Employee feedback examples using formal, informal, and constructive techniques
Take charge of your employee feedback with examples of exceptional feedback, tips for successful employee discussions and activities to improve your company culture.
What is employee feedback?
When exceptional feedback is given, employee strengths are celebrated and opportunities to learn and grow are identified.
Employee feedback is where employees and managers in teams use combinations of informal and formal feedback systems to connect, align, and accomplish their goals.
Only one-third of workers in America are “engaged”, enthusiastic about their work and contributing to their organizations in a positive manner. Teams that use that feedback to set development goals, make feedback a consistent habit and solicit different forms of feedback, see more positive results.
Here’s our ultimate guide about employee feedback and how to make the most of this versatile and effective tool.
Why is employee feedback important?
Employee feedback is one way you can make experiences truly transformative, through the quality of our connections and conversations.
By developing our feedback muscles and making it a shared accountability to be great at delivering and receiving feedback, we can create distinctive employee experiences.
Organizations with better employee experiences see:
- More engaged workers, which improves performance and boosts team morale - The Harvard Business Review found that happier employees have an average of 31% higher productivity and 37% higher sales.
- A strong company culture that attracts new employees based on shared values and job satisfaction - 38% of US employees are seeking a job that aligns with their interests and 3 out of 5 Americans would take a 50% pay cut for a job they really loved.
- A decrease in employee turnover or human resource churn - one study found that employees who don’t like their organization’s culture are 24% more likely to quit.
Great employee experiences start from the day of onboarding to the day of departure, with many experiences centered around the physical, mental, financial and spiritual health and wellbeing of an employee.
What are the types of employee feedback?
- Positive feedback - the big and small signals of ‘keep doing that - it’s great work’ are a necessary part of feedback cultures. You must be able to celebrate successes and cheer each other on when you’ve climbed a mountain (or at times even a molehill). Use positive feedback to build upon existing good behaviors and to stretch to new heights.
- Negative feedback - these are the ‘stop that’ signals or the less than stellar moments where the impact missed the mark. When negative feedback is objective and specific to behaviors and the impacts of those behaviors it can help people self-correct. When negative feedback is subjective or about a person instead of their work it becomes unproductive criticism
- Constructive feedback - could be described as a bit of ‘stop that and start this’ - it is (as the name suggests) about ‘building’ - and focuses on agreeing to solutions for the future.
Formal vs informal employee feedback
Formal employee performance management systems may grant an opportunity for leaders and their direct reports to connect and discuss performance, but they tend to fall short for a myriad of reasons, especially when not complemented by other informal and more frequent ways of gathering and disseminating feedback.
When thinking about providing feedback, it’s good to know the difference between them, so that you can decide on whether a situation requires one over the other.
Formal feedback includes:
- Employee performance conversations (e.g. annual performance reviews)
- Formally scheduled or highly structured meetings/events
- Regular one-on-one conversations between employees and managers
- Some types of employee surveys (e.g, employee engagement surveys, 360° or multi-rater assessments, employee lifecycle checkpoints, training measurements)
Informal feedback comes in other settings, such as:
- Casual interpersonal interactions (e.g., water cooler chats)
- In-the-moment conversations or recaps
- Group-based settings like lunch & learns
- Events that are peer-to-peer or employee-to-manager
- Events that are requested or unsolicited
Despite the power and use of employee feedback for growth, development and to improve performance, it can sometimes be challenging to provide it. Too often feedback is given a negative connotation, when at its core it’s simply about giving and receiving information. Across many workplaces, people are seeking more frequent and higher quality feedback.
What does exceptional employee feedback look like?
For a truly distinctive employee experience, it’s critical to make feedback - both giving and receiving it - part of your DNA, and regularly practice it in conversations that go beyond outward performance.
Exceptional feedback can be broken down into 10 factors. At its best, effective feedback is always:
- Sincere - mean what you’re saying, avoid cliche
- Clear - talking about the real topic and saying what you mean
- Timely - comes when it’s important and fresh
- Safe - avoids aggression and personal factors
- Grounded - based on facts and behaviors
- Two-way - all sides have a voice in the discussion and outcomes
- Important - it identifies a goal worth working on and not a ‘nit-pick’
- Solution-Focused - looking towards the future and prioritized
- Supported - lifelines are available
- Ongoing - it is not a single event never to be spoken of again
An example of how we can put this idea into practice
Here’s an example of a feedback conversation someone might begin before they’ve taken a moment to reflect on those 10 factors in exceptional feedback.
“Winners get into work on time. I always say you should be 15 minutes early or you’ll be lost! Your sales missed the mark last quarter and they aren’t high enough now to make up for being late. If you took your sales goals seriously and cared about your job you’d be early for work.”
“On another topic, it’s great the way you were doing those training sessions with the team last month, but I heard they didn’t cover the new updates that came out last week so what are we going to do about that?”
Let’s dissect this example using our factors of exceptional feedback:
- Misses the mark on sincere - we edge into some cliche territory in the first couple of statements
- Not entirely clear - there are multiple messages that are being stated together here without priority. It’s fine to cover multiple topics when discussing feedback but aim to make employee accountability clear. Would you be surprised to consider that the main desired outcome here was to discuss closing gaps in sales targets?
- Telescopes back in time - We see some references to previous sales results that can’t be changed and distracts from the desired change. There are other comments about things that happened a month ago that also mix the feedback message
- Hints at personal judgments so no-one feels safe - Can you spot the statements that veer into the personal? The first half of the statements in this feedback may be conflating punctuality with virtue - the person on the other side of this feedback may feel like their character is being insulted
- Assumes motivations instead of staying grounded - comments here that the person receiving the feedback isn’t taking things ‘seriously’ are not based on observable behaviors try to stick to behavioral examples and changes when giving feedback
- Mostly one-way, not two-way - The only opening for dialogue we see here is at the end of the feedback
- Muddles importance - Receiving this kind of feedback you might believe that a prompt arrival to work is the desired change being demanded or that meeting sales goals negates the request to be on-time to work
- Accentuates the negative without a solution - There are a lot of ‘stop’ signals here in terms of tardiness, but they aren’t paired with new behaviors to start to meet sales targets or linked in terms of why that’s part of the feedback
- Doesn’t identify support - even a single lifeline can help bolster efforts to make a behavioral change
- Not ongoing as it moves onto another topic - The first opening for dialogue is actually a topic change from the main feedback goal and doesn’t allow for agreements on what to do next
Now, working with what we know makes for exceptional feedback, here are some ways we can adjust the conversation.
"I’d like to look at your sales goals with you and identify some ways that we can get you some support hitting them for this quarter. What are your initial thoughts?"
"I see you booking a lot of new introductory calls this week, but I don’t see the follow-up on questions that come from those calls happening."
"One of the habits that someone shared with me that helped me make sure I cover my follow-ups is to start each day updating my to-do list from the previous day’s calls - to achieve that for myself I’ve had to adjust my schedule come in earlier than I used to - would that or something else work for you?"
"Are there barriers you are facing? Let’s see if we can clear the way or adjust other priorities. For some of the barriers, we may only be able to acknowledge that they’re making things harder, but for others, we may be able to remove them."
"I’m always here if you want me as a sounding board for ideas or advice. What are some of the other resources you can tap into or mentors you might ask for guidance? My goal is to enable you and the rest of the team to achieve your goals. Let’s recap what we’ll both do next. We have until the end of the quarter to meet this target and we get updates on our numbers twice a month - let’s check-in before those next numbers come out and update our plans."
This is much better across all areas - don’t you agree?
Employee feedback examples
What’s the best way to phrase employee feedback? Everyone loves to be praised and acknowledged for their hard work. Yet, sometimes that’s not always possible and when you have to share negative feedback, or suggest ways to change, you need to make sure you set up the situation right.
We look at some positive, negative and constructive feedback example templates that can start you off with providing feedback to employees.
Positive feedback examples
Positive feedback should be linked to real examples of when something went really well, and it was down to the special characteristics or actions of a particular employee. Always try to explain why it is that it was positive, as it can be more valuable if employees know how they impacted you.
- “One of the key things I really appreciated recently was when you went the extra mile for me on our joint project. Thank you.”
- “It was a great idea to update the process in that way, because it will save us a week of work each month.”
- “I would love to get your input on this proposal, as I know you have had great success with a similar project and we could draw from your insights here as well.”
- “You really know how to build great spreadsheet models well, and that’s so helpful to have that skill on our team.”
- “You’d be well suited to working in this department, as you have very relevant experience that could be of great benefit to this year’s strategy.”
Negative feedback examples
With negative feedback, be very specific in describing the context and keep your language neutral. Try to position the conversation starter as a chance to talk and an opportunity for the employee to respond or fill in more detail.
- “Do you have some time this afternoon to discuss how the sales meeting presentation went this morning?”
- “I’d like to schedule a lessons-learned meeting on the recent marketing project. When can we set this up?”
- “For your onboarding team exercise, what do you think went well, and what do you think could have been improved?”
- “I’d like to speak to you about something that happened to our work recently. On Tuesday, when you couldn’t make the delivery deadline, it led to a delay in completing the task. This had a negative effect on our client relationship and I wanted to bring it up to see how we can prevent it happening again?”
- “I wonder how we can improve on these poll results at our next group meeting?”
Constructive feedback examples
How can you request an employee to take a particular action to achieve an end goal? The feedback may be positive or negative, but the end result is the same - you want something to happen. Make sure you’re clear on why it’s important or what ‘success’ would look like, and relay this information to the employee.
- “It would be great to see you share what you did in the workshops so that the wider team can learn about the key take-aways. What would be possible to do for this?”
- “I know you wanted to manage projects, and I can see you have made progress in time-management, but we need to do more in budget planning. Let's take this chance to talk about how we can get you from here to there by the end of Summer.”
- “Some of your recent questions can be found using our internal resources network, and it’s a useful place to look at first to see if some information is already there. Do you have what you need to be able to access this for next time?
- “You wanted to try working on a larger project and I wanted to check how it is going? Is there something I can do to help you progress in that?”
- I got feedback about the quote that was delivered from the client. They said it missed out details from the cost breakdown. I wanted to check in with you on what happened, and whether you’d like to get together to plan the next steps?
Top tips for receiving feedback yourself
It’s perfectly okay to request feedback from employees around you, to help you track your performance on a task, or help you recognize upcoming risks and unhelpful actions. Similarly, it’s normal to get feedback at every stage of your work life, so embrace the learning points by listening and taking in the information.
How to ask for feedback
You can approach employees to request feedback by email or in person, though this can depend if you want to create a formal or informal environment. When you send your request, clearly state why you’re asking and what you will do with the results, so employees can understand why this is important. This will also increase the likelihood for responses back.
Some examples you could use:
- “As we enter stage 2 of the project, I want to make sure I’m contributing the right information to team discussions, so that we can act with confidence on the findings of my research. Can you provide me with feedback about what you thought of my outputs from stage 1?”
- “I’m trying to learn more about how this business model works, so I can share this with my wider team. Can you tell me how I could improve my knowledge here?!
- "Please find attached the latest version of the corporate slides, that have recently been updated to the newest style. Can you please review this and let me know if there’s anything that needs amending?"
How to listen to feedback
When employee feedback is directed at yourself, take the information as helpful insights that could help you learn. Try these techniques to keep you focused:
- Active listening - Pay attention to the language cues - verbal and non-verbal - coming from the speaker, to get a full picture of what’s been said.
- Summarize to retain the information - At the end, feedback the key points to the speaker to make sure you have understood the information and what is being asked of you.
- Confirm your intention - To round off the feedback, you can respond to the speaker by first thanking them for their feedback. You could share what you’ve learned from the conversation and how you will act as a result in the future.
Afterwards, act upon the insights you’ve gained, and follow-up with the speaker if necessary.
What can you do to create a culture of employee feedback?
Here is our specially curated list of 15 tips to help you courage positive employee experiences and boost your company performance as a result:
Take a look at your available forums for feedback
1. Take stock of your performance review processes and formal systems for feedback.
Once you understand the type of information that best fits into those systems and how frequently that feedback will occur, calibrate with your team.
Help your team make the most use of these opportunities, and align on how the data is used and for what purposes (e.g., performance-based and developmental mechanisms are different and serve different purposes).
Also consider the experience surveys (another formal system) that exist at your workplace (on-boarding, post-trainings, engagement, or exit) and their frequency.
2. Identify informal ways of giving team feedback
Team feedback can be given through activities like ‘lunch and learns’, project team meetings, instant messaging systems, team bulletin boards, after-action reviews, etc. Try to generate a list that incorporates your ways of working together as a team.
Technology might have a part to play. Using informal intranet network tools like Yammer can make leaving team feedback simpler. These platforms actively encourage celebrating successes or highlighting positive team action, with fun features built in to create an informal atmosphere online.
Facilitate your team creating their own definition of constructive interactions
3. Explore these concepts together with your team:
Spend some time discussing questions like:
- What are examples of using behaviors when giving feedback? (objective vs. subjective)
- What counts as a solution and what are some ways you’ve brought solutions to feedback conversations you’ve had?
- What are our team’s standards for working together with each other and with other teams, customers/clients, or vendors?
- What ways have we given and received feedback in the past that worked for us?
4. Set some ground rules for your discussion
Use these three tips to establish a safe and inviting environment for feedback:
The ‘Ground Rules’ of receiving feedback
1. Assume positive intent
Think about ducks to remember this one - some of us appear calm above the water, but are paddling frantically underneath it - we don’t always know the full context of what others are experiencing.
Make it a habit to check your own observations to separate ‘intentions’ from ‘actions’ - Assumptions about other people’s intentions can lead to overreactions or counterproductive behaviors.
Balance understanding context and offering people a chance to ‘explain their side’, with focusing on the changes that you’ll agree to make in the future.
2. Follow the Golden Rule, then add to it
Use the mantra of ‘treat others how you want to be treated yourself’ as your starting point. As your feedback discussions grow, open the dialogue with them and find out how they like to give and receive feedback and what works for them.
Using what you learn, adapt your guideline to treat others how they ask to be treated. Strive to meet people where they are and adapt your style.
3. Focus on solutions
You can’t change the past behavior. Instead, stay focused on the future and on solving the issue. This is a different approach to ‘explaining away’ past behaviors or re-hashing a single incident - the focus should be on the next steps to get to your goal.
5. Take notes and share your lessons and guidelines back to your team
Bake these into your day-to-day activities
6. Use regular interactions
Foster interactions where employees and teams can set their own goals for improvement and align your feedback. Examples of interactions include:
- Kicking-off new projects or workstreams together
- Weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings
- Goal setting and development conversations
- Conversations around what you’ve all agreed to work on together
7. Reinforce with your team that the things they’re working on are learned through study, practice, and repetition
Growing our individual feedback muscles will help us all get to a place where each person can learn from each other. Remind your team that what seems effortless for someone else may be a skill they’ve decided to work on in the past. Think of suitable opportunities when you can open the floor to colleagues to allow them space to share their journeys with each other.
8. Bring other resources to the table.
Feedback is not only confined to your team and yourself. You can ask for support from other departments and resources from around the company. This can include involving HR, training & learning resources, other mentors or appropriate peers.
9. Consistency is key
You can have a huge impact on your team’s feedback culture by committing to one or two changes, enacting feedback follow-ups, making employee accountability clear, and working together to consistently follow these practices.
Be a role model
10. Share with your team about your own feedback preferences
Sometimes it can be hard for an employee to bring up a good time to share feedback. Help them approach you easily by sharing your preferred method of raising issues, or what times would be best for them to contact you. You can also give them examples of what it might look like for them to initiate those conversations with you, by giving examples of conversation structures.
11. Ask for feedback about yourself and your style
Make time to intentionally ask others how you’re doing and aim to make it a safe space for upward feedback. This can be difficult at first, but persevere and try out various methods (e.g. an honesty online suggestion box or a call for ideas at monthly meetings) until you get the ball rolling.
12. Be open to hearing that your behaviors have played a role in the things your team is trying to solve
Your behaviors may need to change too. If you become used to hearing feedback for your team on where you have an impact on their own feedback learning progress, you’ll gain information on where you can do more to support them or improve yourself further..
13. Your expectations may not always be understood by others.
Aim to define goals that include both a big-picture viewpoint and some specific and measurable things that you want to be achieved. Encourage others to put those expectations into their own words for ownership and clarity.
14. Remind others (and yourself) that it is okay to be imperfect
You might be working on similar growth areas as your team. Sharing about things you’ve worked on for yourself, as a result of feedback, can help make the journey feel possible for others. They could also learn from your example on how to make their journey easier.
15. Don’t forget to also leave room to be surprised by another’s ability to exceed your expectations.
Thoughtful and consistent feedback like this can improve the work experience and the quality of output for everyone on the team and build the resilience muscles, which helps us to overcome adversity together.
Create a culture of action – not just feedback
The most important message to take away is that laying a foundation for happier employees, more productive discussions and innovative solution-building takes buy-in from higher levels.
Company culture dictates the workplace environment, so changes won’t happen overnight. Instead, create an opportunity to bring together high-level leadership support and formal strategy planning to incorporate employee experience culture as a long-term goal.
Also be aware that feedback systems will continue to evolve as we digitally transform into the workplaces of tomorrow. Workplaces are now remote and people are spread across different time-zones. Invest in a rapid, smart feedback system to become agile and responsive to workplace changes as they happen.
The culture of action also works both ways. Expect greater contribution and involvement from your employees, by encouraging a culture that sets out values and beliefs for greater inclusivity and open discussion.
In tech, we often hire for culture fit. Instead, we should hire for culture contribution. Judith Williams, Global Head of People Sustainability & Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at SAP
Go beyond rating performance and have real insightful conversations that guide you to a win-win situation for your organization and all employees.
You can learn more about how to improve the employee experience by exploring the free, on-demand resources in WorkDifferent. There are free videos and guides to help organizations in every industry identify experience gaps and respond with the right actions.
Alternatively, jump right in and try out one of our 8 survey templates to revamp your employee feedback program and maximize the employee experience at your company.
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