Among the most common reasons employees perform below par is they don’t know precisely what they’re doing wrong. Whether dealing with an entry-level employee or a top manager, supervisors need to provide regular and specific feedback to maintain a productive workplace.

Effective feedback comes often and as quickly as possible. Frontline supervisors should be trained and encouraged to give on-the-spot guidance. Annual performance reviews are still important, but reviews often occur too late to prevent costly mistakes or a breakdown in the employer-employee relationship. Here are some ways that your organization’s supervisors can elevate their feedback games:

Offer praise. Simply telling employees that they’re doing a good job tends to inspire them and boost their productivity. Plus, it makes them more receptive to constructive criticism when the need arises. Be sure your supervisors don’t communicate with employees only when something is wrong. Also, advise them to beware of the “compliment sandwich” — when you try to sneak a critique between two positives. Doings so can send a mixed, confusing message and undermine the affirmative effect of the compliments.

Pour the concrete. Vague negatives and admonishments to “Just do your job!” don’t give employees a clear path to improvement. Supervisors should point out weaknesses — and do so at the earliest appropriate opportunity; it’s counterproductive to let issues fester. But an employee is more likely to improve if the supervisor doesn’t broach the topic without concrete performance enhancement steps in hand. Train supervisors to create clear actionable items before reaching out to employees.

Use the written word sparingly, but where appropriate. In today’s text-happy world, many supervisors may be inclined to transmit feedback via a text message, instant message, or email. For relatively minor matters or a “heads-up,” this is probably acceptable. But, generally, it’s best to address issues face-to-face (video-chat works, for this, too) or on the telephone where tone of voice can play a role. Of course, for more serious matters, your organization may need to develop a written performance improvement plan (commonly known as a “PIP”) to get a troubled employee back on track.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do regarding employee feedback is create and nurture a culture of open communication. When receiving constructive criticism is a normal aspect of the working environment, and it occurs regularly, employees are much more likely to accept and use it to improve their performances.


We highly recommend you confer with your Miller Kaplan advisor to understand your specific situation and how this may impact you.