Giving and receiving feedback for leaders

An important role for leaders, managers and colleagues at all levels is giving feedback. Not providing feedback can create uncertainty amongst employees about their performance and what is expected of them. Performance feedback should always be given as part of a two-way process in which recent performance is reviewed, practical support or development needs are identified and ways of developing current roles and careers are suggested.


This guide offers advice on how to give and receive feedback. It identifies how a strengths-based approach can help employees build their strengths and replicate successes in other areas of their work, linked with coaching skills.


Why is it important to give and receive feedback?


‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions.’ Ken Blanchard


‘Feedback is the fuel that drives improved performance.’ Eric Parsloe



Constructive feedback in the workplace is extremely important; people at work need effective communication to succeed and thrive. Feedback is important because it both directs attention to learning and development and supports motivation by helping people to see their progress towards goals. It helps people learn more about themselves – their strengths, development areas, behaviours – and how their actions affect others. It is important that feedback is given regularly.

Many organisations are moving towards more continuous feedback rather than relying on annual or six-monthly reviews, which is a positive change. Giving colleagues feedback has a considerable impact on them and the service because it:

  • Creates a connection and increases engagement levels; individuals will feel connected to the organisation and its goals and values, resulting in more fulfilment
  • Helps to reinforce best practice and creates an environment of learning and development
  • Can prevent employees from becoming demotivated, if given in the right way, and encourages increased performance
  • Can address any performance issues, particularly if discussed at an early stage
  • Promotes a conversation culture, which can help to encourage relationship building, innovation and creativity by making employees feel comfortable to share ideas or voice concerns

Feedback does not always have to be positive. Constructive feedback highlights areas where improvement can be made to make work better in the long run. However, it is important that feedback is given skilfully and productively; otherwise it provides no basis for development.


Feedback can help to motivate a person to perform at their best, and clarifies any differences between the preferred and the actual behaviour of the individual by providing information on performance.

When delivered effectively, feedback can:

  • Improve performance
  • Increase confidence, motivation and self-esteem (Matua et al. 2014; Rose & Best 2005)
  • Improve morale
  • Provide direction
  • Aid in learning and professional growth
  • Help individuals understand their strengths and deficits
  • Allow learners to implement strategies to improve how they work


Given the potential benefits, it is important that giving feedback becomes a priority in our services.


Types of feedback 

Informal feedback is more common and is usually provided verbally on a daily basis.
Formal feedback is less common and is usually provided in writing as part of a structured assessment.


Informal feedback

Also known as impromptu feedback, informal feedback can be given spontaneously, without planning and in casual settings; it does not follow a structured schedule. Establishing a culture in which informal feedback is given daily is more important than establishing a culture in which formal feedback is given infrequently.


When you give employees regular feedback, you create a positive and supportive environment in which learning and development is part of the organisational culture. In such cultures, employees’ problems and concerns are typically addressed early and quickly. Make it a daily routine to give feedback to employees.


Informal feedback can be given to just about anyone, between colleagues, managers or teams. The table below provides some examples of informal feedback.



Day-to-day praise Managers should not underestimate the importance of giving their teams regular positive feedback. This can be as quick and simple as saying ‘Thank you’. Acknowledging and appreciating employees is likely to improve their engagement levels. Top tips

·         Be specific: identify what the employee has done and why it is good

·         Make the feedback special by taking the time to provide the feedback

·         Plan time to provide feedback; this is particularly important when managing remote workers

·         Consider the most appropriate method

Day-to-day constructive feedback Ensure that, when you need to correct one of your team members, you provide feedback constructively, explaining why and how to address the issue. Do not wait until they are performing poorly before giving them feedback. This helps to address performance issues quickly and prevent them from escalating. Employees tend not to react negatively to feedback provided constructively. Top tips

·         Be specific and demonstrate understanding of the issue

·         Respect the employees, including respecting their privacy

·         Empathise

·         Listen to what the employee has to say


Making feedback personal

Day-to-day feedback should also be personal and given in person where possible. This is more difficult when managing remote workers, but you can still do it via virtual meetings or over the phone.


If you feel that the feedback should be confirmed in writing, take time to write a follow-up email. Your team members will feel like you have taken the time to provide the feedback and encourage open and honest conversation. Always provide feedback at the earliest opportunity.


Formal feedback

Formal feedback usually includes work performance documentation, an overview of competence and peer surveys such as 360-degree assessment (see ‘NFCC guide to 360 feedback for individual’). Formal feedback involves managers and leadership.


Good managers look for opportunities to give formal feedback to employees on positive behaviours and successes. Informal praise is important, but more formal settings such as team meetings provide an opportunity to encourage certain behaviours amongst team members and acknowledge employees, which can help to motivate everyone.


Some tips include:

  • Give formal feedback on individual and team successes
  • Ensure that the feedback is personal
  • Ensure that feedback is provided to all relevant team members, including any quieter ones who may have been involved
  • Keep a record of achievement to review throughout the year
  • Consider how to publicise the achievements; some services use social media
  • Do not praise everything, as this can devalue the praise


Formal constructive feedback

When an employee’s performance or behaviour is unsatisfactory, an informal discussion with them may not be appropriate. In this situation you should:

  • Organise a meeting
  • Notify the employee that the meeting is going to take place and clarify what will be discussed
  • Give the employee constructive feedback, using specific examples of the employee’s performance or behaviour
  • Ask for the employee’s view, and listen to what they have to say
  • Build a constructive action plan for improvement jointly with the employee
  • Make a record of what was said during the meeting and the next steps agreed


Refer to your managing performance/capability policies and procedure for more information.

Feedback models

There are many different feedback models, and there is no ‘right way’ to give effective feedback.


AID model
·         Action: what action did the individual take that warranted the feedback?

·         Impact: what impact did this have on others, the manager, the team, the service, etc.?

·         Desired outcome: what is the desired outcome, how can the individual get there and what support might they need?


Chronological fashion feedback
Chronological fashion feedback focuses on reflecting observations chronologically, reiterating the events that occurred during the session back to the person. For instance, an observer can go through a learning session and give feedback from beginning to end. This is helpful for short feedback sessions, but you can become bogged down in detail during long sessions.


Pendleton model
The Pendleton model was developed in 1984. It is more learner centred, conversation based and identifies an action plan or goals: ‘reflection for action’.

Typically, the feedback provider first checks whether the recipient wants and/or is ready for feedback, then explains what is being assessed and highlights what was done well. Highlighting positives first aims to create a safe environment and prevent the recipient from feeling defensive.

The facilitator then reinforces the positives and invites the learner to suggest what they could improve. This is an important step, allowing facilitator and recipient to analyse weaknesses together and identify opportunities for reflection.

The facilitator offers advice and a mutually agreed action plan is formed. The main idea is to use open questions and give the learner the opportunity to think and reflect. Example questions include:

1.    ‘What do you think went well?’

2.    ‘What do you think could be done differently?’

3.    ‘What could be further improved?’

4.    ‘How can this be achieved?’


The strengths-based approach
When considering how to improve, it is human nature to focus on weaknesses or problem areas and try to fix them. However, research shows that interventions that promote strengths-based performance conversations between managers and their staff improve the usefulness of one-to-one meetings for employees’ learning, development and performance. This shows that it can be better to help employees build on their strengths and replicate successes in other areas of their work.

Kluger and Nir suggest a three-step practical process for managers to open strengths-based performance conversations:

1.    Eliciting a success story: ask the employee to focus on what has been working well for them, identify a specific instance and expand on it in detail

2.    Discovering your personal success code: get them to explain how they contributed towards this success (and what support they needed)

3.     The feedforward question: ask them to reflect on their current priorities and consider how they can replicate this ‘success code’


Feedback skills

Feedback is a two-way discussion, and employees have different reactions to feedback. Give the employee time to respond to feedback.

If the employee responds positively, giving them time to express themselves means that you are acknowledging their feelings and allowing them to enjoy the moment.

If the employee responds negatively, giving them time to react shows that you respect their opinion and acknowledge that they are feeling upset or angry.


Feedback skills: Top tips

·         Asking good questions: when to use open or closed questions, and how to probe in a way that encourages people to expand on their experiences, views or feelings

·         Active listening: to take in what is being said, notice body language, help people clarify and respond in a way that helps the conversation

·         Giving constructive feedback: focusing on evidence and actual examples, not subjective opinion, reinforcing positives and strengths (see above), and knowing when to be directive and when to take a coaching approach


Giving effective feedback

When preparing to give feedback, think about what you would like to achieve. What do you want to highlight, what went well, and where could there be some improvements? Planning in advance is crucial to the process. Planning should encounter to whom you are giving feedback.


Feedback aims to improve performance, so give recipients enough time to change their behaviour. Arrange a follow-up session to assess their progress and then adjust your approach as you go.


There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; feedback should be tailored to each individual and the corresponding situation. It is vital that you reflect carefully on how you want to convey your message, to focus on the intent of the feedback and a couple of key points that will not overwhelm the individual. Be clear as the feedback giver what your intentions are and why you are giving the feedback. The recipient will often sense this, and it can either ‘open’ or ‘close’ them to the feedback offered.

Giving feedback when recipients are not ready or receptive could have adverse effects. Therefore, think about how they will react to the feedback and what your response might be.


Giving effective feedback: Top tips

·         Plan in advance

·         Give feedback promptly, right after the event

·         Think about what you want to achieve and drive the discussion accordingly

·         Be specific

·         Encourage self-reflection

·         Be aware of non-verbal clues such as faster breathing, fidgeting, leg-tapping

·         Positively frame the conversation by explaining the reasons you are giving the feedback, including that you see their potential, you want them to do well, and you know they can; this makes people more receptive to receiving feedback about potential development areas

·         Consider location: somewhere private where you will not be disturbed

·         Involve the individual in the feedback session by asking them how they think something went, how they think they can improve and encourage them to take responsibility for their subsequent development plans and actions


Receiving feedback

An employee-centred approach is often recommended to effectively receive feedback. This involves adopting an open-minded listening strategy, reflection and a willingness to improve one’s performance.


The recipients of the feedback are asked to evaluate their own performance and assess how their actions impact others. This approach works best when the feedback is ongoing, regular, supportive and originates from a range of reliable and valid external sources.


When this is not the case, people may not have enough understanding to self-assess and correct behaviours that may hinder their development. However, when constructive feedback is used wisely, it can positively impact personal and professional development.


It is important to review feedback to reflect on strengths and weaknesses and build on previously learned competencies. The result will be increased confidence and independence.


It is essential to develop an open dialogue between the person giving feedback and the recipient. Differences of opinion should be handled in a professional manner. Both parties should be comfortable and able to focus on actively listening, engaging, reflecting and developing action points for future development. Effective communication is key to a successful feedback interaction.


Receiving feedback: Top tips

·         Be a good listener

·         When in doubt, ask for clarification

·         Embrace the feedback session as a learning opportunity

·         Remember to pause and think before responding

·         Avoid jumping to conclusions, and show that you are invested in the learning process and keen to improve

·         Think positively and be open to helpful hints

·         Show appreciation

·         Be proactive


Barriers to effective feedback

Various factors can act as barriers to effective feedback, and it is important to be able to identify and overcome them. Effective feedback is dependent on communication skills, so it is vital that the receiver gets the message the sender intended to deliver. The table below shows some potential barriers to effective feedback.


Generalised feedback Generalised feedback that is not related to specific facts and does not give advice on how to improve behaviour can be unhelpful and confusing. The person receiving the feedback is unclear about the real purpose of the session and often starts looking for hidden agendas. This disrupts professional relationships and causes unnecessary suspicion.
Physical barriers Giving feedback loudly in a noisy corridor, or in the presence of other colleagues, is inappropriate. Such feedback loses its objectivity, and the recipient may consider it insulting, affecting their professional relationship with their peers.
Personal agendas Personal agendas should not influence feedback. As soon as you realise this is a possibility, it is best not to give feedback as the recipient will perceive it negatively. Self-reflection will identify the reasons behind it and will be crucial in removing personal aspects from feedback.
Lack of confidence A feedback recipient who lacks confidence may exhibit shyness, difficulty in being assertive or lack of awareness of their own rights and opportunities.



Giving and receiving effective feedback are skills that are closely linked with professional development and improved performance. Both impact the quality of the services we offer. Feedback should be constructive by focusing on behaviours that can be improved. Developing robust professional relationships is a prerequisite for giving and receiving constructive feedback that will act as a powerful motivator.