How to promote behaviour change within your team. A Manager’s guide for how to give effective feedback

A key challenge for many managers is how to promote behaviour change within their team. Whether you’re aiming to improve productivity, teamwork, or individual skills, understanding how to promote behaviour change is essential. This post is our manager’s guide for how to give effective feedback.

The principles of how to promote behaviour change

1. Set Clear Expectations

The way people behave is ingrained and tends to be quite stable. In the absence of any other information if employees feel it works for them then we will continue doing what they’ve always done.

One of the mistakes many managers make is they do not define their expectations clearly. In the absence of any guidance employees will behave in a way that they think is comfortable for them, but this might not always be what the manager is expecting.

Clearly defining the desired behaviours and outcomes you expect from your team will provide the clarity people need.

You should make sure that your expectations are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

When team members know exactly what is expected of them, they are more likely to align their actions accordingly.

2. Lead by Example

As a manager, your behaviour sets the tone for your team. Everyone looks to their leader to work out what good looks like, what’s is the preferred way of doing things.

Model the behaviours you want to see in your team members. If you expect punctuality, demonstrate punctuality yourself. This not only provides a clear example but also fosters a sense of accountability and trust.

3. Focus on ‘doing’, not ‘being

Ensure your feedback focuses on the behaviour rather than the person.

how to give effective feedback

In psychology, the concept of “strokes” refers to a fundamental aspect of human interaction and communication, as introduced by transactional analysis (TA) theory developed by Eric Berne.

Strokes are essentially units of recognition, attention, or emotional response that individuals exchange in social interactions.

Strokes can be positive (e.g., compliments, praise) or negative (e.g., criticism, disapproval).

Strokes play a crucial role in shaping our self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

People have a natural hunger for strokes, and the ways they seek and receive them can influence their behaviour and relationships.

As a manager you should ensure you provide positive feedback around what employees do and who they are. You should avoid negative criticism around who people are at all costs.

4. Positive Reinforcement is more powerful than negative reinforcement

As the concept of Strokes shows, positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool for promoting behaviour change.

Positive and negative reinforcement (link to psychology of change post) are fundamental concepts in the field of behavioural psychology that play a crucial role in shaping and modifying human and animal behaviour.

These two types of reinforcement are part of operant conditioning, a theory proposed by B.F. Skinner that focuses on how consequences influence the likelihood of a behaviour recurring.

Positive reinforcement reinforces the connection between the behaviour and the positive outcome, increasing the likelihood of its repetition.

As a manager you should recognise and reward team members when they exhibit the desired behaviours. This can be in the form of praise, public recognition, or tangible rewards.

5. Create a Supportive Environment

Ensure that your team feels supported in their efforts to change behaviours.

Create an environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing challenges and seeking help.

The fear of getting things wrong is one of the powerful inhibitors of behaviour change. Where people fear the potential for a negative experience they will tend to avoid it.

The most successful leaders create an environment where failure is welcomed as it provides a chance to learn and perform better.

6. Provide Timely Feedback

You should always provide feedback as close to the observed behaviour as possible.

Timely feedback helps the recipient connect the feedback with the specific situation and enhances its impact.

This is one of the key reasons why most performance appraisal systems fail. Providing feedback several months after the event has significantly less impact than providing it at the time.

7. Provide Development Opportunities

Offer opportunities for skill development and growth that align with the desired behaviours.

When team members see the personal and professional benefits of changing their behaviour, they are more likely to embrace it.

8. Foster Open Communication

Encourage open dialogue within your team.

Listen to concerns, suggestions, and ideas from team members.

When individuals feel heard and valued, they are more likely to engage in behaviour change efforts.

9. Offer Supportive Coaching

Provide coaching that focuses on helping team members identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

Use a collaborative approach to develop action plans for behaviour change.

10. Celebrate Progress

Celebrate the small wins along the way.

Where people feel good about the progress they are making this serves as further positive reinforcement.

Recognising and celebrating even incremental changes can boost morale and motivate continued effort.

11. Provide Autonomy

Allow team members some level of autonomy in how they approach behaviour change.

When individuals have a sense of control and ownership over their change efforts, they are more likely to be invested in the process.

12. Be Patient

Behaviour change takes time. Be patient and understanding of the challenges that team members might face along the way.

Guidelines for giving constructive feedback effectively: A checklist for managers

There will come a time where you need to sit down and deliver your feedback. These are some essential guidelines to follow when giving constructive feedback.

1. Prepare for the feedback discussion

Many managers are naturally anxious about giving feedback. This is quite normal and is because we fear upsetting people and we don’t know how they might respond etc.

In our experience, the toughest feedback conversations can actually be the most productive and we guarantee that feedback that is delivered constructively will be welcomed by your employees rather than resented.  

Where managers fail to prepare for feedback they are likely to repeat themselves, deliver a confused message and say things that only serve to inflame the situation.

This model will help you to structure the feedback conversation:

how to give effective feedback

2. Be Specific and Concrete

Focus on the specific behaviours, actions, or situations you want to address. Avoid vague statements and provide clear examples that illustrate the points you’re making.

Specific feedback is more actionable and easier for the recipient to understand.

3. Choose the Right Time and Place

Timing matters. Find a suitable time and private setting to provide feedback. Avoid delivering feedback in the midst of a busy or stressful situation, as this can lead to defensiveness or misunderstanding.

4. Use “I” Statements

Frame your feedback using “I” statements to communicate your perspective and feelings without coming across as accusatory.

This approach fosters open communication and reduces the chances of the recipient becoming defensive.

5. Focus on Behaviour, Not Personality

As we talked about above with the concept of Strokes, you should address the behaviour, not the employee’s character.

Separating the behaviour from the individual prevents personal attacks and keeps the conversation constructive.

6. Balance Positive and Negative feedback

Acknowledge what the individual is doing well before discussing areas for improvement.

This creates a balanced perspective and ensures that the feedback is not solely negative.

However, beware the feedback sandwich! The feedback sandwich is a commonly known technique where managers are encouraged to deliver some positive feedback, then deliver the negative feedback and finish it up with some further positive feedback.

The thinking is that it leaves the employee with a positive.

The reality though is that employees simple learn than bad news always follows good news so they end up listening for the ‘but’. It also confuses the messages because what people hear is “you do this well, you don’t do this well, but it’s all OK”.

Our advice is if you need to deliver positive feedback deliver positive feedback and nothing else. If you need to deliver negative feedback then deliver negative feedback and nothing else.

7. Offer Solutions or Suggestions

When faced with having to consider doing things differently, there will be some employees who are not yet able to come up with their own solutions. These people are not yet ‘ready’ as explained in the concept of Situational Leadership.

Where people are not yet capable and confident enough to suggest their own solutions you should provide suggestions for improvement or alternative approaches when giving feedback.

This shows that you are invested in the person’s growth and are willing to support their development.

8. Be Genuine and Sincere

Authenticity matters. Deliver feedback with genuine concern for the person’s well-being and growth. Avoid being overly critical or insincere.

Use language that is neutral and non-judgmental. Focus on facts and observations rather than making subjective judgments.

9. Encourage Self-Reflection

Feedback is often perceived to be a one-way thing where the manager delivers the feedback without further discussion.

Whilst there may be a place for this (if the behaviour is totally unacceptable and just needs to stop), the most constructive feedback sessions are usually based on an open conversation.

After providing feedback, you should invite the employee to share their thoughts.

Ask open-ended questions that encourage the recipient to reflect on their actions and consider potential solutions.

This promotes ownership of the feedback and the process of improvement. What’s more, employees will eventually learn to self-reflect without your input.

10. Utilise active Listening

As managers we are often trained to come up with all the solutions and make all the decisions.

Whilst there may be occasions where you need to dictate what is required, you will gain much more buy-in and commitment where employees feel they have been able to have a say.

You should listen attentively to what your employee has to say. Resist the urge to interrupt or contradict them.

This shows that you value their perspective and opens up the opportunity for a constructive dialogue.

11. Stay Calm and Composed

Remain composed and avoid displaying frustration, anger, or impatience.

Emotional outbursts can hinder effective communication and undermine the constructive nature of the feedback.

12. Set Achievable Goals

Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable milestones.

This helps team members see progress and feel a sense of accomplishment, which can boost motivation and commitment to behaviour change.

Change is difficult to do, it takes lots of time, commitment and effort.

As such, we recommend limiting the goals you set to three specific things, maximum. Any more than this simply becomes unmanageable.

13. Follow Up. Regularly.

Check in with the individual after some time to see if they have made progress based on the feedback.

This demonstrates your commitment to their growth and shows that you value their efforts.

It also signals that it is important and provides additional opportunities for further feedback and discussion.

In Conclusion

Constructive feedback is an essential tool for personal and professional development. By following these guidelines, you can deliver feedback in a way that is respectful, actionable, and focused on fostering growth and improvement.

By employing the strategies we have outlined, you will be able to effectively guide your team members toward adopting new behaviours that contribute to their personal growth and the overall success of the team.

Remember that effective feedback is a skill that needs practice, but it will lead to more productive interactions and better outcomes.