How to give feedback to freelancers and external consultants

Do you have a process for giving feedback to your external consultants? A clear plan with specific points will help you succeed in providing feedback.

Providing feedback is key when it comes to growing and getting better. This counts for both full-time employees and external consultants. Consultants are also dissatisfied from time to time, which can influence their performance negatively.

Studies show that giving feedback to employees will you more engaged employees. And with millennials being 75% of the global workforce in 2025, feedback becomes even more important. This doesn't just count for in-house employees. It is just as important to give relevant feedback to external consultants to keep them satisfied, motivated and more committed to the project.

But how should you give feedback when working with an external workforce?

You might have heard about the sandwich feedback method containing:

  • A top slice of toast: a positive comment
  • Meat: the main (in some cases critical) comment and then
  • A bottom slice of toast: a positive comment at last.

This method is easy to understand, but also a (too) simple way of putting feedback.

The sandwich feedback method reduces the effect of criticism and makes a feedback session start well and end on a good note. But it can also make constructive feedback sound more critical than it is meant and it is often used as one-way communication.

If you want to give relevant and engaging feedback to freelancers and external consultants, you should consider the following steps.

How to deliver feedback with success

The purpose of feedback is to achieve a positive change. It is not a summarising review. There should be a good structure, an informal setting, and a collaborative atmosphere to succeed in giving feedback to external consultants and freelancers. These 5 tips will help you give feedback to freelancers and external consultants:

  1. Plan and make a good setting
  2. Be specific and explain the source of the feedback
  3. Context should fit feedback
  4. Make a plan together
  5. Listen and follow up

1. Plan and make a good setting

Have you ever experienced colleagues suddenly appearing at your desk with comments or feedback for one of your projects? It interferes with what you are doing at the moment and splits your mind between your current task and your colleague's feedback. External consultants have the same feeling when they are interrupted by phone calls now and then.

  • Plan a meeting for the feedback and make sure both you and the consultant have time to discuss and understand each other.
  • Keep the meeting informal by meeting one-on-one.
  • Meet on undisturbed and neutral ground to avoid distractions - not your office.

2. Be specific and explain the source of the feedback

Vague and anonymous feedback is the wedge for frustration and overthinking. 

  • Pinout the specific behaviour or needed improvement to which you are giving feedback.
  • Use the project brief as a starting point
  • Explain why and what needs a change or improvement.
  • Reference when and where you have experienced the work or behaviour that needs to be changed yourself.
  • Be specific in both message and source. Don't say "People say your work isn't good" or "I've heard that you do this".

3. Context should fit feedback

Consider buying a grilled sandwich. The cheese hasn't melted the way you like it. Does this mean, that the employee at the sandwich bar doesn't know how to make sandwiches? Or is he influenced by some other circumstances and because of that the sandwich was only 98% done?

  • Focus on the cheese - not the whole sandwich experience. And make your feedback for external consultants relevant and proportional to the task.
  • Focus on: Problem, solution, lesson learned. This will keep eyes on the ball and provide the basis for development.
  • Do you have feedback that isn't relevant in this actual case? Save it for later and focus on the current issue for now.

4. Make a plan together

What do both of you need to do to improve the freelancer or consultant's work? 

  • Help the consultant you are giving feedback to in making a plan to apply the new approach.
  • Consider whether the consultant or freelancer needs coaching to succeed.
  • When will you follow up? Include weekly calls or updates by email in the plan to make sure you are both aligned.

5. Listen and follow up

Feedback gets better when you know your audience. Remembering the person behind and being accessible will help you make a good relationship with the freelancer or consultant.

  • Listen to and try to understand the consultant or freelancer. What he/she says might help you in providing better feedback.
  • Follow up as agreed and be accessible if there are any concerns or confusion.

Additional ideas for giving feedback to freelancers and external consultants

Be well prepared and think of a clear plan for your feedback. Consider, how you would like feedback yourself and how it might be received by the consultant.

Build and grow relationships with your team of external consultants. Praise them, when they do something great. And talk about other things than the job when the timing is right.

Remember to walk the talk. If you want any colleague, employee, freelancer or consultant to change behaviour, you should show that actual behaviour yourself. Lead by example.

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