5 tips to deliver fair, high-quality performance feedback
High-quality feedback enables your team to succeed. When done well, feedback can . In the fast-paced world of tech, this is especially crucial — we need to constantly learn from experience, adjust our approach, and grow.
Consistent feedback makes it easier to adapt and change course when something isn’t working. It’s not enough to only hear how you’re doing in a quarterly performance review. The workers of today want as many opportunities as possible to develop.
But giving quality feedback is easier said than done. And multiple studies show that the quality of feedback that employees receive is influenced by their identity. Women and other minority groups receive less developmental feedback than men, which limits their potential for growth.
Everyone should be given equal opportunities to succeed. Here are 5 tips for managers to support your reports with top-notch feedback all year round.
How to deliver fair and developmental feedback
Good feedback is actionable, specific and relevant. It shouldn’t be focused on personality or things that employees have little control over. Here’s how to give feedback that boosts careers and morale.
1) Focus on job responsibilities and skills
Keep things relevant and specific by focusing your feedback on employees’ core job responsibilities.
Before writing feedback for an employee, review their job description or the progression framework and identify their core skills. List the specific skills each person could work on next, especially technical skills. This will give people a clear path to move up the career ladder.
🚫 “You’re not great at explaining your ideas.”
✅ “You’re hitting 75% of our Level 2 requirements. To reach the next level, I’d like to see you lead the exploration phase of our new feature this quarter.”
2) Back up your statements with evidence
Vague feedback can hold employees back. It’s hard to action and tells you little about what to so differently.
If you’re told “you need to have more of a can-do attitude”, you might feel a bit lost. What does that actually look like? And how can you tell when you’ve hit the requirements?
Whenever you catch yourself making a comment that could be left down to interpretation, back it up with a solid example.
To give yourself a rich set of examples to draw on, take notes throughout the quarter. This will also help you avoid recency bias — leaning on the most recent evidence to make a judgement. Imagine being told “I’d like to see you lead more meetings this quarter” when you were doing exactly that just a few weeks ago.
Reviewing notes will help you give accurate, specific feedback and reflect on the quarter as a whole.
🚫 “You’re not hungry enough to win a client contract.”
✅ “I noticed that you took more than a week to get back to important prospects a number of times this quarter. Which part of the sales cycle do you find challenging?”
3) Focus on behaviour, not personality
When comments focus on personality, it can feel more like a personal dig than constructive criticism. People might interpret it as asking them to change who they are rather than how they do things, making them feel defensive.
When giving feedback, focus on the facts of the situation. Avoid making assumptions about people’s intentions, as it can end up sounding like an accusation rather than a suggestion.
The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook has a super simple tip to keep your feedback constructive: focus on behaviour that a camera can capture. It’s a double win — your feedback will be more specific and you’ll avoid commenting on personality.
Women are much more likely than men to receive comments about their personality. A of over 25,000 employees found that women receive 22% more feedback about their personality than men, and are 11 times more likely to report being described as abrasive.
🚫 “You’re impatient.”
✅ “I noticed that you cut someone else off while they were presenting or talking in a few different meetings. Over the coming months, I’d like to encourage you to practice more active listening.”
4) When delivering criticism, describe how to improve
Things aren’t always plain sailing. When someone needs to improve, it’s much better to set them on the right course than avoid the conversation and let things get worse.
So how can you deliver criticism that’s constructive rather than deflating? Be direct, descriptive and move forward together.
Pinpoint exactly what needs to change. Describe the negative impact on the team. Don’t focus too heavily on past mistakes — it can feel like a telling-off. Instead, explain what they can do to avoid the same mistakes and develop a plan to move forward together.
🚫 ”You have poor time management skills. It’s bringing the team down. Haven’t you been doing anything differently since we last spoke?”
✅ ”I’ve noticed that you’ve been falling behind on deadlines this quarter, and often fail to notify the team when something won’t be delivered on time. It’s important that everyone is on the same page if timelines shift. This quarter, let’s communicate in advance if deadlines look unrealistic or something sets you back.”
5) Check your gut
Our thinking can be clouded by stereotypes without us even realising it. Subconsciously, we can judge the same behaviour differently depending on who’s doing it. If left unchecked, that means that your reports could receive different ratings and reviews despite having equal performance.
Studies have found that the same behaviours can be identified as positive or negative depending on the employee’s gender. For example, often appear negatively in women’s reviews and positively in men’s.
All of the tips in this post will help you reduce bias when giving feedback, but here’s a simple exercise to add an additional safeguard. Before submitting your feedback, reflect on your thinking with this question: “Would I give this same feedback to someone of a different (gender, race, nationality, age, etc…)”.
For example, ask yourself: “If she didn’t have children, would I be concerned about her ability to take on high-level assignments?”
By slowing down our thinking, we can react more carefully and thoughtfully, avoiding bias.
Think of great performance feedback like tending to a garden, and employees like sunflowers. Without the right support, their growth will be stunted and their colours might fade. But sprinkle them with high-value feedback and watch them flourish! These 5 tips will help you deliver feedback that enables all employees to reach their full potential.
Backing it up
Correll, S. et al. (2020). Inside the black box of organizational life: The gendered language of performance assessment. American Sociological Review, 85 (6), 1022-1050.
Correll, S., & Simard, C. (2016). Research: Vague feedback is holding women back. Harvard Business Review
Earles, K. (2020). The Gender Divide in the Tech Sector. Washington State Labor Education and Research Centre
Gallup Report. (2016). How Millennials want to work and live. Gallup
Gifford, J. (2016). Could do better? Assessing what works in performance management. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Research Report, December.
Kepinsky, L. & Nielsen, L C. (2020) The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook. Self-published.
Textio Report. (2022). Language bias in performance feedback: 2022 data analysis and survey results.
White, G. B. (2015). Black workers really do need to be twice as good. The Atlantic
Wigert, B., & Harter, J. (2017). Re-engineering performance management. Gallup.