In a given week, how many people do you coordinate with inside and outside your organization? Teammates, designers, vendors, influencers and creators—it all counts. Building partnerships and managing relationships are part and parcel of being a marketer.
At some point, you’ll face a situation where you have to give someone feedback. There are times when it may seem like you’re walking a tightrope. If you say the wrong thing, it could taint the relationship. If you offer blanket praise, it won’t help your team progress or a partner improve.
When marketers give and receive constructive feedback, it helps build strong relationships and top-performing teams.
In this article, we’ll cover the value of constructive feedback and giving feedback examples in different settings and situations.
Why a culture of giving feedback matters
To give helpful feedback, you need to be clear on why it’s so valuable and the role it will play in your marketing organization.
Your marketing team is a linchpin for your organization’s overall revenue and business strategy. Marketing teams build brand awareness, lead the work that drives sales and strengthen customer relationships. Feedback is the fuel that will propel your team. The more you encourage sharing, discussing and questioning ideas and initiatives, the more you create a supportive environment where wins and failures are all celebrated.
Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most critical skills in today's workplace, and is especially important in marketing. Keep an open mind, always seek to understand first, and check your ego at the door.
— Ali Schwanke (@alischwanke) August 13, 2021
Constructive feedback underpins engagement and collaboration. People confuse it with fault-finding, but feedback isn’t inherently negative. It encompasses both positive intent and corrective suggestions. Its purpose is to foster growth and development.
Making ideas and insights useful to your team means creating a culture of feedback. Input should be ongoing and iterative, not isolated to formal performance reviews or contract renewal cycles. It may be difficult at times, but avoiding the discomfort won’t help anyone in the long run. The result of giving feedback well? Richer information that helps you—and your organization—grow.
Steps for giving constructive feedback
Whether you manage a team or oversee relationships with third-party vendors and partners, you’ll regularly have conversations about their work performance. You’ve probably heard of the feedback sandwich, or wedging criticism between praise.
It sounds good in theory but isn’t always effective in practice.
11. Be a good feedback giver
Giving feedback to your teammates is an art, not everybody does it well.
It can do wonders to your team if the right message is conveyed at the right time.
— Harsh Makadia (@MakadiaHarsh) October 5, 2021
Consider a social campaign that could have gone better. Praising someone, then pointing out mistakes that happened during execution, and then topping it off with a metaphorical pat on the head isn’t helpful. The criticism undercuts the preceding positive remark and vague praise may de-emphasize the areas that need improvement.
Giving feedback requires a thoughtful, strategic approach:
- Express your positive intentions from the start. The way you frame a feedback conversation affects how the other person will receive it. To make giving feedback easier, research says it’s better to start by stating our positive intentions. If we offer unsolicited negative feedback, the recipient’s natural reflex could be to get defensive.
- Make the feedback specific to the recipient. Specific praise will reinforce how valuable an employee is to an organization and keep them engaged in a meaningful way. For example, “You’re strong at strategy, and I’d like you to drive this campaign.” If you can’t offer specific praise, at least commend them for their willingness to improve. Remind them that you’re on their side, and you want to help them succeed in this position.
- Guide them to corrective action. To give critical feedback, ask the other person for their perspective. It could be about a situation, deliverable or event. For example, they gave a presentation that could have gone better, and they feel self-conscious about it. Asking them, “What do you think?” may help them verbalize areas of improvement and devise ways to act.
- Focus on outcomes. Sometimes, the person you’re giving feedback to may not be aware that they’re off track. Another way to mitigate defensiveness is by explaining the impact that certain actions (or inaction) have on your broader team or business. Framing the conversation in terms of concrete outcomes (such as lower engagement rates, timeline delays or budget overruns) creates space to brainstorm improvements and emphasizes you’re focusing on results, not effort.
- Ask the other person to state their key takeaways. It’s helpful for the other person to state a few takeaways at the end of the conversation. This way, neither of you will sweep the feedback under the rug. The goal is for both of you to walk away with clarity about next steps.
How to give feedback in different settings and channels
The environment we’re in affects how we communicate and receive feedback—something that’s easy to overlook. For example, a conference room may work for a performance review. A nearby coffee house could be a place to talk about mentorship and development.
Of course, the challenge we face now is giving feedback in remote and hybrid environments. We can’t work with nonverbal cues or gauge the atmosphere of a conversation as easily. We also have to rely more on text, messaging, video chat and project management tools.
To give feedback remotely:
- Ask your team when they’d like to speak with you. Ask your employees what days and times they’d like to have one-on-ones and other check-ins and keep it at a regular cadence. At Sprout Social, we encourage our employees to set a “#FeedbackFriday” reminder on their calendars to keep these conversations top-of-mind and continuous. Encouraging companywide rituals like this helps promote a culture that values autonomy, feedback and opinions.
- Keep an open door. If possible, keep blocks of time free on your calendar and let your employees that time is for them. Designate “office hours” each week that you dedicate specifically for individuals to check in with you and book conversations as they like.
- Get creative. In virtual work situations, a multi-pronged approach to giving feedback will engage employees and partners in different ways. For instance, you can write an email or even record and send a quick video recap with feedback. Voice notes are another way for the recipient to feel like they’re part of a conversation. Give them time to review your message and then schedule a live call to debrief together, clarify gray areas and talk through questions.
- Give feedback during meetings. Meetings are great opportunities to give feedback to your team. In-meeting feedback is also a way to create a culture of recognition. This is your chance to highlight successes and jobs well done. Extend recognition beyond your team to larger meetings. Share your wins, ideas and goals with your organization and partners. Different teams may give customer insight and offer their own ideas, perspectives and praise.
Feedback in action
We’ve covered how to communicate effectively with people you manage and collaborate with regularly. But there are other situations where marketers will need to give productive input—and receive it in return.
Giving feedback to creatives
Marketers collaborate with graphic and UX designers, art directors, videographers and more. Creatives are often experienced practitioners in at least one discipline, with specialized knowledge in their domains (whether that’s knowing what will show up well on camera or how to animate a graphic).
PSA: Don't assume creatives know what you're talking about when giving feedback on work. Be specific. Be clear. Be as detailed as possible. You can mean one thing but a creative takes that vague feedback in 100 different ways.
— alex medina (@mrmedina) June 30, 2021
Make sure you’re on the same page about the project goals and outcome from the start. To help reinforce your feedback, share relevant data or customer input. Avoid vague feedback like “make it pop.” Being specific, explaining the reasoning behind certain requests and providing examples to reference will make for smoother collaborations.
A discussion with someone above you
The thought of giving feedback to your manager or leadership team may make you sweat. But your managers and superiors juggle so many priorities that they’ll appreciate you calling their attention to a specific area—tactfully.
For higher-ups, effective feedback is critical information that would be hard to get for themselves in real-time. Don’t just complain. If you see a problem area, focus on what you observe rather than your explanation. Use specific information and data to back up your claims. Your manager will draw their own conclusions about the situation and may come back to you for more information if necessary. In any case, they’ll know you’re the one who noticed the issue.
Another way to tackle a problem is to discuss what you’ve observed and your thoughts on how to fix it. When managers see that you’re someone who works to solve the problems you’ve identified, they know that you’re focused on helping the organization progress.
The feedback conversation is also a time to advocate for yourself if there are issues affecting your well-being and satisfaction at work. It’s a good opportunity to talk to your boss about burnout or if you’re feeling pigeonholed in your role and want to level up.
Collaborating with vendors, agencies and creators
Working with external partners also requires thoughtful relationship management. Holding back your candid input may result in undesirable outcomes and wasted budgets. Transparency is key, and feedback is a cornerstone for these partnerships.
Your external partners may be experts in their industries, but they’re not mind readers. If you expect a deliverable to have something specific in it, establish that ask from the beginning. If an agency is falling short, you need to bring it to their attention because they likely didn’t intentionally miss the mark. Revisit your goals and determine where things went off course. Clearly state what you were expecting so the agency gets back on track.
It’s also a two-way street: be receptive to their feedback as well. Paying invoices on time always helps, but open communication is what truly strengthens these relationships. Remember, they could be a valuable long-term partner for your organization. You may also run into them again in your career.
Feedback: sometimes tricky, largely formative
Giving and receiving constructive feedback takes practice, and it’s not always easy. There are times when it’s downright uncomfortable. Feedback also shines a light on overlooked areas, removes blockers and enhances relationships.
By helping others improve and encouraging new ideas along the way, giving effective feedback is one of marketers’ most useful tools.
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