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Building on Thoughts from Experts: Feedback and Communication

Originally published on March 22, 2017

This is part five of a multi-part Blog series on strengthening your team by building on thoughts from experts. The foundation for these articlesderives from comments made by writers in the Harvard Business Review over the years to which I add my expertise and experience.

Feedback. It comes in many forms, from verbal to written, positive to negative, personal to impersonal, but the underlying premise should be a constant–a focus on constructive feedback that leads to improvement. 

Communication. Again, it comes in many forms, from verbal to non-verbal, written and electronic, physical and conceptual–it is the art of providing a message from a transmitter to a receiver, whether mechanical or living.

We are surrounded by and participate in these events every day. They are natural for us when we interact with others and the environment. But it takes skill to deliver and receive messages that provide the opportunity for improvement and continued development–both personal and professional.


One of the most underutilized methods for fostering development and improvement in an organization and its people is the use of regular feedback. In fact, this is a lesson that the private sector can learn from the examples used in the military and some parts of the public sector. The military uses regular feedback sessions with people of every rank and position to provide constructive feedback that includes:

– Review of past performance during the period, be it 3-, 6-, or 12-months, discussing both

positive aspects and specific areas in which the individual may improve.

– Professional development activities and goals for the future, defined by a timeline and agreed upon by both parties.

– A time for feedback, comments, and/or recommendations from the individual to the supervisor regarding ways that the organization could benefit or improve from ideas.

– Taking opportunities to give informal feedback as the opportunity arises to provide positive feedback or constructive criticism that leads to improved performance.

This process may transfer well into the private sector, providing leaders an opportunity to enhance employees’ experiences as well as organizational productivity and culture. The experts at Harvard Business review provide a three-prong approach for the use of effective feedback in the private sector, reflecting some of the same principles included in military evaluation and feedback systems.

  • Focus on business outcomes. During the course of feedback sessions, discuss how the employee has contributed to the organization and provide information–and encouragement–regarding organizational progress to which the employee may be a key contributor as well as the advantages to the employee.

  • Give feedback often. Like the military/public sector model, the use of regularly scheduled feedback provides expectations that can benefit both the individual and the organization. But… do not limit your feedback to the regularly scheduled sessions–it may result in employees feeling that the sessions are impersonal and orchestrated; rather, take opportunities to provide constructive feedback when they present, giving employees an opportunity to become accustomed to receiving feedback in various forms–and helping polish your techniques in providing substantive and motivational feedback.

  • Be specific. When providing feedback to employees it is important to cite specific areas for discussion, whether they are areas of excellence or those in which you discuss with the employee areas for improvement and ways to reach those goals. Try to use applicable illustrations or analogies to demonstrate your meaning.


Good communication is as much an art as it is a science. From the scientific perspective, Dr. Jerome Bruner’s research at New York University identified the modalities by which we transmit and receive messages in term of information retention.

Furthermore, we retain about 83% of what we both see and hear–a good trait for the large population of Millennials who grew up with technology and many integrated audio-visual (i.e. video games and learning) environments.

Good communication requires two important components–clarity and enthusiasm… controlled enthusiasm, that is. Without both of these characteristics, the chance of persuading your audience will be greatly diminished. However, you must also make it clear to the receiver why you are excited about the message in order to optimize engagement with the receiver. 

Back to clarity… As a great communicator, you need to connect the dots for the receiver. Unless the receiver can understand what the issue, initiative, problem, or concept is, they cannot go any further–be clear on what it is and what it isn’t. Then, define how the point applies to the employee, what they may contribute, and what broad expectations you have as well as specific metrics and standards associated with the expectations. Don’t spend too much time on the nitty-gritty details of the specifics encompassed by the standards–follow up with the employee in writing to provide details and a retainable document for future reference.


Feedback is essential for the success of employees, leaders, and organizations. Providing constructive, substantive feedback requires skilled communications. It takes an understanding that there must be a meeting of the minds between the transmitter and receiver–are the perceptive qualities of the message as understood by the transmitter the same as the cognitive decoding of the message by the receiver? This is important and can be enhanced by a somewhat informal conversation at the start of feedback sessions prior to delving into the issues and details of the feedback.

Be predictable, be spontaneous when warranted, be clear and concise…be successful!


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Join me next week for the sixth post in this series: What are You Evaluating?

Want to know more about executive leadership? I facilitate a half-day executive seminar that brings concepts to the table for collaborative exercises and application to your organization’s needs.

Harvard Business School. (2011). Management tips from Harvard Business Review. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.



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