When managers and owners see an employee do something incorrectly, they often react emotionally and end up with an angry, defensive employee.

Feedback only works when it creates a learning situation. Thought and preparation beforehand let the employee maintain dignity and self-respect. Here are some guidelines:

  • Timing is everything. The sooner your staff receives feedback, the easier it is for them to change their behaviors. This may even require briefly pulling someone off a job. Never give immediate feedback when you're not sure of the circumstances — especially when you have secondhand information.
  • Pick the right place. When customers or other employees are present, take the employee out of listening range. Confidentiality is critical. A good climate allows for better understanding.
  • Cool down. Don't give feedback when you're angry. If you say the wrong words, you'll add fuel to the fire. Delay feedback when the employee has just dealt with an irate customer or had a conflict with another employee. Let him calm down first.
  • Address behaviors, not attitude. Stay away from attitudes, character, or personality issues. Describe the actual behavior, the results of that behavior, or work process. This way the feedback is unbiased.
  • Don't judge. Eliminate words that are emotional and explosive. Stick with a description of what was observed.
  • Don't magnify. If an employee is late on occasion, don't ask: “Why are you always late?” Instead, say: “On both Tuesday and Saturday, I observed that you were 15 minutes late. We start at 9:00 a.m. When you are late, other people have to cover for you.”
  • Before the discussion is over, make sure the employee understands the correct behavior or the performance desired. Have him repeat the information or ask how he'll do it differently next time. Document your conversation and include it in your performance-evaluation decisions. It takes time to change old behaviors. Further observation and follow-up will be necessary.

    Giving high-quality feedback means being able to say the right thing at the right time. It's like constantly using a muscle; eventually the muscle becomes stronger. That strength creates loyal and productive employees. —Bob Losyk is president and CEO of Innovative Training Solutions, a Greensboro, N.C., consulting firm. This article is excerpted with permission from Managing a Changing Workforce: Achieving Outstanding Service with Today's Employees. Visit www.boblosyk.com for more information.