The Power of Giving Great Feedback

By Jim Thomas, PDW Group (UK)Limited, www.pdwgroup.co.uk


Giving great quality feedback to others in the workplace….sounds simple doesn’t it? 

…or put another way, having a good quality conversation with another person to either tell them how well they are doing something, or how it’s in their interest to try and improve something.

Again, sounds pretty simple right?

The reality is however, in our experience, giving great feedback is probably the most underused and badly executed management skill in the workplace.

Underused because it just doesn’t happen nearly often enough.  Badly executed, because it is often just ‘done badly’…probably doing more harm than good.

Both of these options can and do have quite serious and significant impacts on the recipient, the giver (often the line manager), colleagues, clients, the firm….etc, etc. 

But more of this later…

Let’s first be clear on some fundamentals…..what is feedback and what’s the point of it?

We define feedback as “a process of sharing observations, concerns and suggestions between persons with an intention of either continuing or improving both personal and organisational performance”. 

There are two types of feedback….

  1. Positive (i.e. praise and encouragement about something being done well).  This is designed to build the recipient’s confidence and belief and get them to do whatever they are doing again, do it more, do it even better, etc.
  2. Corrective or developmental (i.e. direction about what could be improved). This type of feedback is designed to build competence and skill, and sometimes to help the person to see, acknowledge and overcome a specific issue.

Now let’s get back to the impact point….

There isn’t the ‘word count’ space in this article to do justice to the long list of impacts of getting feedback wrong.  We at PDW Group run lots of people engagement surveys and 360º feedback initiatives for our professional services clients. 

Because of this, we see the thousands of responses we get from the most senior to the most junior people in professional practice, so we know what we know is based on fact, and based on the actual views of the people.

The impact on people engagement of no feedback or badly given feedback cannot be under estimated…it can undermine a person’s confidence and whole belief system, not to mention seriously hindering their capability. 

It can lead them down the garden path, with them believing they are ready for promotion or they are good at something, only to be told at the last minute that they won’t achieve it or they are not.

It’s often the thing that gets people to leave an organisation, to increase absence, to reduce productivity, and to radiate from one person to many others…..and all completely unnecessarily.

So ask yourself….how much do you want these impacts in your business?  And how clear are you on what level of these impacts are actually going on right now in your business?

Obviously telling people what they have done well, properly (and not by just saying “great job!”) will boost people up, so this is a an easy win.

But it is also very possible to tell a person what they are not doing well, and get them to change it and improve it, and boost their engagement at the same time

So how can you and your organisation begin to improve the use of feedback?

One of the simplest ways to give and receive feedback is obviously to just sit down and talk to someone.  There is an old saying, if you want feedback about yourself then ask for it…but people seldom do, preferring the ‘no news is good news’ way of thinking.

However, let’s be realistic, most professional practices have an element of hierarchy, and many we have experienced over the years have lots of it, far too much of it in fact for a healthy and engaging environment.

So whilst it should in theory be fairly easy for someone at partner level to sit down with a direct team member and give them some feedback, it just doesn’t seem to happen nearly often enough. 

And giving feedback across or even up the management line, for instance one partner instigating another partner to make changes?  For many firms, forget it….many people just don’t want to listen to feedback from someone unless they are more senior than them….and this is all part of the problem, seeing feedback as a critical and bad thing, rather than embracing it as a potential ‘game changer’.

So in summary, and put simply, many people in professional practice are on a starvation diet of feedback, particularly about nonfunctional aspects of what they do, such as behaviours related to competencies and values.

So if the above looks familiar, and feedback is indeed an underused tool in your firm, then in many ways it’s no simpler than you the reader, and some of your colleagues committing to do more of it.

So how do we do it well?

If like so many firms, feedback is indeed an underused tool in your firm, this is often because people fear it, they lack confidence in doing it, and don’t want to ‘criticise others’ or hurt their feelings.  So it is unlikely to just ‘happen’ just because someone reads this article and commits to doing more of it.

One of the ways to increase the likelihood of people doing it more regularly, is for them to feel more confident about what to do and not to do…which brings us nicely onto the other issue, of feedback being given, but it done badly.

But what does ‘done badly’ actually mean? 

Well through the power of video, we can demonstrate what happens when feedback is done badly, and you can see these by clicking on the links below…

Giving corrective feedback that is not specific so the person struggles to understand the message, and then not checking that they understand, so NO changes happen






Letting your frustration with the person boil over and this coming out in the feedback you give, upsetting or annoying the person, so NO changes happen





Not having the courage to deliver your message, so when you set out to give a firm message for someone to change something and end up overly softening it, so NO changes happen






Jim Thomas, PDW Group