For many business owners and managers, giving constructive criticism to employees is a hard part of the job. At small businesses in particular, employer-employee relationships sometimes reach or approximate friendship—or at least there’s enough close personal history to make giving feedback a little awkward. Sometimes, employees become defensive. Other times, bosses don’t deliver feedback in the most clear or constructive way.
Regardless, giving constructive criticism to employees is a necessity. Good employers do what they can to help staff perform better, for the employee and the employer’s sake, and the company’s. Performance or attitude problems that go unaddressed only hurt the business, of course.
The ability for employers to successfully impart useful feedback is not only important for the health of the brand, it’s also a key intervention. Generally speaking, employees deserve an opportunity to correct problems before being let go. Plus, this can spare the company the inconvenience and cost of having to replace people and train new ones. It’s also best not to let things fester until they blow up.
Here’s some advice for offering employees constructive criticism in ways that are less uncomfortable for all parties involved, and that have the best chance of being understood, taken to heart, and applied.
How to Give Employees Constructive Feedback
- Don’t catch the employee completely off-guard; let them know in advance why you’d like to meet
- Have the meeting one on one where there’s no concern about others overhearing the conversation
- It’s often easier said than done—especially if you’re frustrated or angry with someone—but put your emotions aside and keep things calm and professional (this is one reason to deliver constructive criticism early on, before you’ve stewed in the problem for a while)
- Preface feedback with something positive, plus an assurance that the purpose of the meeting is to help the employee improve performance
- Focus only on one or two of the most important issues in one meeting; if there’s more to address, do it another time so you don’t overwhelm the employee or seem like you’re browbeating them
- Give specific examples of the issues to help the employee see them clearly; for example, instead of just saying “you’re too curt with customers sometimes,” cite one or two interactions between the employee and a customer where this applies
- Frame constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t make it about the employee’s personality, but rather about their actions; for instance, instead of calling an employee disorganized, reference specific ways they haven’t used structure to their advantage
- Offer practical ideas for improvement, such as how they might have handled a situation better or how they might complete certain tasks more efficiently or effectively
- Only comment on things the employee has control over and can possibly change; this is one major difference between constructive criticism and plain old unhelpful criticism
- Encourage a dialogue, allowing the employee to present their side and ask questions; however, refocus the conversation if the employee is just becoming defensive
- Be receptive to the possibility that the employee may have valid explanations for some of the problems you’re addressing; for example, maybe another supervisor taught them to do something the way they’ve been doing it
- End on an encouraging note that lets the employee know you’re invested in seeing them succeed
- Follow up on the feedback; hopefully, it will be to tell the employee that you’ve noticed their efforts and improvement