How to Provide Feedback That Helps Employees Improve

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.
– Bill Gates

Learning to give great employee feedback is a skill that leaders can master to increase positive engagement in our employees and improve our organizations.  In a study of over 22,000 employees, the leadership trainers at Zenger-Folkman found that when managers learn to give effective and frequent feedback, employee retention is improved, and employees are far more content. Although some leaders believe it’s difficult to master, it just takes desire and practice.

Here are some ways to ensure your feedback meetings go well, so both you and your employee leave the meeting feeling positive about the relationship and the work.


Plan ahead for employee feedback meetings

Set your intentions about what you want the results of your meeting to be. Is it to learn more about your employee and find out how they are doing? Is it to talk about work issues that need to be corrected? Getting clear on the purpose of the meeting will help you be more comfortable, so that your body language will be open and welcoming, rather than stressed and irritated.

Tailor your feedback to the employee

Every person who works for you is different. Some employees are highly skilled and motivated. All they need is recognition from you that they are doing a good job. In those cases, feedback is a give-and-take discussion about how the work is going, if there is anything they need from you, and how you can support them. Newer, less-trained and less-experienced employees need more feedback so they know what they are doing well, and what they need to improve. There is also every kind of employee in between. Our job as leaders is to know which employee is which.

Give employee feedback regularly

Regularly scheduled meetings are best. Sometimes you will need to do feedback when specific issues come up. No matter how busy you are, employee feedback meetings should be as frequent as they need to be, depending on the employee’s skill, experience, and the complexity of your on-going projects. Above all, no employee should ever be surprised or get unexpected news when it comes time for a formal performance appraisal.

Make employee feedback private, make it specific, make it safe, and make it positive

Most of the feedback where you want to talk about improvements will be in private. An exception may be a small team meeting where you discuss how team goals are being met. Always give feedback around an employee’s stated work goals: what is the work goal, how are they doing toward the goal, what’s next on the work goal, and what actions should be taken to make further progress on the goal. To make sure it’s meaningful and helpful, focus on what you have observed around on-the-job behaviors, results, and teamwork. Be descriptive, not evaluative–things aren’t “good” or “bad”–they are either meeting standards and on track with milestones or they aren’t. One good way to have these is conduct “learning meetings.” When you tell employees you are going to have a “learning meeting,” and they know this means, “We are going to talk about how things are going with your project, and discuss where you need me to support you,” they will be much more communicative.

Get employee feedback

Always get feedback for yourself from your employees. Ask your employee how they believe they are doing, and what else they need from you to improve. Ask them what they believe your expectations are, and ask about theirs. Often, clarifying expectations is all that is needed to ensure employee success. Give them a chance to talk about their own performance, and ask them what they learned. It’s informative to hear their thoughts about how they were successful, or why they got the results they did.

Most employees want to do a great job for you. They want you to notice their efforts and they want to know how to improve so they can advance in their careers. With a regular, positive, and constructive feedback loop, they can do just that.


“Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let people see you value both feedback and ideas.”
– Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at