Certain situations in the workplace can be a bit awkward for many managers, and giving employees constructive criticism is often one of them. It can be particularly uncomfortable when the supervisor knows the employee in question is genuinely trying, or if the worker is known to be a little sensitive.
With the right approach though, the exchange can be as painless as possible for both parties, and you minimize the likelihood of the recipient becoming too defensive to benefit. Plus, the feedback will be delivered with the best chance for triggering meaningful improvement in the employee’s performance.
Why Is Giving Employees Constructive Criticism Important?
There are many reasons for giving employees constructive criticism as part of managing projects and performance in the workplace. And it’s not just for struggling staff; even high-performing employees can and should receive professional, valuable constructive criticism.
Obviously, the primary reason for giving employees constructive criticism is that when it’s delivered and received well, it should improve productivity, performance, and results. This contributes to greater success for the employee, their team or department, and the company.
Beyond that, constructive feedback is a crucial form of employee engagement and development. It demonstrates that management and the company is invested in the employee, and in helping them grow. In the best cases, it can even open the door to greater responsibility, as well—and with it advancement and increased pay.
Constructive criticism also gives employees a fair chance to turn things around before they have to be fired. Generally speaking, people deserve the opportunity to work harder if they’re not meeting certain expectations or goals. Often, they’re unaware of how they’re falling short without having it brought to their attention. And, from a more liability-oriented standpoint, it’s helpful to document issues and official attempts to correct them.
Tips for Giving Employees Constructive Criticism
- Provide constructive criticism promptly when you become aware of a problem; letting the issue persist doesn’t do anybody any favors, and if you end up angered by it over time, you’re less likely to deliver the feedback as professionally and constructively.
- Let the employee know ahead that you want to speak with them, and tell them why; they’re more likely to get upset and defensive if they’re blindsided at the meeting.
- Have the conversation in private; it’s just courteous, and it will be much more uncomfortable for the employee if they’re afraid someone else is overhearing it.
- Keep emotions out of the conversation on your end, even if the recipient of your feedback becomes emotional; stay calm and professional.
- Open by explaining that the purpose of the meeting is to help the employee improve their performance, and that they’re not in any sort of trouble.
- Start by saying something positive about the employee; this is a tried and true psychological tactic that helps people be more receptive to criticism, and it’s also nice.
- Pick one or two of the most important issues to cover, and save any others for another time so it doesn’t come across as an all-out assault; it’s also more likely that the constructive criticism will be digested and successfully applied if there isn’t an overwhelming amount to focus on.
- Cite specific examples of the behavior or aspect of performance in question, rather than just vaguely describing it.
- Address the employee’s actions, rather than personality traits; for example, one of the examples you cite could reference a time when they didn’t structure something in a logical, efficient way, as opposed to saying that they’re disorganized.
- Provide specific, practical, actionable steps for improvement; a simple way to do this is to offer advice about how they could have better approached the situation or task in the examples you cite.
- Stick to things the employee has the ability to change; otherwise, it’s just criticism, with nothing constructive.
- Let the employee speak—and even offer an explanation if they feel so inclined—but be prepared to get the conversation back on track if they’re only being defensive; also, be open to the possibility that they may have a valid reason for what you’re discussing (such as having been trained by another manager or employee to do something the way they’ve been doing it).
- Thank the employee for listening and wrap the meeting up with a positive, encouraging statement reiterating that the purpose of the feedback is to help them achieve more.
- Follow up with the employee after an appropriate amount of time (which depends on the nature of the issue they’re working on); if you’ve noticed effort and improvement on their part, be sure to tell them so.