Good managers are also good coaches. They’re able to identify ways to help staff improve, then offer ways to help them learn and grow. A key in this process is the use of constructive criticism—understanding what it is and how to use it effectively.
What is it?
Constructive criticism is open, honest feedback an employee can use to identify skill shortages and make changes. It’s a starting point to help your employee acquire new talents, drop bad habits and get even better at what they do. Though it may be negative feedback, it should always be presented in as positive a light as possible—meant to help, never offend.
Why does it work?
Sometimes your employee may not realize they’re doing something wrong, or they’re missing a key skill that can benefit them in their career. Quite simply, people don’t always know what they don’t know! Especially if an employee is extremely hardworking, they may not have the opportunity to take a step back and consider their knowledge and behavior—for example, what might not be working, and what could be improved. And that’s your job as a manager: To see the big picture and help your workers take steps to achieve the company’s mission, vision and goals.
How to do it—best practices
The key is to keep your message upbeat: one of growth and positive change. With this in mind, consider the following best practices:
- Present criticism in private. Never, ever call out an employee in front of others or in a team meeting. This just sets them up to be defensive, and is embarrassing. No one likes to hear what they may be doing wrong. Instead, reserve constructive criticism for a 1:1 or review.
- Don’t focus on what was; talk about what could be. Keep your message futuristic. It doesn’t help to dwell on the past, and may be offensive to the employee. Instead, describe that you’ve noticed something that can help the employee. For example, “I’ve noticed you really enjoy writing. One way to be an even stronger writer is by taking XYZ writing course. If you’re interested, I can help you get registered.” This is much better than stating, “Your grammar could use some work.”
- Be supportive. Once you’ve talked about the opportunity for improvement with your employee, help them set goals and a timeline. What will they do to learn this new skill, and how long will they work to achieve it? Then, follow up on a regular basis to talk about progress.