A Guide to Giving Feedback: How to Keep Your Employees Motivated

June 10, 2014

How many times did you summon one of your employees for a talk and he arrived feeling nervous, troubled and anxious?

This phenomenon is derived from a common tendency where employees are summoned to a talk with their superior only when something is wrong.

Employees quickly adapt an impression – “If my boss calls me into his office, I probably did something wrong, and this meeting is going to be very unpleasant.”

Penny's Performance Review (short film - comedy)


How can we avoid or neutralize this conditioning?  The answer is simple!

The stipulation is that, “every time I get called in to talk with my boss he is angry with me and will go on to criticize and yell at me”. A solution exists in which you summon your employees when you have positive things to say. After receiving positive feedback, the employee will develop solid emotional infrastructure that will help him to have a positive attitude. Therefore, the next time he receives negative feedback, he will receive the feedback effectively without causing frustration and affecting his self-esteem.

Therefore, set in advance periodic appointments with weaker employees. Prior to the meeting, make a list of a few positive points regarding the employee’s work and point them out during the meeting. You can expect a confused and even suspicious reaction from your employee as you surprised them with this new approach. In those appointments, be sure to give only positive feedback.


Sometimes a 5 minutes appointment is enough – give a compliment and return back to work.

The effect of those appointments won’t only help to reduce the negative stipulation, but also to create a better organizational climate.


So, what is the best approach to give feedback? How can we give feedback without harming employee’s motivation? 3 key rules are recommended:

1.    Positive before negative

2.    Expectation setting

3.    The Issue vs. the individual


Positive before Negative

Start by presenting the meetings topic. Remember, the meetings topic is the main agenda and not the employee’s performance. Open the conversation with positive feedback.  Elaborate about the positive work as a short, concise positive statement can seem like a manipulation and preparation for the negative feedback.  While giving positive and negative feedback make sure you point out the things you’re pleased with and explain why you are pleased. Only after giving the positive feedback move on to the problematic issues in which you were not satisfied with.  At this point make sure you’re not making the common mistake of focusing on the problem instead of the solution. A good way to avoid this mistake is to say how you would want things to be fixed immediately after describing the problem


Expectation Setting

After giving the employee feedback, ask him what he thinks. Coordinate your expectations. Although we can expect the employee to comment on the feedback, inviting the employee to respond conveys an important message in which you want to share the feedback process with the employee. Sharing the process blurs the lines between the feedback giver and feedback receiver and promotes teamwork.  When the employee responds it is important that you not take it personally – don’t interpret his words as if he’s attacking you or your authority. Try and deepen the conversation, find a common interest, ask questions and divide what was said into 3 categories:

  1. Things that you agree with

  2. Things that need further discussion (don’t know if you agree or not)

  3. Things that you do not agree with

When the employee is done replying, start by presenting the things you agree with – as the basis for agreement is wider. Your ability to deal with issues you don’t agree on is more complicated and thus should be dealt with after some common ground has been found.


The Issue vs. the Individual

The main idea for this principal is to separate the employee (individual) from the issue. When an individual is the center of the criticism you can expect antagonism and emotional reactions in a way that harm the feedback itself.

Dealing with the issues while presenting your expectations (as long as your expectations focus on objectives and not behavioral criticism) will allow the employee to accept the feedback and embed it into their work.

Even when the reason for the feedback is the employee behavior (team work issues, failure to complete work on times, negative influence of the organizational climate, etc.), ask yourself what damages are accruing due to the behavior and make them the issue.

For example:

“By showing up late you are showing the team and your superiors that you don’t care about them and the work. Without you on time to help complete the work you are directly hurting the organizations productivity and at the same time indirectly hurting the motivation of the members of your team. The organizations productivity is my main interest, if you showing up late didn’t hurt productivity then I probably wouldn’t mind…”

Presenting the issue before pointing out negative behavior and showing the connection between the two is expected to decline employee’s resistance and increase his motivation to change.

And lastly, ask the employee how you can help them to make the change? Make it a mutual challenge. This will neutralize the isolation feeling from the negative feedback. Make yourself part of the solution – by doing so you are sending an extra message to your employee – the critique is specific and does not rule out the employee’s whole function.


In the end, define together a means for change measurement. Keep in touch with them with regular appointments every time they demonstrate progress.

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