Female scientist reading feedback on a tablet

Workforce Matters: Provide Effective Feedback

May 29, 2024
Taking the time to provide genuine and effective feedback builds people’s leadership skills.

When someone asks you for feedback, they are asking for your help and value your view.

Editor’s Note: Our goal at Chemical Processing is to provide practical information that will allow you to do your jobs more effectively and make your plants operate more safely and efficiently.

While technical skills are the foundation of operations and engineering, soft skills are essential for effective communication, collaboration, problem-solving and leadership. Developing these skills can greatly enhance your ability to work effectively, drive innovation and advance in your career.  

This new column, Workforce Matters, will help you enhance your soft skills.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s not the exact question you’ll get asked at work, but the sentiment holds true when asking about your ultimate career goals. This can be a difficult question. Without a clear goal in mind, how do you know if you’re on the right track? And when you have a goal, what do you do next?

Goals are great, but knowing how you are tracking against them is critical. The best way to find out how you are doing is to ask for feedback. But first we need to learn why effective feedback is so important for career development and how to give and receive feedback.

The Importance of Frequent Effective Feedback

Effective feedback helps you improve. It is constructive and enables you to understand what you are doing well (and should keep doing), what you can do better and what to stop doing. This knowledge enables you to make adjustments to do your job better and position yourself for more challenging roles.

Unfortunately, feedback is often not objective, and asking for feedback is not something everyone is comfortable doing — regardless of their position in the company. In some companies, an annual performance review is the only time employees receive feedback. It happens once a year and often results in a scramble to obtain feedback from managers only a short time before a review process takes place, which opens up the likelihood of recency bias. You are unlikely to progress at a pace matching others who receive feedback more frequently. But you can take this into your own hands.

Asking for Feedback

It may feel strange the first time, but asking someone for feedback shouldn’t be feared. It can be as straightforward as:

“How do you think I did during that meeting? Any areas I can improve?”

If there is something specific on your mind, ask them about it. The most important part here is to listen to the feedback without interrupting. Keep an open mind, appreciate that this is one person’s perception based on their personal knowledge and experience, and ensure you thank them for their feedback. Seek any needed clarification, but avoid getting defensive – the goal is to gather data and identify improvements. It doesn’t always need to be a senior person – sometimes, your peers or even subordinates can provide useful feedback and shine a light on blind spots.

But what about when you are asked for feedback?

Providing Effective Feedback

When someone asks you for feedback, they are asking for your help and value your view. Taking the time to provide genuine and effective feedback will, in turn, build your people leadership skills. There are five areas to consider:

  1. Be Specific. Saying “great job” is nice, but effective feedback would be to identify what they specifically did well, e.g. answering a challenging question or making a difficult decision.
  2. Be Timely. Provide the feedback as soon as you can — it will be easier for both parties to remember the specifics, and any changes can be implemented sooner.
  3. Be Balanced. Rarely is anything 100% terrible or 100% perfect. Ensure your feedback addresses both the positives as well as areas to improve. 
  4. Focus on the Action. Avoid saying, “You are…” Instead phrase it as “when you <insert action>, it could be perceived that…” It’s often someone’s actions that need to be adjusted, not them as a person.
  5. Focus on Solutions. Provide specific suggestions that someone can implement to improve their performance.

I had a time in my career I was frequently told, “You are noisy.” I didn’t know what it meant, and when I asked for an example of when I was “noisy,” no one could give me one. It didn’t help me improve and made me resentful of those around me. This is why I encourage the use of the SBI Model – Describing the Situation, the Behavior seen, and the Impact it caused. This avoids any feeling of bias and keeps the dialogue objective.

Feedback as Part of Career Development Planning

Career development is dynamic and relies on feedback. To effectively manage your career development, I advise to focus on three aspects:

  1. Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals.
  2. Setting short-term (1-3 years), medium-term (4-7 years), and long-term (8+ years) career aspirations.
  3. Seeking continuous feedback and updating your development plan as needed – this may include adjusting your goals and/or career aspirations as your experience and development evolves.

When feedback is ineffective or non-existent, development suffers, but when done correctly, it can engage and motivate people to exceed even their expectations. Effective feedback is the key for growth and career progression. Practice doesn’t make perfect – effective feedback makes perfect.

About the Author

Lauren Neal | Founder and Chief Program Creator, Valued at Work

Lauren Neal is the Founder of Valued at Work – a consultancy that creates workplace cultures where no one wants to leave, in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Since 2005, Lauren has worked as an engineer and project manager in the energy sector offshore, onshore and onsite on multimillion-dollar projects across the globe. Chartered through both the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Association of Project Management (APM), Lauren is a sought-after speaker, writer, and consultant championing career progression within STEM and inclusive workplace cultures beyond the boundaries of demographics.

Lauren’s book released in October 2023 – 'Valued at Work: Shining a Light on Bias to Engage, Enable, and Retain Women in STEM' – became an Amazon #1 best-seller and is a finalist in the 2024 Business Book Awards.

Click here to reach out to Lauren.

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