Before we get into the details of feedback, I did want to underscore the importance of building a strong foundation with folks before you give them feedback. This foundation will serve as the "lens" through which they view the feedback. If you have a great relationship with the receiver of the feedback, they would likely view that feedback in a positive light and know that your intentions are genuine. There was a saying that we used to have at one of my jobs, it was "Always assume good intent".
Below are 4 tips to give better feedback:
Are they ready?
How will the recipient take the feedback. Will they get defensive, how can you help them understand your intent and put their guard down. Let's face it, there are always those folks that will always be defensive or take your feedback the wrong way. In those scenarios I try to help them realize how others perceive them or may interpret their actions. It becomes less about what they could have done better and more about understanding the broader context of how their actions impact other's perceptions of them. As a manager (or even an employee) you should ALWAYS have the courage to give the feedback even if it means having an uncomfortable conversation.
Understand the context
As a manager, you want the receiver of the feedback to have a broader sense of why they are frustrated or why they need the feedback. Here's a great example, many years ago I had an employee come to me during a 1on1 and wonder why they weren't moving forward in their career. Rather than explaining to them all the reasons why they weren't succeeding and giving them ideas to improve, I drew this on the white board and asked him to write down on a sheet a paper where he thought he was on that scale and I would do the same.
Try and use specific examples where a situation could have been handled differently. Timeliness is also important. I don't recommend giving feedback on something months after it happens. I tend to try and give positive feedback almost immediately. For example, "Good job handling that meeting and the objection that was raised". For constructive feedback, I tend to want to mention it after I have had some time to think about the specific event. I generally like to jot down what happened and maybe some options on how to handle it differently. After some thought, I'll typically bring it up during our regularly scheduled 1on1. The key when you are specific and timely is that you are helping the employee focus on the particular action/event that needs improvement while it is still fresh in their mind rather than some general feedback that they will have a hard time translating to a change in their behavior.
Make it regular
Feedback can be spontaneous (e.g. great job on that presentation) but it also needs to have regular intervals. I like to give feedback on a monthly basis and am always willing to receive feedback. Make it an agenda item for your 1on1s. I try and take notes throughout the month of little things and use my 1on1 to give/receive feedback on those. For example, say I gave a talk at a company/business unit meeting about a particular topic. I may ask for feedback from some folks afterwards and make sure I note to ask for feedback from my manager at our next 1on1. Part of making it an ongoing thing, is that it forces you to be prepared to give feedback.
Ultimately giving and receiving feedback should happen often enough that it is viewed as something that is encouraged. Feel free to leave any tips or comments on the art of giving feedback!