Feedback should lift employees, not beat them down

Help me up: Constructive feeback -- frank, to the point, forward-thinking -- is key to individual employee growth, according to human-resources expert Elizabeth Uzzo.

Constructive feedback is one of the most positive and productive things a manager can offer employees.

Too often, feedback is perceived as intimidating or scary by both employees and managers. We frequently associate “feedback” with being “criticized,” which can make both giving and receiving it uncomfortable.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Done correctly – with the right structure, support and attitude – quality feedback can be a gift, and a forum to developing a deeper connection between manager and employee.

These support structures have never been more apparent and more necessary than during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added a new level of complexity, with a large portion of the workforce practicing social distancing, quarantining and working from home.

This is an easy work environment for employees to feel isolated and disconnected. Now more than ever, it’s important for managers to be a resource.

Simple, human-to-human connections are powerful and essential. While e-mail is an important tool, e-mails can be misinterpreted easily, especially during stressful times. Schedule regular voice-communication check-ins with your employees via phone or other media.

No longer can employee feedback be limited to an annual performance review or to times when performance is poor. By doing this, companies run the risk of further disconnections with employees, while augmenting the negative feedback.

Elizabeth Uzzo: Architect of constructive feedback.

Consistent feedback is essential to employee growth. Managers can underestimate the impact of daily interactions and personal exchanges on an individual’s career growth and overall job satisfaction.

Waiting to give feedback is one of the biggest mistakes a manager typically makes. Many times, managers will wait until there’s a laundry list of issues to be addressed before providing effective feedback.

The employee may have no idea there are areas needing improvement. And sharing relative examples is key to helping employees understand performance standards; it’s much easier to give feedback immediately, mitigating confusion around performance expectations and moving forward sooner.

This process really should begin from the moment an employee is hired and continue throughout their career at your company. Employees should always know where they are doing well, where they can improve and how they can progress.

Providing specific and actional feedback is critical to a successful conversation. Feedback should be concrete and relate to a specific, measurable goal. Clear expectations are also important.

To help our employees become better managers and to empower our junior staff as they climb the ladder, we have instituted a Learning and Development Academy, offering comprehensive learning and development programs for all employees.

For our newer managers and supervisors, we have implemented the Essentials for Emerging Leaders course. These workshops specifically address the skills of coaching and delivering feedback, developing trusting relationships, and setting expectations and accountability. More experienced managers can participate in skill-enhancing mentoring and leadership programs.

Senior leaders possess “tribal knowledge” that can help steer the next generation of leaders. That knowledge comes in many forms – community or relationship knowledge, generational knowledge, the ability to draw rather than use computer technology.

Some of the most precious tribal knowledge is the ability to help others achieve their goals through intentional feedback and direction – an ability to connect with others, to give feedback that doesn’t insult the other person, but motivates him or her to achieve more.

I believe that when employee coaching is done in a positive and collaborative way, managers will find that employees start to become eager for feedback, rather than apprehensive of it.

Great mentoring empowers employees by providing a clear path to success – and the opportunity to build on their strengths.

Elizabeth Uzzo, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is chief human resource officer for H2M architects + engineers in Melville.