15 Key Features of Constructive Feedback for Employees

August 24, 2021
5 Min Read
Photo by
Jerzy Wierzy

In order to have a constructive feedback culture, key features of constructive feedback need to be understood. It is also important that these features focus on clarifying expectations for the future as opposed to judging past actions because that can lead to resentment, rather than a positive outcome. People do not always know what they need to improve on without someone giving feedback and offering guidance.

Key features of employee constructive feedback

Be specific

First and foremost, feedback must be specific in order for it to be effective feedback. The more concrete you can make it, the better chance there is for the person receiving the feedback to understand what they did wrong. If you give vague statements like "You were off today" or "Your performance was not good enough" then your employee will feel as if he or she was being blamed individually for something that wasn't their fault at all -OR- they won't know what exactly they should improve on.

In contrast, giving a detailed explanation with a specific example such as "You ignored stakeholders yesterday when you started the presentation before everyone was in the room" will clarify what went wrong. Your employee can then better understand if they should improve by starting early, talking to stakeholders beforehand, or perhaps even including them in their presentation.

Don’t make it personal

Constructive feedback is not about pointing blame; it is meant to help people and organizations grow and increase employee performance. Therefore, giving constructive feedback shouldn't make the person feel like a failure because their actions were responsible for something going wrong - especially if they already know this information and are working on improving it! It is important that we focus on behaviors, not character traits.

Balance the negative feedback with positive feedback

When giving feedback, you should always start off by pointing out what went well to offset any critical feedback or areas that need improvement. This allows your employee to hear about his or her strong points first and also leaves them feeling good - especially if they're uncertain about how they should improve! 

For example, if an employee has already expressed concerns over ignoring stakeholders during presentations, then you could follow up your first statement with "I know this was addressed last week at our meeting so very well done on turning this around! I noticed stakeholders were involved today which shows great progress".

This will leave your employee feeling motivated and confident rather than completely deflated after receiving feedback. Think of your employee as a learner who can benefit from meaningful feedback.

Provide clear goals

When giving feedback, objectives or milestones should be communicated from the outset and then outlined throughout the process in order for employees to better understand what is expected of them. Employees need a clear understanding of deadlines and expectations so that if they do not meet them, they know immediately rather than after a few months of poor work. They should know that their performance affects how the overall team meets their goals.

This will prevent any confusion or misunderstandings down the road - or worse - leaving your employee feeling as though you have been unclear with your messaging. For example, "You said you would finish these reports by today but I only noticed their absence this afternoon" leaves your employee frustrated as he or she doesn't know when they were supposed to submit these reports OR if you send messages frequently with deadlines, your employee will feel as though you are not following up on work - which takes the pressure off of them to meet objectives.

Focus on the future

For constructive feedback to be effective feedback it must focus on the present but also embrace the future. For example, if an employee has missed deadlines consistently for months then they need to understand why this keeps happening and how to prevent it in order to ensure better performance in the long term. If they have simply had a busy month with too much on their plate, then they may suggest prioritizing certain tasks or delegating where possible so that deadlines are met more easily moving forward. However, if their lack of productivity is due to low motivation, then milestones may need to be broken down into smaller steps in order for them to maintain interest and engagement.

Clarify expectations

In order for employees to perform at their best, it is important that tasks are communicated clearly with key performance indicators (KPIs) outlined from the outset. If objectives aren't clear, employees can become confused or feel as though they have been not given directions. For example, if a result you expect from your employee isn't made clear from the start then this will lead to uncertainty and confusion which can affect performance levels drastically because your employee doesn't know what is expected of them. In addition, when work has been completed employees should be asked how satisfied they were with their efforts and results. If tasks are achieved but KPIs are not met, objectives should be reviewed to ensure milestones or targets have been met in order to prevent this from happening again.

Avoid overwhelm

Constructive feedback should focus on what can be improved moving forward rather than panicking your employee by pointing out areas that went wrong in the past. For example, if a presentation was unsuccessful then avoid making it a long and intense meeting about all of the things that went wrong - instead, reflect on issues together and discuss ways to use these learnings to improve performance levels moving forward. This will give your employees confidence about their future work as they know you respect them enough to give them positive and constructive feedback on how they can improve in various areas.

A great way to approach this is the “liked best and next times” method that was developed by author David Finkel and shared in an article with Inc. Finkel recommends giving as many examples of what you “liked best” about your employee’s performance, but keeping the “next times”, or things that can be improved, to a minimum to avoid overwhelm.

Give recommendations

All employees want to improve and milestones can't always be reached the first time around without a few lessons learned - which is why constructive feedback should focus on learning rather than mistakes. Your employee will feel as though they have been respected if you provide actions or steps that need to be taken in order for them to meet objectives again successfully, meaning that KPIs are consistently being met. 

If an employee has missed deadlines but this doesn't happen again then it could just have been a one-off error due to circumstances beyond their control so provide them with a positive recommendation instead of making them feel as though you think they aren't good enough. For example, "I was impressed with how you handled changes to deliverables at the last minute, I have seen so many people let this phase them - so well done for staying on top of priorities". This will motivate your employee to continue doing tasks well and prevent them from missing deadlines in the future.

Be relevant

It is important that constructive feedback relates directly to tasks completed by employees ensuring that they can see how it relates to their work. If you are providing negative feedback on a number of areas then try not to repeat yourself or say things that are already common knowledge as this makes feedback feel less personal and more like an attack.

Use facts and data

In order for employees to truly see the value of corrective feedback, they need to be able to clearly identify areas where they need improvement or where milestones have been missed so factual evidence is crucial when providing constructive feedback. In addition, this gives employees a chance to reflect on their own performance, with a learning intention, which can help them pinpoint areas where results could be improved.

Be timely

Timing is key when providing constructive feedback, so try your best to provide employees with feedback during key moments. For example, offer performance feedback after meetings or projects have been completed so they can see how it is directly relevant to their performance and milestones. Don't wait until a more formal performance review. Effective employee feedback is provided in a timely manner.

Although, If you provide them with negative feedback too early they may think that you are just trying to find something wrong as there is no relevant evidence presented which makes the feedback feel less valuable.

Keep an open mind

When you provide feedback it is important that you remember areas in which your employee has performed tasks well. If you don't provide them with recognition for this then they won't be confident enough to come and ask for help when milestones are missed as they will think that, because of previous constructive feedback received, there is no point in trying again. Do not just focus on finding things wrong as this shows that you fail to see the bigger picture and may prevent employees from giving their best performance every time as they feel as though any mistake made will go unnoticed anyway so why bother trying? Keep an open mind and use positive language throughout to highlight good performances.

Encourage dialogue

If you provide employees with constructive feedback then they need to feel that it is ok for them to ask you questions in order for this practice to encourage continued dialogue within your team. This will ensure that employees feel comfortable in the feedback conversation and provide their own feedback in the future. Most importantly, they know that constructive feedback is being provided with positive intentions rather than as an attack. Remember, active listening is an important skill!


Ensure that you follow up with ongoing conversations about performance by asking how employees see these suggestions impacting their work or any ideas they may have to improve upon the tasks in question in the future. Follow-up is so important that the Harvard Business Review actually states, “your coaching is only as good as your follow-up skills.” If there are no comments in response, then simply keep calm and carry on with your day knowing that you are implementing your leadership skills and communication skills.

Build a constructive feedback culture

First and foremost, feedback needs to be a part of your routine. According to Officevibe, 4 out of 10 employees are actively disengaged if they feel like they don’t receive enough feedback. In order for constructive feedback to also be effective feedback, the whole team needs to be encouraged to provide feedback in a constructive manner that benefits all involved and to have a growth mindset! When an employee receives regular feedback, this will encourage trust in employees and make it easier for them to recognize when constructive feedback is being given instead of insults that may cause arguments. Both you and your employees will experience professional growth when there is a culture of providing feedback in your workplace.

If you implement all 15 tips into your daily routine then your employees will feel confident in knowing that they can come to you with any issues no matter how small they are, because constructive criticism is always better than silence!

The free Matter Slack app is the perfect tool to provide consistent performance feedback and increase employee engagement. This app relies on the model that good feedback can completely change the workplace. Matter makes it easy for you to provide useful feedback in a timely manner.

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