The Small Business Owner's Guide to Constructive and Positive Feedback

Feedback
9
min read
January 14, 2022

You’ve likely experienced this yourself: Getting great feedback from someone about work you’ve done or an action you’ve taken can really put a pep in your step and make the day even better. Think about the last time a client raved about your service or a customer complimented your product, for example. It feels great. 

 

Well, as a business owner, it’s part of your managerial responsibility to let your staff know how they’re doing and to have all of the necessary conversations about employee performance.

 

Think back to when you’ve had bosses in the past. Did they encourage you with positive feedback and give you constructive criticism that ultimately helped you to grow as a professional? Now it’s your turn to be that leader for your own team

 

We’re here with the ultimate guide for how to give positive and constructive feedback, including specific examples of what to say to your employees when you’re stuck on how to handle these interactions tactfully.

Why Is Positive Feedback Important?

Giving and receiving feedback is a vital way to build trust in a work environment, as it encourages positive behavior and helps team members grow in their professional development. A simple, “Thanks, great work!” is always appreciated, but it doesn’t quite have the same impact as personal and specific feedback.

 

Studies have found that meaningful feedback is a critical factor in employee engagement, but that only 28 percent of workers had received helpful feedback within the last week. If you want to keep your best employees satisfied in their roles, you need to be sure to thank them for their good work in real-time.

 

Positive feedback is also a great way to improve teamwork. Making the effort to give regular feedback and employee recognition—in both team meetings and one-on-one conversations—not only gives that individual a boost, but enhances the employee experience for their co-workers too. They see that there’s support and open communication, which your employees will undoubtedly value in the workplace. When that transparency and encouragement is built into your company culture, everyone wins.

What about Constructive Feedback?

Not all feedback that you give to your team will be glowing and positive. After all, hard work doesn’t always equal a successful outcome. That’s where constructive feedback (also referred to as constructive criticism) comes into play. 

 

Rather than being solely praise or a compliment, constructive feedback highlights an area of improvement for an employee. That doesn’t mean it needs to be harsh or hurtful—in fact, it shouldn’t be. Instead, it should be focused on helping them grow and improve.

What Is an Example of Constructive Feedback? 

Need even more clarity about how constructive feedback offers something to work on without seeming like a strict reprimand? Here’s a simple example of constructive feedback: 


“You do a great job of cleaning up the job site at the end of each workday, but I’ve noticed that sometimes it means the crew doesn’t leave at the end of their shift. Can you start the clean-up process a little earlier so that everybody is officially done by shift end?” 

See? It clearly illustrates what an employee can do better, without being overly critical or brutal. 

 

Working on your own communication skills will always serve you well—especially when it comes to having difficult conversations and knowing how to provide effective feedback that can help your staff move forward.

 

This is where your emotional intelligence as a leader needs to kick in. Particularly for an employee who might be inexperienced, in a new role with the company, or in a remote work position. How you relay information can make a big difference in the employee’s response. 

 

Providing constructive feedback in a calm and encouraging way lets your employee know that you support them and that honesty and transparency around their work will help them succeed in the future. Even if it’s tough to hear criticism, your employee should be able to leave the meeting feeling confident they can try again.

When Should You Give Feedback to Employees?

No matter what type of feedback you’re sharing, there’s a time and place for making sure that your meeting results in a positive outcome.

 

Annual reviews are an important part of performance management and are a great opportunity to check in with your staff one-on-one. But leaving all of your notes—both positive and negative—down to the annual performance review alone isn’t going to cut it and could actually do more harm than good. 

 

Performance reviews are typically more formal, only happen once a year, and are generally a meeting between a manager and their direct report. This is the place where discussions around promotions or raises happen and feedback may be broader, rather than about specific behavior or goals.

 

If an employee is unhappy, providing positive feedback during formal assessments like this will likely not do much to change their mind. It can definitely be a case of too little, too late. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that ongoing informal feedback is incredibly beneficial.

Why Little and Often Is Best

A 2017 study by the Harvard Business Review found that feedback given regularly, consistently, and within a timely manner of the work or action occurring is significantly more helpful when it comes to improving trust in the leadership skills of supervisors. 

 

It gives the employee a chance to course-correct ahead of their annual review, along with removing the element of surprise and fear that often comes with a ”Can you stop by my office for a quick chat?” email or Slack message. 

 

You may even find that your employees make an extra effort when your organization works around positive feedback loops in a more casual environment. 

 

Not only will they feel satisfied with receiving insight from you because it’s proof that you’re paying attention and are in their corner, but they’ll also feel comfortable in providing feedback that could help their managers to improve their leadership skills or make the workplace better for the whole team. 

 

By making feedback a recurring priority, it shows employees that you value continuous open communication—not just from one side or during designated conversations. 

5 Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback

1. Be As Specific As Possible

Before you launch into your feedback, you need to know exactly what you’re going to say. Narrow your focus on one or two areas to discuss, like an individual issue or achievement. 

 

Being specific will help your employee to understand exactly what you’re telling them and what needs to be corrected or improved upon. You can bring up relevant examples or scenarios that clearly outline your expectations and give the team member clarity on what they need to do next. 

 

Think back to our previous example about cleaning up a job site. Simply saying, “You need to make sure you leave the job site on time,” isn’t nearly as clear or helpful as pointing to the specific process that’s slowing the crew down and offering a solution (starting that process a little earlier) to help them reach your desired objective. 

 

This approach also makes performance management factors, like goal setting, much easier to assess on an ongoing basis. With specific feedback, your follow up in a few weeks or months will naturally be more focused and allow you to see clear progress.

2. Keep Positive and Negative Feedback Balanced

A Gallup survey found that nearly 80 percent of workers started looking for other employment opportunities after receiving negative feedback. While providing corrective feedback about negative behaviors is important, you should be mindful of how you’re bringing this up to your employees.

 

Balancing constructive feedback by simultaneously giving positive feedback is one of the best ways to keep the tone of the conversation on the right path. To make sure that you’re still getting your point across clearly, don’t gloss over the area of development. Emphasize your employee’s strengths and how they can address negative behaviors within the context of what they’re already good at. Here’s an example: 


“You do such a great job responding to customer inquiries promptly and I know they appreciate that speedy response. However, I’ve noticed that moving too fast can lead to missing some important details. I’d recommend slowing down just a little bit to make sure you’re giving them all of the information they need.”

 

This will help you avoid having an overly negative perception that leaves your employee feeling dejected and send them on the hunt for a new position elsewhere.

3. Give Observational Information over Interference

As a supervisor, it can feel incredibly tempting to want to take over and do the work yourself. After all, you probably have more experience than your employee and will get it done faster. 

 

Resist that urge. Put yourself in a mentor or coach mindset before approaching an employee with feedback. Provide them with objective observations about their work, both positive and constructive, and allow them the opportunity to ask questions or seek clarifications. 

Let's say you have a manager who you'd like to be more proactive in offering solutions to problems they're noticing. Rather than telling that manager exactly how to come up with those solutions, you might say something like this:

"You're doing a great job at pointing out issues our team might face in the near future. These are potential problems we really need to keep in mind. Yesterday when you mentioned our supplier has been harder to reach, and that concerns you for future orders, it was a great red flag for us to keep in mind. Our next step is coming up with some solutions, and proactively offering your thoughts on that would be really helpful in getting the ball rolling. I'd love to hear some of your ideas after you've had the chance to mull it over."

 

Ultimately, feedback mechanisms like this will allow the employee to perform at their best and grow professionally. It all comes back to the “teach a person to fish” mantra—you want them to have the opportunity to experience and learn new skills themselves. 

4. Be Aware of Feedback Overload

When feedback is shared regularly, you can be more specific and focus the employee’s attention on a few behaviors and outcomes. But too much feedback can overwhelm an employee too. Team members need time to implement what you’ve suggested and keep track of what they should be working on. 

 

So keep in mind how much time has passed since you last approached your employee. If it seems like they had ample time to address any feedback, check in on their progress and consider offering more feedback then. But if you think your team member may need more time, hold off on additional suggestions and make sure you're responding to any questions they send your way.

5. Align Feedback with Employee Goals

No matter how diplomatic or tactful you are when delivering feedback, it can still be difficult for employees to hear. One way to lessen the sting and show them that your intention is to help them? Align your feedback to their own professional development goals.

 

Connecting the dots between your feedback and their own objectives serves as extra motivation, as it gives them tactical things they can do to work toward their targets.

 

For example, perhaps an employee has expressed interest in moving into a management position. You’ve had several new hires start recently, but you haven’t really seen your employee step up and take a leadership role. 

 

You could offer feedback that looks something like this: 


“I know you mentioned wanting to move up to a management position and I want to make sure you have the experience you need to do that with confidence. As you know, we’ve had several new hires start recently. How about picking a specific task to train each of them on and then guiding and mentoring them? This gives you an opportunity to build experience in coaching and leadership, as well as a chance to showcase your skills in this area.”

Chances are, your employee will be eager to jump on implementing that feedback to prove that they’re worthy of the next step in their career. Rather than simply offering criticism or another task to be done, you tied your feedback to a purpose that’s more personally motivating for them. 

Examples of Positive Employee Feedback

While giving positive feedback tends to be easier than constructive feedback, it can still be hard to find the right words when the time comes. Especially if your team member is doing well in so many areas. If you’re feeling a little stuck, pick one or two categories below to focus on and check out our templates and examples.

Collaboration and Communication

“I noticed that you were really involved in the team meeting yesterday and asked some great questions. You’ve certainly grown in confidence while working here and your contributions have been incredibly beneficial in moving this project forward.”


“Thank you for taking the time to follow up with the team and the client with the project deliverables and deadlines. Some of these details would have fallen through the cracks without your attention and now everyone is on the same page.”

Problem-Solving

“Great work on this challenging project. I know that taking a risk, especially at work, can be nerve-wracking and that a few mistakes were made along the way, but you managed to solve the issue. I hope this has been helpful for you as we tackle the next big project.”

“One of your biggest strengths is in breaking down the difficult tasks into more manageable, bite-sized chunks. You’ve really helped the rest of the team feel like this is more doable and achievable now. Keep up the great work!”

Leadership and Going the Extra Mile

“I noticed that you really took charge of that last project and went above and beyond for our client. If you feel ready, I’d like to discuss the possibility of adding some new responsibilities to your day-to-day that can help you progress at the company.”

“I want to thank you for your input in the meeting today. I know some of those numbers were unsettling, but your optimism and suggestions helped everybody approach the conversation positively. Thanks for being such a great team player!”

Personal Development and Taking Initiative

“You’ve really come a long way since you started working here. I’ve noticed a big improvement in your time management skills and willingness to jump into any task to get problems solved quickly and effectively. Keep up the good work!”

“I’m very impressed with the efforts you’ve been making to learn more about the industry and educate yourself in areas that will benefit both the company and our clients. I’d like to have a discussion about what you’re working on next and how we can better support your success and development.”

Build a Better Workplace with Honest and Open Feedback

Providing effective feedback that truly helps your staff to grow and develop in their roles is always challenging. But by following these guidelines, you’ll soon find that employees are more engaged in their jobs and spend more time actively working toward better results.

 

With a little extra effort and time taken to share your input with the team, the whole culture of your company will transform into a place where transparency and support are encouraged and valued. And with that comes happier employees and a better work environment for everyone.

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