Make sure your team is working productively with this simple guide

If you run a small business or start-up, the chances are resources are tight. You need to be sure that every member of the team is working productively – and not causing disruption to other team members. So, how do you give feedback if there is a problem?

It’s important to remember that constructive feedback helps to motivate workers, makes them feel valued and encourages them to perform better. Poorly delivered feedback does the opposite; it demotivates, can foster resentment and, at worst, turns a productive team member, who just needs a little guidance, into the rotten apple that spoils everyone.

Here are some top tips to ensure you get your feedback right and manage your staff effectively, every time:

Make your employee feel great

It is very important to thank the person for their contribution and make them feel good. Include day-to-day tasks in your praise, as well as extra projects the person has undertaken. Praise them for their efforts and let them know you understand how much work was involved.

Be enthusiastic

Take a real interest in your employee’s goals and talk about how they can get there if they keep trying. This is your opportunity to empathise and encourage the person to develop and improve their skills. It is not about being perfect every time, it’s about progress towards a goal. Encourage them to keep trying and never give up.

Recognise your employee’s contribution

Give specific examples to demonstrate that you really understand how their contribution adds value to you organisation. For example, if you are giving feedback about a project they completed, then explain how it helped the sales team reach their targets. Explaining to your team member how their work contributes to the running of the organisation will often help them understand how to do the job better.

Be clear and concise

Collect your comments into meaningful sets to make them easier to digest. Start each set with praise for what the employee did well and then make constructive suggestions as appropriate. For instance, a writing project could be broken down into content, impact, structure and accuracy.

Give examples and explain their impact

If you want your employee to change their behaviour, you should give an example of the behaviour you want them to change. For example, if the person often arrives late to meetings, give instances of when this behaviour occurred. Point out the ways that their lateness has affected other members of the team and/or the business.


Allow your employee to tell their side of the story – there may have been genuine reasons behind their behaviour, rather than a careless attitude. Make sure that any request to change is made in a non-aggressive manner and take their comments into consideration. Both the giver and receiver of the feedback should walk away feeling that a fair resolution was achieved.

Don’t compare their work to yours

Ask yourself if the person’s performance was adequate for the purpose, rather than comparing it with how you would have done it. For example, if you are reviewing a piece of writing, think about whether it will do the job it was intended to do, rather whether you’d have written it that way. People can be demotivated by ‘red pen’, and they will not be able to learn from comments they do not understand.

The suggestion sandwich

Start with positive comments about the person’s strengths and successes. Follow this with constructive suggestions about how to perform even better, allowing them to comment and ask questions. Finally, bring in some additional positive points and encourage them to feel motivated to introduce the changes you have suggested.

Many business owners find delivering what they might call “negative feedback” difficult, but by following these suggestions, both employee and employer can leave a feedback session feeling they have gained from the experience.

Mairead Dillon and Jane Penson are both members of Toastmasters International, a worldwide not-for-profit organisation focused on developing communication and leadership skills