Do you give great feedback to the people who work for you? In addition, do you give feedback on a frequent basis or do you tend to leave it until there is a formal feedback requirement such as an annual performance review?

One of the greatest criticisms of managers is the lack of quality feedback they give. Employees are often heard saying they have no idea what their manager really thinks of them. They might get some sense of it when they apply for a senior position and don’t get it, or perhaps when their manager has to fill out a survey rating their employee on a range of factors. Even the annual performance review is often deficient. As for ongoing helpful feedback… it’s all too rare.

We all know that a sporting team can’t be expected to win unless it knows where it stands in terms of the scoreboard. The same applies for staff members; you can’t expect them to win at their jobs unless they understand the scoreboard as you see it. In order for that to happen, you need to regularly give both constructive feedback (where a problem area or development opportunity arises) and positive feedback (to acknowledge good achievements).

Why is it that managers so often fall short of the mark in this area? There are a range of reasons but, for starters, many managers avoid giving constructive feedback because of the reaction they are likely to get from the staff member concerned; it’s easier to simply avoid it. On the other side of the coin, managers often avoid giving positive feedback because they see that doing a good job is what’s expected of the staff member; some even fear it will encourage complacency.

Giving effective feedback, at the right time, is a very strong sign of your leadership capability. It is one of the keys to building engagement and achieving superior outcomes. It signals to your employees that you have their personal interests at heart, not just the interests of the organisation.

Here are seven tips to help you become truly effective at giving feedback:

(1) Create expectations around feedback

Let your staff members know that giving regular feedback is part of the way you work as a leader. Let them know that in addition to formal review or appraisal processes, they can expect to receive comments from you on a fairly frequent basis to help them achieve higher levels of competency and greater career success.

(2) Make it a natural part of your work

As far as possible, provide feedback close to the moment that is relevant. For example, you might see a staff member go out of their way to help a team member or to give a customer a better experience; take a few seconds to let them know they did a great job. If, on the other hand, you see behaviour that’s not in line with your expectations, let them know as soon as possible (without embarrassing them in front of others) and ensure they know what the behaviour is that you really wanted to see.

By the way, if you are thinking of acknowledging an individual achievement to a group, it’s a good idea to do so privately with the relevant individual in the first instance. Taking the time to connect with the individual and to personally express your appreciation typically has more impact than simply an announcement in a group situation.

(3) Aim for a feedback ratio of at least 4:1

Research (e.g. Heaphy and Losada) has shown that the best performance outcomes occur when staff members receive at least four times as many positive statements as negative statements. That means you regularly need to be on the look-out for opportunities to acknowledge achievements, effort, progress, etc. When the ratio is less than 1:1, it signals a real problem situation. The same statistics apply to relationships more generally (including marriage) – for them to prosper, 4:1 or more is typically required.

(4) Know your audience

Not everyone should be given feedback the same way. Adjust the way you provide feedback according to the personality and circumstances of the one receiving it. For example, some people feel uncomfortable with overt praise, in which case a more subtle approach may be needed. Some people will receive constructive comments better than others; it pays to be mindful of the place, timing and approach for those staff members who may not take it so well.

(5) Aim for win-win

The ideal outcome is always a win for the organisation (e.g. performance or morale improves) and a win for the staff member (e.g. competence or satisfaction improves). Where a problem exists, simply focusing on what the organisation needs from a staff member severely limits the potential outcome. If you can demonstrate a genuine interest in the employee’s success, while addressing what’s needed from the organisation’s perspective, you dramatically increase the likelihood of everyone coming out on top.

(6) Give it priority

To some extent, this re-emphasises (2) above. The point here is to think about making feedback a priority. It’s all too easy to put it off to a later time, but that time may never come. When you stop to remind yourself that feedback is really important to create the clarity and climate needed for top performance, you give it the attention it deserves.

(7) Manage yourself

How do you currently come across when giving feedback? Are you confident or hesitant? How do you respond when you get a strong reaction from someone – such as when giving constructive feedback? The starting point for success is being aware of your current strengths and areas of vulnerability – as well as the potential triggers for your own emotional reactions. Where necessary, take the time to learn the techniques to help you better manage difficult situations (“Fierce Conversations”, by Susan Scott, provides a number of such techniques) and practice these at every opportunity. Think about your body language; is it positively supporting your feedback? What might you do to create better engagement through voice, eye contact, posture, gestures and the like? What else could you do to better set yourself up for success in a feedback session? E.g. keeping notes about events and/or behaviours relevant to an individual (positive or negative) or taking the necessary time to gather your thoughts prior to giving feedback?

As a final comment, giving feedback gets easier as trust gets stronger. People need to believe that you care for them and there are no hidden agendas behind any feedback you give. As you consistently apply yourself in this way over time, people will learn to trust you. However, it’s unlikely to be perfected overnight; when it doesn’t work as well as you would like, learn from the experience and adjust accordingly next time around. The more you do, the better you’ll become!