focus on performance 

Explain to your employees that feedback should be about work-related behaviour rather than personal aspects, such as a person's behaviour outside of work hours. After all, feedback is a tool to help employees improve their performance on the job. Emphasise that employees should only give feedback if they have input on the other person’s work, Swennen continues. 

“We mostly give negative feedback, but it is important to give positive feedback, too. Many employees are unaware of their strengths. If a colleague gives them positive feedback, they may take up a certain task more often and grow as a result. Tapping into your strengths at work contributes to a greater sense of job happiness. And if an employee has to give negative feedback, explain how they can provide task-specific feedback. If a client reports finding someone’s presentation hard to follow, a colleague may suggest giving the presentation together next time round.” 

Tip 3: Explain how to give effective feedback 

Feedback works best with good substantiation. So you need to make that clear to your employees. Swennen recommends following these five steps when giving feedback: 

  1. Make feedback specific: refer to a specific situation. 
  1. Explain how the other’s behaviour impacted the situation positively or negatively. 
  1. Suggest the desired behaviour, for example: pick up this task more often (for positive behaviour) or try practicing or delegating the task (for negative behaviour). 
  1. Ask for a response to your feedback and your suggestion. Effective feedback should be a two-way street. 
  1. Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss together how things are going now. 

Tip 4: Tell people to be mild when giving negative feedback 

How feedback is given determines how effective it will be. “It is important to realise that negative feedback can be hard to process and that people may feel attacked. Take a moment to stop and think before you give feedback. Reflect on how the other person could perceive it. Advise your employees to give personal feedback face-to-face and to avoid delaying feedback. Feedback about a situation that occurred 3 months ago is unlikely to be effective.” 

Tip 5: Encourage remote feedback 

Because of the pandemic, many people are working from home. “In many countries, the work from home guidance has put a stop to the usual feedback processes. However, contact and feedback are essential for remote workers.” 

Encourage employees to keep giving feedback to colleagues when working remotely. A simple ‘How are you?’ or ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ is a good way to initiate a conversation and provide feedback, says Swennen. “This will often shed light on a hidden issue or see the conversation automatically move in a certain direction, such as a difficult situation and how to handle it next time.” 

Tip 6: Make clear arrangements about feedback 

You probably want to know how your employees provide feedback to each other. “That insight will help you manage your staff, so make clear arrangements about when and how your employees should give or receive feedback. Monthly team sessions are a good option. Usually, teams will be able to arrange interim feedback themselves. Do negative situations arise, such as arguments? Agree that they will notify you sooner in that situation." 

Tip 7: Evaluate feedback processes 

Ask your employees to provide feedback about your feedback processes. “As a learning organisation, you also have to keep learning yourself. Evaluate your feedback processes so that you can make changes or improvements where necessary. And so that you can celebrate successes, such as achieved goals. Evaluate the feedback process during performance reviews or schedule an annual evaluation meeting with all employees.” 

The extra mile: 360 Degree Feedback 

“360 Degree Feedback goes a step beyond peer feedback.” With this method, employees receive feedback from all stakeholders, such as the employer, colleagues, customers, and suppliers. “This paints a complete picture of an employee’s performance, opportunities, and challenges”, Swennen explains. “Want to boost your employees’ growth? Give 360-degree feedback a try.