As a manager, one of our most important jobs is to give feedback to those we work with. The purpose of that feedback is two-fold. First, to recognize what they are doing well. Reinforcing those things you would like them to continue to do. Second, to address those areas of performance that need to be improved. The dilemma, though, comes when the feedback we give isn’t clear or actionable.

Have you ever given feedback that sounds like any of the following:

  • Great job on that presentation!
  • You need to work on your executive presence.
  • It’s important that you improve your communication skills.
  • You’re not viewed as being strategic.


My question to you is, what do these comments mean to you? If I were the person receiving this feedback, would I know what it was about the presentation that you liked? Was it the organization of the slides? The content covered? The way I handled questions? As I think about executive presence, should I be focusing on contributing more in meetings? Is this about being sought after by other departments for my expertise? Or something else entirely?

This is one of those areas where using the SMART methodology can be helpful:

As you prepare to give feedback, is it Specific? Do I know precisely what you liked or would like me to change?

Is the change that you are seeking Measurable? In other words, how will I as the person receiving the feedback, know that I am meeting your expectations?

Is it Actionable? Have you offered me steps that I can take or resources I can tap into to address the issue you’ve identified?

Is what you are asking of me Relevant? For example, if your measurement of my Executive Presence is how well I engage with the board, but in my role there would be no reason to interact with the board, then this target only serves to frustrate me as there is no way to attain it.

This may be where the Time-bound aspect of SMART goals comes into play. Perhaps you share that over the course of the next year you intend to give me opportunities to begin working with the board by doing the following:

  • Laying out a plan to work with me to prepare for board meetings
  • Have me accompany you to meetings to observe and debrief and present to the board

By being specific with feedback, both you and I (manager and employee) have a clear — and consistent — understanding of the behaviors you want to see demonstrated. This allows me to own my development, to be able to ask for the resources or support I may need, and to assess for myself the progress I am making toward these goals.