4 Rules for Giving Feedback to Your Employees

Learn to apply a simple feedback formula: What, why, so what.

Image by Bob Brewer on Unsplash


Have you ever felt like you were missing feedback?


You were unsure about if you do things right or not and what else you should have done. Feedback is an important tool to engage with employees and to sort many things out.


Besides, people are used to being evaluated. That’s how schools work and that’s how they expect work to be.


Yet, many are disappointed as there is no feedback and no sense of development. Let’s not leave our buddies in vain. Managers take action and help our people grow!


1. Learn the essence of a good feedback

Feedback is information about something or someone. It provides an idea of whether people like it or whether it is successful.


Feedback can be an opinion. Lastly, for tech fans, feedback is also an unpleasant sound noise from amplifiers — yes, feedback can be unpleasant in general.


All in all, feedback should lead to an action or solution.

Feedback is a story. The story that answers what — why — (how it made you feel) — so what. This is the crucial essence of good feedback.

You meet your employee to give him feedback. You start with what happened, find out why or what it caused (add how it made you feel if you want to make an impact), and end up with the call to action.


Feedback without a call to action is a plain statement. Always, really always, conclude with a solution, accountability, even with a timeline. The more specific you go, the better.


2. Focus on specific content

Great feedback has two qualities:

  • It is specific/you have evidence.

  • It is actionable.

Imagine this situation you have with your team member Joe.

Joe comes late every day. Everyone is there at 9 am.

Yet, Joe comes at 9:30, 9:20, 9:50, etc.

You tell him several times during your one-to-one meetings: Gosh, Joe! Can’t you come on time for once?!

He shrugs his shoulders and promises to try. But, he fails again.


Feedback aims to change a behavior, attitude, solution, process, etc. Joe’s manager delivered feedback, but its content did not land.


While it was specific, it was not actionable — there was no trial or timeline. Lastly, the story was missing. The manager was angry. Yet, anger is not feedback. Using the structure above, it could sound like this:


What: Joe, you come every day at 9:30, 9:20, 9:50, etc. But you need to be in the office at 9:00.

Why: Joe, why do you come late?

Joe responds.


Why: Why do you think it is important to come on time?

Joe responds.

Why closure: close the discussion in agreement. If you wish you can add a note about how Joe’s behavior makes you or your team feel.

So what — you come to the conclusion about how to deal with the situation: Joe, I want you to come on time twice a week for the next month. This is fair and shows we do not apply any double meter. Do you think it is doable?

Joe responds.

Closure: Ideally, both of you agreed on a workable and actionable solution.

So, when you meet in a month, you can check if the behavior changed.


That’s it. Angry feedback leads nowhere, you need to know before you say anything to anyone what you want to say, why, and what is the desired action.


3. Choose a time and safe place

The place and time matter. Any information you deliver, think twice about what needs to be said, when, and how.


You need to choose your channel and occasion carefully. When it comes to feedback, it pays off doing it sensitively, on time, and in a safe environment.


When I say safe environment, I mean a place where people cannot be laughed at, they feel comfortable in, and they take it seriously. And no, it is not better to send them an email.


Under no circumstance ever send any feedback in the email. It is unprofessional and shows your poor management and communication skills.


I recommend dealing with feedback sooner than later. Saving it for a yearly performance review is not efficient.


Celebrate success when it happens. Streamline communication when it is needed. Deal with disputes when they are on.


Simply, be flexible and be honest. Keeping anything for yourself for weeks will put not only you down, but also your team.


4. “D” as Delivery

The content and environment are solved. Now it is about your delivery. It’s not easy to provide feedback, especially when it is something that can hurt the other person.


So, you as a manager need to prepare for it. Practice your voice and sentences. Keep it short and to the point.


Furthermore, focus on fewer things. Ideally only on one or two. Giving your employee a list of things, he needs to change might not work out.


When you are comfortable with your voice and body language, immerse yourself in the other party. Think how this person can feel. This helps you to create scenarios of possible reactions.


If you can foresee the reactions, you will be better prepared to moderate the discussion and lead the meeting. So, think about how you will react, when your team member is pleased, happy, angry, silent, loud, etc. This way you will be emotionally ready.


A good moment to stop the feedback and the meeting is when you notice the other person does not listen to you. That could be from two reasons:

  • You repeat yourself.

  • The person is hijacked.

A hijacked person wants to escape to recollect his mind and thoughts. Let him be. At this point, anything you say does not matter.


End the feedback meeting, let him breathe, and revisit the topic the next day or within the next days.


That way you will ensure that your feedback is accepted and conversation can continue.


If you tend to repeat yourself, be careful as no one wants to hear: you are bad, you are not good, you are bad, you are not performing, etc. Saying one thing million times does not mean more feedback. Keep it short and to the point.


Final thought

To make feedback meaningful, use the formula what-why-so what. Choose the place and time according to the feedback you want to deliver.


Prepare yourself. There is nothing worse than a manager who is not prepared. If you are not prepared, you will not be taken seriously.


Never deliver feedback for the sake of delivering feedback. As you can always find something to say.


Rather choose to say things that can make an impact and help the person grow.


Feedback is not about you. Try to be selfless and utterly helpful. Every feedback should be agreed upon by both sides and end up on a good note. No one is better or worse.

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