Feedback is an essential part of the employer and employee relationship. How that feedback is delivered is even more crucial in determining its effect on employees. Feedback often involves providing some sort of criticism to an employee. Therefore, understanding how to provide constructive criticism is important.
Most feedback given to employees at any level stems from good intent for the employee and the organization. However, the employee may not necessarily share this view. It is vital to ensure that careful thought is put into providing feedback, and while transparency is very important, being unnecessarily blunt isn’t.
As an employer, you must provide feedback that the employee can learn from. Instead of being afraid that you will reproach them when they slip up, they should be excited at the opportunity to learn something new and become better at their jobs.
This is where constructive criticism comes in.
What is Constructive Criticism?
Constructive criticism is providing feedback that is structured and targeted at specific improvements; it has to be useful and something that the receiver can do. It is important to be friendly, professional, yet firm when providing constructive criticism.
Remember, you aren’t doing anyone a favor if you shout when providing feedback or unnecessarily mask the truth.
It is best to get to the point directly. However, don’t forget to point out what they are doing right. The focus should not be on the individual, but the actions that resulted in the situation that required feedback.
Employees should be comfortable approaching their peers and managers to ask for assistance when they think they’ve slipped up. Employees being able to approach their superiors proactively is a result of constructive criticism offered by managers.
Here are some facts about criticism that highlight the importance of constructive criticism:
According to a blog on LinkedIn, managers who received feedback based on their strengths showed an 8.9% increase in profitability.
An employee engagement report shows that 20% of all employees feel that their managers will not provide consistent constructive criticism. That definitely shouldn’t be the case.
Here are 10 Tips to help you provide Constructive Criticism
It is important that feedback is given as soon as possible. Bringing up issues later doesn’t have the same impact.
Some feedback can be given on the spur of the moment, even at the employee’s desk, if required. The conversation could be very informal. However, if the issue is a little more serious, give it the attention it deserves.
If you witnessed an incident that has made you emotional or upset, give yourself time to cool off and get your thoughts in order. If the event has also rocked the employee, don’t go straight up to them and give them criticism.
Make sure the receiver and provider of feedback are both in the right frame of mind before the conversation begins. Allow a little time for reflection. More often than not, individuals know when they have made a mistake and a little time to calm down helps them see their mistakes.
Decide when the meeting will be in advance and let the employee know that it has been scheduled. Also tell them what it is about. Everyone deserves a little time to consider what they want to say about the event and maybe even prepare a defense if they feel they are wrongly taken to task.
Many managers approach their teams with a school teacher or principal-like approach, reprimanding them in front of the whole team. This may not seem like a problem if the issue is trivial, but it is always best to pull the individual aside and talk with them privately.
Constructive criticism is still criticism. When someone is criticized in front of a group, they are likely to have their defenses up and be less agreeable about the feedback. You don’t want your employees to feel attacked or singled out in front of their team.
Take the Time to Listen
While the superior’s job is to provide criticism, it is very important to understand the employee’s perspective first. There may be a few details that the manager did not notice that may add weight to the employee’s argument if there is one.
Listening also allows employees the opportunity to feel that they are valued and are being treated as equals. Once the employee has had the opportunity to explain what happened, reflect on the issue again, without interference and prompting.
Ask yourself if the criticism needs to be given, or if there is a better way to provide that constructive criticism, in light of any new information that the employee may have provided.
Find Something the Employee Did Right
If you have followed all the steps till this point, the employee knows why they are in the meeting with you. In order to help them be more accepting of constructive criticism, talk about something the employee did right.
Be careful here, do not sugarcoat what you are about to say, and do not praise the employee for something they did not do. When providing constructive criticism it is very important not to sound insincere.
The sandwich method is a common way of presenting constructive criticism in between layers of praise. Again, be honest and use this method only if you can be sincere.
If the situation is rather severe and it is difficult to find anything the employee did right, talk about the strengths you have seen them display in the past. Give the employees tips to use their strengths on the issue that you are presenting.
Tip: Always be honest and straightforward.
Present Your Perspective
It is difficult to be completely unbiased; however, present your perspective without making it personal. Your perspective should be from the company’s point of view and should be centered on what is best for the organization and the employee.
Some personal views are bound to make it to your constructive criticism; keep those to a minimum. Compare your employee to what the best standard is, not to yourself or other employees.
Know What Changes You Want From the Employee
As we have mentioned earlier, the employee probably knows that they have made a mistake.
For your criticism to be constructive, it isn’t enough to talk about the incident; talk about a solution as well.
To present a solution to the employee, let them know what specific changes you would like to see. Give them points that they can put into action.
Converse, Don’t Reprimand
While constructive criticism isn’t about being the friendliest manager in the world, it does help to create a conversational atmosphere when providing feedback.
Being friendly is important; stay within the boundaries of professionalism, and be firm. Find the line that works for you and the employee in question. Being too friendly can take away from the criticism and the employee may not fully understand the consequences of their action.
Keep the tone relatively light and allow a back and forth, posing questions that the employee can respond to. These shouldn’t be just ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions. Don’t expect the employee to sit and listen and then leave. They must get the opportunity to hear what you have said, process it, and respond to it.
Make sure you aren’t too curt and do not cut the employee off mid-sentence. Remember the employee is likely to be a little uncomfortable, so expect them to cut you off or interject. Be patient and allow the conversation to flow.
Tip: Your role in this situation is to be a mentor and guide. Let your employees know that you are there for them and that they can always come to you, whether it is about learning something new or discussing existing issues.
Do Not Beat Around the Bush
Get to the point quickly and be straightforward and honest without being too blunt. Have clear points noted down and mention exactly what you felt could have been done better in the situation. Highlight the key areas that need improvement and the specific actions that need to be taken to remedy the situation or avoid it in the future.
Instead of saying things like, “The document lacks clarity,” tell them why it lacks clarity, and explain how more clarity can be provided.
This allows constructive criticism to be clear and removes any sort of confusion that could arise. It is a good idea to split the feedback up into different points.
For each point, mention what could have been done better and what action could have been taken, along with the possible outcome.
Tip: While it is important to maintain authority, it is vital to let your employees know that constructive criticism works both ways. This means that they should be able to talk to you if they feel you need to improve in certain areas. While they should be professional in their approach and have valid reasons, this allows them to know that you are willing to learn and they, in turn, are likely to become open to learning.
Keep the Focus on the Issue
When providing constructive criticism, it is best to avoid pointing out what qualities you dislike about the employee in question. Focus on the issue and talk about what was done wrong.
Talk about what actions caused the issue, instead of how the person’s behavior caused the issue.
It is always best to show the employee the impact of their actions and let them know how it affects the business and other employees.
In the event that the issue is a result of bad behavior or a lack of skills, approach the situation with wisdom. Tell them how important you believe it is for them to work on those areas and how it will help them grow.
When providing constructive criticism that is personal, make sure the employee follows a structured plan to improve and assess their own improvement.
Provide Recommendations to Allow for Consistent Improvement
The goal of constructive criticism isn’t just to resolve one issue. The goal should be to create or instill the desire to constantly improve. Recommend how employees can approach situations that are likely to involve some sort of friction.
Show employees what tools they can use and how they can learn from their experiences and become better professionals.
You may not always be able to provide constructive criticism. It is best if employees can reflect on their actions and find ways to improve so that fewer issues arise in the future.
Creating a culture of feedback is very important. Constructive criticism helps employees grow personally and professionally.
When sharing criticism, it is vital to have some back and forth. When employees present an issue they have, encourage them to present solutions as well. This creates a culture of constructive criticism for the entire company.
Always base feedback and criticism on facts, not on assumptions. When the issue is severe, take the time to collate the data and evidence to show the areas that need improvement.
Don’t use the evidence as a tool to show how badly the employee has done. Rather, use it as a foundation to foster growth for that employee.
Collecting data and information around a specific issue can be quite a task, especially when there are numerous employees carrying out innumerable tasks. Using a good HR management suite can help with this.
Darwinbox provides feedback tools to assess employee performance. The reports generated can help in identifying areas of improvement and are an essential part of providing constructive criticism.