Providing Feedback that Changes Behavior

Can I give you some feedback?

Leaders help people perform at their best. To do that, they provide feedback and identify actions to help people improve.

Is your feedback accepted and acted on?  

Start by Making Multiple Observations

Observe what people do or don’t do. What’s the quality and quantity of their output? What’s their level of his motivation? How effectively does the person work with his colleagues? In what situations does he take a lead role?

Look for patterns in people’s behavior. Study their performance before formulating any conclusions. A big mistake some people make is jumping to conclusions after making one observation.  

When you identify a performance gap, consider what’s causing it.  

  • Is the performance gap due to a lack of ability which may require coaching and mentoring? 
  • Does the person lack motivation which may require new incentives or finding out what’s holding him back?
  • Is the performance gap due to not understanding certain aspects of the task or job requirements?      

Two Important Questions

Before giving anyone feedback, answer these questions.

  1. Is the person open to feedback? If the person is open to feedback it will be an easier discussion. If the person is not open to feedback, I recommend you start by asking questions. How do you think you did on this task? What went well? What could be improved? On a scale of 1-to-10, how would you grade your performance? What changes are needed to move from a 7 to a 10?  

I have discovered people are more open to feedback when they know you believe in them and want to help them succeed.

  1. Is the feedback timely? Generally, feedback is most effective when it’s given shortly after a performance gap has been identified. When the dog poops on the rug, you don’t wait six months to deal with it.  

Meet with the individual in a private location.

  • Begin by stating the purpose of the meeting. I’d like to discuss the last two reports you submitted.  
  • Describe your observations. Be factual. The last report you submitted was two days late and had several grammatical mistakes. The prior report was three days late and the summary didn’t clearly indicate what the customer had to do next.  
  • Solicit the employee’s views. What was your view of the last two reports you submitted? Listen carefully to their comments. Does he provide information that alters your assessment? 
  • Explain the consequences. Customers judge us by the written reports they receive. When reports are late, contain mistakes, and have incomplete conclusions, we are judged very badly.
  • Identify corrective action. There are three approaches you can take.
      • Direct—tell the person the exact changes that he must make. Explain or show him what to do and how to do it. Be precise; leave no room for misunderstanding.  
      •  Discuss—ask questions. Solicit the employee ideas on the actions that he thinks are needed. If it’s a question of motivation, discuss what is holding him back. What changes are needed to increase his motivation?  
      • Delegate—instruct the employee to go off and think about his performance and identify the actions he will take to correct the problem. Let’s meet tomorrow at 9:00 am. I’m eager to hear what you come up with.  
  • Summarize action items and get commitment. We have identified three actions that you will take to make sure all reports are submitted on time without any grammatical mistakes. Are you fully committed to make these changes?   

In some cases, it may help to demonstrate the required change so the person can see it. For example, rewrite a poorly written report so the employee can see what’s expected. Or let the person practice your suggestions and then provide immediate feedback.  

Whenever you give someone feedback, periodic follow-up is very important. You need to make sure the required changes have occurred and become permanent. Finally, when you observe an improvement, it’s important to praise the person and reinforce the desired behavior.     


All leaders are motivated to help people perform at their best. That requires effective feedback and good coaching. The big payoff for leaders is seeing people fully consider your feedback and make changes that improve their performance.  

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