Providing feedback to your employees is a critical responsibility for every leader. Feedback, or statements related to an assessment of job performance, both when it exceeds expectations and when it falls short, serves as an essential insight for employees on how their performance is viewed. It’s also a great opportunity to coach and inspire new behaviors that will improve outcomes.

Feedback, along with validation and recognition, which I discussed earlier this month, is an extremely powerful tool for leaders to encourage a more positive work environment and turn around poor employee behavior. These touch points help us as humans to know whether we’re appreciated by the group, whether we’re important to others, and whether others see and value our contributions.

Effective Triggered Feedback Conversations

While it’s important that you give feedback to your employees at regular intervals, there may be cases that I refer to as triggering events, where feedback conversations should occur immediately. An example of a triggering event would be when an employee does not meet his or her goals on a critical project. In this situation, the feedback should follow the trigger within a few days of the event’s occurrence — the sooner the better. The meeting should be held privately and confidentially.

The triggered feedback conversation should occur after you’ve had a chance to collect the relevant facts or details from multiple sources. You should also give yourself a chance to calm your own anxiety (or anger) related to the event. Nothing will cause an employee to become defensive more quickly than walking into a highly charged, negative environment.

Triggered Feedback Conversations: Preparing for the Meeting

When preparing for the feedback conversation, consider the following:

Why do I feel compelled to have a feedback conversation with the employee?

I have done my homework: gathered as many details about the event or issue as possible, asked questions, and listened with an open mind.

I have identified the behavior(s) I want to talk about and how they relate to the organization’s core values.

I am not rushing to judgment. I am trying to understand not only what happened but why it happened, so that I can get to the root issue.

Have I identified what I need to do differently going forward to better support the employee and team success?

Triggered Feedback: Having the Conversation

Once fully prepared, follow these guidelines for having the feedback conversation with the employee:

Start by asking the employee’s permission to discuss the event. For example, “Christina, this feels important. Can we talk about it?” It isn’t because you need the employee’s permission. It’s because the question enables them to exercise a choice regarding the conversation. It changes the frame from something that is done to them to a meeting that is done with them.

Think systematically about the event. View what happened as part of a continuum, a process, as you’re having the feedback conversation. If an employee failed at a task, there are often broader contributing issues, such as insufficient training and inadequate milestones to catch problems.

Be sure to use the pronoun “we” rather than “you.” Provide feedback, such as: “We need to figure out how this can be done more effectively next time.” Also, be sure you have the right framing: You’re giving constructive feedback, not constructive criticism. Anything overtly negative is a potential threat to the brain, and cognition (and IQ) drops.

Agree on an action plan that includes the next steps and a timeline. Reaching a mutual agreement with the employee ensures aligned expectations. The action plan gives the employee a structured game plan for how to move forward with clear milestones.

Make regular progress checks over time. Continue to check in with the employee on a regular basis to ensure they’re following the action plan and meeting his or her goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Triggered feedback conversations should follow the trigger as soon as possible after the event’s occurrence to be most effective for your employee.
  • Preparing for the triggered feedback conversation is a key step in conducting a feedback meeting where the employee feels comfortable to discuss the event and ways to change his or her performance or behavior.
  • Mutually agreeing on an action plan and consistently checking in with the employee is essential to long-term change in the employee’s behavior or performance.