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How to give feedback that sticks

Great leaders are great learners. It’s their constant drive to improve that sets them aside from others. Providing feedback is one of the most critical management tasks, however it often gets pushed down on managers’ to do lists and the conversation only happens during annual performance reviews.

But giving regular feedback doesn’t have to be difficult or formal – Adobe being a great example, as they recently ditched formal performance appraisals and replaced them with informal check-in conversations focused on three key elements: expectations, feedback and growth and development. Discussing these three areas means that both sides know they’ve had a meaningful conversation and it helps them to continuously improve. Looking at the three elements of the meaningful check-in, it’s easy to see how this system might be more motivating. While most performance appraisals are backward looking, this format is focused on progress and the skills and abilities needed to make further progress.

Sense of progress

Research shows that a sense of progress is one of the most powerful motivators in the workplace, even stronger than pay. Encouraging people’s strengths by providing specific feedback on how they are helping your team or organisation helps them and your organisation to thrive. In return, a positive workplace culture drives employee engagement and productivity. According to Harvard’s research this creates psychological safety, which encourages the spirit of experimentation that is critical for innovation and growth. Psychological safety also improves learning and performance outcomes.

Feedback is one of the primary levers leaders have to increase a sense of learning. Receiving regular updates on personal performance as well as how the business is doing helps people feel valued and involved. Highlighting strengths also helps to generate a sense of accomplishments and motivation – Gallup’s research found that 67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged at work, compared to only 31% whose managers focused on their weaknesses. Recognition is linked to happiness at work in general and linked to cultural and business results such as retention and job satisfaction.

Praise and constructive criticism

There are several ways leaders can improve how they deliver powerful and productive feedback– focusing on how they would want to hear it themselves, understanding the recipient’s position and emotions, linking it to the future and what the employee can do to move forward; to name a few. Feedback doesn’t have to be long, but it needs to be specific, rather than a general remark of doing a “good job”.

Becoming a good feedback-giver means proactively developing the skill of giving praise as well as constructive criticism. Giving positive feedback shows that leaders care about their team’s success and makes negative feedback less stressful and more effective.

Very often feedback is not helpful – it’s infrequent, vague or irrelevant and as a result makes leaders to be less proactive when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives leaders at all levels practical tools to help solve real life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from presentation skills through to executive leadership development to prepare your future leaders to their next transition. For more information, contact

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