How Effective Feedback Builds Trust For Optimal Engagement And Performance

The most significant relationships in our lives are built upon trust, and the relationship between managers and employees or between co-workers is no different: without a sense of trust, motivation and engagement slips and ultimately performance ends up suffering.

Building a culture that amplifies trust is a fundamental building block of any company which wants to drive its employees to deliver their best performance. Here’s how you can do it.

Leadership has been undergoing a change in recent years. The autocratic model of managing employees has become increasingly unfit for purpose, and forward-thinking leaders are revisiting the ways they deliver feedback to their employees. In short, effective leadership is about building strong relationships with employees built on mutual trust combined with a degree of personal humility.

As Robin Ryde argues in his book, Never Mind The Bosses: Hastening the Death of Deference for Business Success: “The way we talk to one another in organizations is a critical differentiator for success … Managers and leaders cast long shadows and they introduce patterns of discourse that give permission for others to adopt the same habits … The quality of conversation we engage in could not be more important in the modern age.”

Let’s take a look at how you can craft your feedback conversations to build a relationship of trust, increase engagement and improve performance.

Engage in trust-building conversations

Managers who want to build trust with their employees must start with honest conversations with their members of staff, taking conscious steps to build a relationship of understanding. These conversations should be characterised by intent listening, sharing insights and perspectives with an aim to understand how they perceive their role and what drives them to succeed.

Ask questions like: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? What work conditions allow you to perform at the top of your game? What are your ambitions, both within the company and, more broadly, for life itself?

This shouldn’t be a one-off conversation. Rather, these conversations should be ongoing as part of a growing relationship between you and your employees, providing both of you with reference points for continuing discussions, maintained and built upon over time to strengthen trust and help ensure employees are fully engaged and playing to their strengths.


Discuss mutual expectations with your employees

Discussing mutual expectations with your employees is fundamentally about establishing a two-way support mechanism for achieving goals, distinct from the traditional performance management discussions concerning specific objectives. These conversations should focus more on the purpose – the why – you’re seeking outcomes, and the expectations you can have from others in supporting these outcomes.

When holding these conversations, you should:

  1. Identify who you need to hold these conversations with, why it is necessary and when it will be helpful.
  2. Set up the conversation and send out an invitation.
  3. Plan the conversation, exploring the ways in which you can help support each other in achieving goals.
  4. Clarify the sense of purpose, articulating why you are doing what you do at work.

These conversations provide an opportunity to bring added clarity to your roles, developing a sense of shared purpose and building greater flexibility and commitment.

Show genuine appreciation

Demonstrating appreciation for solid performance is a great way to build trust and improve engagement, but it needs to be handled sincerely in order to be effective. The concept of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) outlined by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in their article Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life flips the traditional deficiency model of asking “What went wrong?” focusing instead on “What’s working well?” to emphasise positive behaviour and promote greater mastery of an employee’s role.

To be sincere, it needs to be connected directly to the motivation for giving the feedback, for instance, because you believe good behaviour deserves credit, encouraging a new team member and reassuring a team member who’s trying out a new skill, or to highlight the link between great individual performance with the health of the organization.

Be consistent

For trust to flourish between leaders and employees a model of consistency needs to be applied and to do this effectively managers need to have a sharp eye to observe when feedback is required. Feedback has the most impact when it is delivered immediately, whether it’s praising strong performance or delivering corrective feedback for mistakes.

As some managers have a large number of employees under their leadership, monitoring and tracking feedback given and planning future feedback sessions in a performance management software suite can be essential for ensuring such feedback is delivered in a timely and consistent manner.

A study from Gallup, The State of the Global Workplace revealed the following: “How employees feel about their job starts and ends with their direct supervisor. If employees feel, among other things, that their supervisor takes a real interest in their development, or offers frequent praise and recognition, they are very likely to be engaged, If companies throughout your country hire the right people to lead and actively encourage the engagement of their workforce, economic dominance will be sure to follow.”

Strong leadership is an ongoing conversation, and through building trust with regular feedback, your company will experience better engagement and stronger performance.