Feedback Methods

Employee feedback can be an incredibly effective way to increase performance, improve levels of collaboration and trust, and lead to mutually beneficial outcomes for leaders and their subordinates. 

However, some organizations avoid the crucial feedback process for fear of making their employees uncomfortable. Worse still, some employees receive feedback that is detrimental to their productivity or mental well-being.

It would be a stretch to suggest that effective feedback is an art form, but it is an essential skill that all leaders need to possess. To that end, various context-dependent feedback methods can be used to ensure employee evaluations do more good than harm.


In essence, the feedforward feedback method involves giving an employee pointers for how they can improve for the future. The creator of the method, Marshall Goldsmith, noted that it is better to help people be right rather than prove them wrong. In the latter case, negative feedback often puts the employee on the defensive and causes discomfort in the leader.

Say for example that an employee delivered a sub-par sales presentation. Instead of the superior berating their performance, they can work with the employee to prepare them for future presentations with specific, positive suggestions. This way, the employee avoids having to relive the negative experience and focuses only on what they are able to control.


The DESC feedback technique was developed by Sharon and Gordon Bower in their book Asserting Yourself. DESC is an acronym of four steps that helps individuals become more assertive during difficult conversations:

  1. Describe – the individual starts by outlining the behavior or situation as thoroughly and objectively as possible. Here, it’s important to stick to the facts.
  2. Express – in the second step, the individual expresses their thoughts and feelings about the behavior or situation. Sentences must be phrased using “I” and not “You”, which tends to make people defensive.
  3. Specify – this is where the individual clarifies what they would prefer to happen. For example, “I would like us to meet before the next presentation to discuss some effective communication strategies.
  4. Consequences – the consequences (both positive and negative) of the behavioral change should be listed at this point. Many employees will want to know why a superior is asking them to change before committing to the process.

360-degree dinner

The 360-degree dinner feedback method is popular with many organizations and for good reason. The method, which is a scaled-back version of the standard 360-degree feedback approach, involves inviting a team of employees to dinner where feedback is given over a meal.

The team leader starts by asking those at the table to evaluate their performance, behavior, or any other issue they feel is important. The process is then repeated for each employee and individuals who provide feedback are thanked for their contributions.

This method can also be used for remote teams who share their respective dinner times with others on a platform such as Zoom.

Key takeaways:

  • Employee feedback can be an incredibly effective way to increase performance, improve levels of collaboration and trust. However, many leaders and organizations avoid it because of the awkward or uncomfortable situations that can result.
  • The feedforward feedback method involves giving an employee pointers for how they can improve for the future. It rightly leaves past actions in the past because they cannot be changed and focuses on how future performance can be improved.
  • The DESC technique helps individuals in most contexts assert themselves in a situation where feedback is necessary but may cause discomfort. The 360 degree dinner is a less formal method that invites employees and leaders to receive and offer feedback for others around a dinner table.

Key Highlights of Employee Feedback Methods:

  • Importance of Employee Feedback: Employee feedback is a powerful tool for improving performance, enhancing collaboration, and building trust within organizations. However, some avoid it due to discomfort or fear of negative outcomes.
  • Feedforward Feedback:
    • Focuses on providing constructive suggestions for future improvement rather than dwelling on past mistakes.
    • Developed by Marshall Goldsmith, it aims to help individuals succeed rather than focusing on proving them wrong.
    • Creates a positive environment for growth and development by offering specific, actionable advice.
  • DESC Feedback Technique:
    • DESC is an acronym for Describe, Express, Specify, and Consequences.
    • A method to navigate difficult conversations while being assertive.
    • The person:
      • Describes the situation objectively.
      • Expresses their thoughts and feelings using “I” statements.
      • Specifies their preferred outcome.
      • Outlines the positive and negative consequences of change.
  • 360-Degree Dinner Feedback:
    • An informal version of the traditional 360-degree feedback approach.
    • Involves inviting a team to a dinner where feedback is exchanged.
    • Each participant evaluates others’ performance and behavior.
    • The process promotes open communication, builds team cohesion, and acknowledges contributions.

Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks

Leadership Styles

Leadership styles encompass the behavioral qualities of a leader. These qualities are commonly used to direct, motivate, or manage groups of people. Some of the most recognized leadership styles include Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-Faire leadership styles.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Authors and strategy experts Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed the idea of blue ocean leadership. In the same way that Kim and Mauborgne’s blue ocean strategy enables companies to create uncontested market space, blue ocean leadership allows companies to benefit from unrealized employee talent and potential.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Ethical Leadership

Ethical leaders adhere to certain values and beliefs irrespective of whether they are in the home or office. In essence, ethical leaders are motivated and guided by the inherent dignity and rights of other people.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a style of leadership that motivates, encourages, and inspires employees to contribute to company growth. Leadership expert James McGregor Burns first described the concept of transformational leadership in a 1978 book entitled Leadership. Although Burns’ research was focused on political leaders, the term is also applicable for businesses and organizational psychology.

Leading by Example

Those who lead by example let their actions (and not their words) exemplify acceptable forms of behavior or conduct. In a manager-subordinate context, the intention of leading by example is for employees to emulate this behavior or conduct themselves.

Leader vs. Boss

A leader is someone within an organization who possesses the ability to influence and lead others by example. Leaders inspire, support, and encourage those beneath them and work continuously to achieve objectives. A boss is someone within an organization who gives direct orders to subordinates, tends to be autocratic, and prefers to be in control at all times.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is based on situational leadership theory. Developed by authors Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s, the theory’s fundamental belief is that there is no single leadership style that is best for every situation. Situational leadership is based on the belief that no single leadership style is best. In other words, the best style depends on the situation at hand.

Succession Planning

Succession planning is a process that involves the identification and development of future leaders across all levels within a company. In essence, succession planning is a way for businesses to prepare for the future. The process ensures that when a key employee decides to leave, the company has someone else in the pipeline to fill their position.

Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Management vs. Leadership


Cultural Models

In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models also provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change. Once upon a time, most businesses utilized a hierarchical culture where various levels of management oversaw subordinates below them. Today, however, there exists a greater diversity in models as leaders realize the top-down approach is outdated in many industries and that success can be found elsewhere.

Action-Centered Leadership

Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations. Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time because it believed leaders could learn the skills they needed to manage others effectively. Adair believed that effective leadership was exemplified by three overlapping circles (responsibilities): achieve the task, build and maintain the team, and develop the individual.

High-Performance Coaching

High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership

Forms of Power

When most people are asked to define power, they think about the power a leader possesses as a function of their responsibility for subordinates. Others may think that power comes from the title or position this individual holds. 

Tipping Point Leadership

Tipping Point Leadership is a low-cost means of achieving a strategic shift in an organization by focusing on extremes. Here, the extremes may refer to small groups of people, acts, and activities that exert a disproportionate influence over business performance.

Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

The Vroom-Yetton decision model is a decision-making process based on situational leadership. According to this model, there are five decision-making styles guides group-based decision-making according to the situation at hand and the level of involvement of subordinates: Autocratic Type 1 (AI), Autocratic Type 2 (AII), Consultative Type 1 (CI), Consultative Type 2 (CII), Group-based Type 2 (GII).

Likert’s Management Systems

Likert’s management systems were developed by American social psychologist Rensis Likert. Likert’s management systems are a series of leadership theories based on the study of various organizational dynamics and characteristics. Likert proposed four systems of management, which can also be thought of as leadership styles: Exploitative authoritative, Benevolent authoritative, Consultative, Participative.

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