Providing Feedback to Employees: 3 Types of Feedback

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "High Output Management" by Andrew S. Grove. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is providing feedback to employees so important? How should you provide feedback?

According to High Output Management, there are three types of ways of providing feedback to employees. You can use any of these types depending on the type of feedback and the employee.

Read more about providing feedback to employees.

Providing Feedback to Employees

As discussed, the goal of the performance review is to improve performance. Therefore, after assessing performance, you need to provide task-relevant feedback—feedback that is directly related to work—to guide recipients toward improvements.

There are three formats for providing feedback to employees in performance reviews:

Type #1: Alternate Positives and Negatives

This is one way of providing feedback to employees. In this type of review, which is very common, managers list negative feedback and then temper it with positive feedback. These reviews aren’t very effective at improving performance because:

  • They’re superficial and disorganized, which will confuse the recipient.
  • The amount of feedback is overwhelming. People can only absorb so much at once, and if overloaded, they either can’t absorb any more or forget everything they have absorbed so far.

Type #2: Address a Major Problem

This is another way of providing feedback to employees. In this form of review, you discuss and try to resolve a single fire-worthy performance problem.

Likely, when you bring up a major problem, the recipient will go through the following stages:

1. Refuse to acknowledge the problem exists. To show the recipient the problem is real, use examples and evidence.

2. Deny that it’s a problem. Again, use evidence to show that the problem is real.

3. Accuse others of causing the problem. In this stage, the recipient accepts that the problem is real but doesn’t think it’s her fault and therefore doesn’t plan to do anything about it. This tends to be the hardest step to get through. If she can’t get through it on her own, use your position power. Tell her that you understand she doesn’t see the problem the same way you do and that either of you could be right, but it’s your responsibility to the organization to give instructions.

4. Assume ownership of the problem. 

5. Find a fix. You should help the recipient do this. It’s typically easier than the other steps because finding fixes is a matter of logic, and moving through the other steps is emotional, which is more difficult for some people to handle.

The recipient may not go through all the stages, and if she doesn’t move on from one, you can’t either (it’s impossible to talk about fixing a problem that someone refuses to admit even exists). 

There are three ways this review can end:

  1. The recipient agrees with your assessment and agrees to implement your suggested fixes.
  2. The recipient doesn’t agree with your assessment but does agree to implement your fixes.
    • For example, Grove once asked a manager to rewrite a performance review. The manager thought it was a waste of time, but he did do it.
  3. The recipient doesn’t agree with any of it.

The first outcome is ideal because if the recipient feels the same way about the problem as you do, she’ll likely be more motivated to solve it. However, the second option is acceptable too because while it might not be as emotionally comfortable to disagree, the problem will still get solved. The third option is not acceptable.

Type #3: Review a High-Achiever

This is the last of the ways of providing feedback to employees. In this review, you give feedback to a high achiever. Because the goal of a review is to improve performance, always include suggestions for improvement, even if someone is already doing well. (When it comes to high performers, there’s a tendency to simply summarize the subordinate’s work instead of providing suggestions to improve.) 

High performers do a lot for the organization, so if you can improve their performance even more, you’ll improve the company’s output significantly.

Providing Feedback to Employees: 3 Types of Feedback

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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