As a manager, it’s your responsibility to give your employees feedback about their work. Unfortunately, communicating when and how something could have been done better is part of that task. It takes empathy and tact to give criticism in a manner that won’t be construed as a personal attack, but rather as an encouragement to improve. In short, giving constructive criticism is a skill, and it’s one all managers must master in order to get the best out of their employees. Fortunately, skills can be learned. Read on to learn some best practices for giving constructive criticism.
Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Before addressing any issue, take a moment to put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Chances are he isn’t aware he’s making mistakes; in fact, he’s probably doing his best. Think back to an occasion when somebody gave you constructive criticism that really helped you in your career, and do your best to be as helpful to your employee.
Choose the time and place carefully. Being criticized is never fun. Choose the time and place to speak to your employee carefully. At an appropriate time when he’s not too busy, ask for a one-on-one meeting to discuss some issues. This will give him the opportunity to receive the criticism in private, without all of his colleagues listening in.
Be aware of your voice and body language. Somebody receiving criticism can adopt a defensive attitude—it’s a natural reaction when one’s attacked. That’s why you must use strong but non-confrontational body language. Respect your employee’s personal space while maintaining a confident posture and good eye contact. Breathe deeply and calmly, and don’t raise your voice. By being assured but not confrontational, you send the message that you’re in the right, yet without backing your employee into a corner.
Comment objectively on behavior. Focusing on actual behaviors that have negative consequences, instead of addressing characteristics you subjectively perceive to be the problem. For example, instead of assuming your employee is lazy and therefore misses deadlines, it’s far more constructive to focus on the measurable issue, i.e. the fact that he misses deadlines.
Use “I statements” to request specific changes for future occasions. It’s much easier to accept criticism when it’s delivered in the form of a request from the speaker’s point of view. So for example, instead of saying, “You always make a lot of mistakes in your report,” you could say, “I spend a considerable amount of time correcting your reports. In the future, could you please review your work for errors before submitting it?” This still gets the message across, but without sounding accusatory.
Highlight something positive first, carefully lead into the negative issue, and end on a compliment. It’s always advisable to let your employee know you noticed what he did well before launching into what he can improve on. You should also express confidence that your employee can make the requested change. For example, you could say, “I really appreciate your attention to detail in this report, and the first section is outstanding. However, the second section needs more work. I’m confident that with another take, you can get it right.” By complimenting your employee, you take the sting out of the criticism included in the message.
Offer your assistance. Constructive criticism is useless if your employee doesn’t know how to improve. Carefully discuss with him what the reasons are for the mistakes or issues in the first place; then find ways for him to improve. For example, if your employee’s reports are full of errors because he’s working too quickly and doesn’t review properly, encourage him to take more time on the next report so he can be more methodical, as well as review and if necessary, make revisions.
Check in. Remember to check in with your employee when he’s next working on a similar task. Ask him if he believes he’s improving. If he’s still facing obstacles, give him the encouragement and assistance he needs to overcome them.
Give praise. When your employee has addressed the unwanted behavior and made the desired improvements, make sure to thank him for his efforts and compliment his achievements.
Giving constructive criticism is a necessary part of any manager’s job. These best practices will help you do so in an effective, empathetic manner so both your employee and you benefit from the improved results.
The ultimate measure of a senior leadership team’s success is the organization’s results. And yet some companies, due to favourable market conditions, do quite well in spite of their dysfunctional leadership teams. Imagine what could happen if the team at the top could get its act together. Is your leadership team effective? Evaluate them on these nine attributes.
- A meaningful purpose: They have a clear and compelling reason to work together. Executive team members are each responsible for a specific company function. One could argue the CEO should be the glue that coordinates the activities, but everyone’s primary concern should be their area of responsibility. In high-performance teams, a commitment to the team’s purpose should be at least as important as the commitment to the purpose for the area each member leads.
- Shared goals: The team needs to focus on a set of outcomes that all members are committed to achieving and that require contribution by everyone. If it’s truly a team goal, everyone will feel equally responsible for its achievement. These are not necessarily the same as the company’s goals.
- The right mix: Team members have complementary skills, experiences, and styles necessary for fulfilling the necessary roles and responsibilities. People know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and aversions. They use this knowledge to create synergy. Members see the value of each person’s presence on the team. There’s a sense of equality among all the players.
- Strong interpersonal relationships: People can be themselves because they genuinely like each other and will do what they can to look out for and support their team-mates. Members trust each other and are trustworthy. The cohesiveness of the team is obvious to people outside the group.
- Helpful operating principles: These agreed upon ways of working together might include a shared set of values, processes for making decisions, ways of communicating within the team and to other employees, and tracking activities.
- Problem solving: The team recognizes when a problem exists, analyzes it, identifies alternatives, and works through conflicts. Once the decision is made, everyone commits to supporting it. Often this is best demonstrated by someone’s willingness to raise a thorny issue in the first place and in the members’ willingness to fully engage in finding a resolution to the problem.
- High levels of candour: People say what needs saying in a direct and respectful manner. Members are receptive to hearing tough messages without becoming defensive. Heated discussions are viewed not as a problem but rather as a positive activity as long as the discussion stays focused on issues or behaviours rather than on personalities.
- Mutual accountability: Members hold themselves and others to the commitments they have made. While the CEO often has the primary responsibility for holding employees accountable for keeping their promises, each person shares in this activity.
- Measuring the important: Effective teams track those things that are most important to their success— progress on key initiatives, performance results, or even behaviours expected of each other and take action when things are not meeting expectations. Carve out time at your next executive off-site meeting to discuss the effectiveness of the team and determine how to strengthen its performance.
The annual performance appraisal is an opportunity to enhance employee performance and create greater success for the company and the individual.
Start with vision:
It’s important to start with vision: the company’s and the employee’s. What is the company vision? The company vision should be compelling and known by staff. When staff don’t know the owner’s vision for the company it is hard for them to help move it forward. Having a clear and compelling vision that employees can buy into provides a foundation for success.
But what drives the individual isn’t the boss’ vision, the company’s vision, but their own compelling vision.
- Employees can embrace the company vision but …
- True success comes from within and from personal vision.
- Personal vision should be compelling and tied into the company vision.
- Do you know your employees’ dreams and visions for their lives and career?
Take time to create a vision:
If the employee hasn’t thought about their vision, take the time to create a vision with them. Does their vision, their passion tie into the company vision? Can you as the supervisor help the employee to achieve their vision? What if their vision is your job? Well, that’s great. As supervisors, managers and leaders part of our role is mentoring and developing our employees. It’s great to have employees that are motivated to learn and grow. It’s also great to have employees that know your job and can do it competently.
Compelling visions are personal, written in the present tense, as if … they are happening now, and point to an exciting future. Encourage your staff to write their own compelling vision and share it with you.
Our current appraisal framework:
Often the manager talks about issues that the employee didn’t know was coming. Today we are talking about how to reframe the experience for both the employee and the manager. With the manager as a coach and partner committed to the employee’s success the environment can shift. The goal is to reframe the experience, creating a positive, goal-oriented environment that thrives on success and enhancing performance. In working with many groups of people solving problems, when they focused on what was going well and built upon it they were more successful than when they worked on what the problems were that they were having and what they needed to improve. In focusing on solutions, they ultimately identified the things that needed improvement as well.
It’s important to recognize your feelings about performance appraisals and to imagine the employee’s perspective.
- History of being an uncomfortable experience.
- Reframe the experience and create a positive, goal-oriented environment that thrives on success, enhancing performance.
- An opportunity to tune into the person and find out what is going on with them.
- Create a plan for the upcoming year.
- Most individuals (most employees) want to be successful.
Use coaching skills to develop success and excellence:
Where are we at now? After you have created a compelling vision, find out where we are at right now. Using five key coaching questions you can quickly get to where the employee is at. In these questions you have the opportunity to create powerful positive energy, find out what the gaps are and what the resources needed are. In talking about what would be ideal you are also focusing a bit back on the vision, but you are also pointing in the direction that you need to go – so how do we get there?
When meeting with a staff member:
- Be present
- Tune into them and tune out everything else
- See their greatness
Use Five Coaching Questions:
- What are the positives?
- What makes the positives happen?
- What is it that would be ideal?
- What needs to improve?
- What resources do you need to succeed?
As the supervisor, I see my role as one of supporting my staff so that they can do their job. I’m their coach, their success partner and the person that is helping to get them the resources they need to do their job. As the director of an outdoor center, my job was to get the clients there, but it was also to make sure that our resources were there for the client; that we had the infrastructure we needed to provide the service, the ropes course, trained staff, food for meals, etc.
Create a plan for excellent performance:
You, the supervisor, become the partner or the coach – coaching for success. In creating a plan focused on success for the employee, the manager begins to shift the paradigm to one of employee and coach/partner. As supervisors, our role is to build successful teams and we have to have successful team members in order to do that. If we focus on creating success we are more likely to create it. Focus on the positive, the solutions. What’s going right, how do we create more of it? In working with teams I have found that when I focus on what they are doing well and how we do more of it – we build on our success.
When we create goals that are SMART, we can measure them, and track their progress. If goals are soft, not measurable, it becomes difficult to progress the plan or give any feedback. So, how do we make them measurable? Measurable is countable; how many, when, who?
- Goals tie into the company vision and the employees’ vision.
- Goals point to an exciting future.
- They are positive, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bounded.
Tips for setting goals:
- Start with the RESULT in mind.
- Set SMART goals.
- Make it easy to see the next steps.
SMART Goals have certain attributes that make them measurable. When you can measure the goal you then know if you are attaining it. Goals should be results or outcome oriented and not process oriented.
Has clear deliverables or results
Can be counted: How many? How much? Who?
Can be attained at least 80%
Important to the people you serve, your future viability and relevant to your vision and values.
Think big, but it’s a 12-month plan, an annual plan
A goal example could be that a sales staff member might have a sales goal of increasing personal sales by 20% during the year. As annual goals are typically big, it’s important to break them down into smaller steps. This sales goal can also be the foundation for creating a plan to accomplish the goal as follows:
- A certain number of cold calls
- A systematic follow-up plan for each lead
- Direct mail, advertising – what are the specifics that are going to create the success?
Build in accountability:
Building in accountability in your annual success plans is the key to success. How many performance appraisals have you had or have you done that didn’t get looked at until the next year?
You need to meet with people regularly and review the goals. It’s unfair to come at a staff person at the end of the year and say you didn’t accomplish what we outlined in your plan. Yes, you can accomplish some things just by writing down the goal, but the level of accomplishment is usually lower than what we want in our companies.
- The key to success is building in accountability through regular meetings, weekly or monthly.
- We often fall short on keeping a plan alive.
- Regular meetings that keep focus on the plan and keep it moving forward.
- Celebrate success, write down accomplishments, and build on success.
Meet with staff at least monthly and review the plan. Bringing out the plan and talking about it keeps it alive. If it is never mentioned it gives staff the impression that it wasn’t that important and they don’t need to work on the goals outlined. Remember, the goals outlined are focused on creating better results for the company. You want that. Focus on the plan. At the monthly meeting spend time to:
- Review the vision
- Review the accomplishments (what’s going right?)
- Review the goals
- Score each goal – give it a percentage; 60%, 85%
When a goal is falling short, use coaching skills to help figure out what the problem is and how to change it. Does the leadership need to shift to provide more supervision, training, and direction?
You are looking for success of at least 80%. If the person is in their own way, do they need to make a shift in their feelings, beliefs, paradigm, to move forward and get themselves out of the way? Are they choosing not to make the necessary shift? It’s an opportunity to talk about choices that we make. We each operate from a place of personal responsibility. We are responsible for ourselves, our actions.
- Measurable goals can be scored.
- Score the goals each month.
- If the goal is below 80% talk about what’s in the way. Is the individual in their own way?
- Go back to the five coaching questions.
Create a partnership:
The monthly review of the PLAN gives you the opportunity to really check-in with staff and support them in developing success. It also prevents the annual performance review dread. They know you are invested in their success as well as that of the company. This is powerful. It develops you as a leader and partner of the staff member and lets you know where the focus needs to be. It also creates a regular stream of communication – both ways that can only improve results. Use the five coaching questions:
- What’s going right?
- What makes it right?
- What’s the ideal, the vision?
- What’s not quite right now?
- What are the resources needed?
Coach them to succeed.
Handling poor performance:
I believe that coaching skills can help you as a supervisor create better success. When there is poor performance the coaching questions give you an opportunity to build success. But you have also built a framework for having real conversations. We are all adults, and we each have personal responsibility and make choices about our behaviour. If you do discipline or progressive discipline in your organization, you need to have a clear policy on it and employees need to be informed of the policy. They also need to know the expectations and job responsibilities. And with that foundation, believe you can have real conversations about their behaviour and choices and the position it puts you in. Your behaviour as a supervisor is a consequence of their behaviour.
I’ve had this conversation with staff in a union shop, in a supervisory session that involved poor performance. It went something like: Fred, you have great skills and talents that we see here, and you also know why we’re here – you didn’t show up for work and you didn’t call, it’s considered a no show/no call. It puts me in a position where I have to take action, and if it continues then I have to continue taking actions. You are responsible for you and you are making choices for how you handle your position.
And in having these conversations – it’s important to remember that our goal is success and the employee’s goal is to be successful also. Employee retention is important to everyone.
Go back to the coaching questions – it gets them talking about what is going right, what their vision for success is and what is in their way.
Help staff to identify limiting behaviours, how they are in their own way, and shift their paradigms to get out of the way.
To create the success you want, keep focused on your goals
Staying focused on your goals and those of your employees keeps the momentum going. As the supervisor, you can create a positive and encouraging environment and create a performance culture.
1. Empower your employees to shine by helping them own their gifts at work. As you interact with employees, see each one as unique and gifted, especially the star employees. Your role is to find their innate gifts—creativity, facilitating, listening, intelligence, intuiting, writing, leading, researching, teaching, developing, strategizing, motivating, evaluating, and so on. Work with your employees to identify their top two gifts and help bring them to the projects they are working on.
2. Identify exactly what tasks or responsibilities bring your top stars career fulfillment. Meet with your employees to identify the three aspects of their work they find most fulfilling. You want to understand not only what tasks but also which elements of the tasks and responsibilities are most satisfying. Next, help them bring more of this type of fulfilling work into each day. Spend time with your employees to understand the things, other than money, that fulfill them at work. Select two areas through which each employee can cultivate more fulfillment in their current job—mentoring relationships; freedom to create; making a contribution; learning and developing on the job; working with intelligent, creative, and passionate colleagues; participating in the organization’s direction and overall vision; or anything else you would like to add.
3. Encourage your employees to focus more on what’s right with their jobs and less on what’s wrong. Highlight the accomplishments of your employees and help them leverage their areas of success. Not only will this improve their profiles in the company and potentially lead to a promotion or a raise, but it will promote a positive view of themselves and their capabilities. Meet with every employee to discuss and review what is going right on the job. By not always focusing on what is wrong with their work and seeing it as a challenge, employees can focus on and appreciate the many opportunities for making their jobs work for them.
4. Communicate effectively for great relationships at work. Guide your employees to accept the co-workers who challenge them, helping them look for the positive instead of the negative in those people. They can learn to step back, detach from their own agenda and viewpoint, and look at the challenging co-worker with new eyes. This new viewpoint can occur when an employee tries to truly understand their co-workers, what they think and feel, and why they behave as they do. After stepping into others’ shoes and viewing things from their perspective, the question becomes: “How can I accept this individual’s imperfections and shortcomings as well as their strengths and talents?” Encourage managers and supervisors to be more accessible to their employees, especially the stars, so they can better ascertain their primary needs. This way your employees will feel that you genuinely care about them. They will feel listened to. This open communication allows employees to feel comfortable sharing what is on their minds. By responding to employee needs immediately and directly before they become real issues, you eliminate the danger that they will need to find another workplace to get those needs met.
5. Improve your employees’ morale by showing them how to work smarter instead of harder. Spend time with your employees and help them make a list of all their daily roles, responsibilities, tasks, and activities. Help them become aware of how they can simplify their workday: Do more, do it faster, work smarter, and be more fully committed. Then eliminate as much as possible from the list until it reaches a point at which they can’t do it any faster and smarter. Employers need to help their employees look at their entire worklife and all that it encompasses, and learn to simplify. When we don’t simplify, our lives become too complicated, and we become powerless. Help your employees prioritize their activities. Ask them to write down their most important tasks and then rank them in order of priority. If employees need help finding the most important tasks, have them ask themselves: If I could complete one activity/task today, what would it be? Is this activity the best use of my time, knowledge, creativity, and experience? Have them focus on the most important task until it is finished, then recheck the priority list and focus their efforts on the next most important activity.
6. Besides more money, offer quality life programs to help your employees maintain balance between professional and personal life. Help your employees create flexible time (flex-time) for work and their own personal well-being. Teach them how to create a working environment that brings their work and life together in proper balance. This can include making sure your employees have enough hours each week to enjoy non-work activities. Facilitate proper balance by helping employees understand how to use flex-time or other creative scheduling alternatives to spend more time on non-work activities that bring proper balance into their lives. Many employees have difficulty in properly balancing their lives because their worklife is so consuming. When employees begin to gain self-control and equanimity in their worklives, they will have made space for other parts of their lives. To create balance in their work/personal lives, you can help your employees to: keep their self-expectations and those of their manager at a reduced level; “under promise” and “over deliver”—promising far less than they know they can do or less than the person is asking them to do; learn to say no to nonessential tasks and to people who might be inappropriately monopolizing their time; take breaks throughout the day to revitalize themselves; realize the importance of not taking work home with them on a regular basis to separate their work life from their home life.
7. Ask employees to identify and focus on what is enjoyable. Have your employees get together to select and discuss the most enjoyable activity or project in their jobs. Then ask them to make a list of all the activities or projects they need to complete that day or the next. Have them select the one they find most enjoyable and begin the day working on that one. Once every couple of weeks, encourage your employees to select an “enjoyable” task as their focus for an entire day. Help your employees identify the work they find most enjoyable, those tasks that excite them or that they find themselves repeatedly drawn to doing. Once they have identified two elements that they enjoy, have them create new projects that incorporate those activities.
8. Improve your employees’ overall relationship with their jobs through active involvement and constant praise. Give your employees the opportunity to make a difference and become more actively involved in the organization by having them volunteer their time to support and help run some of the company’s internal functions and take part in off-site company volunteer efforts. People need to know that their efforts for the company are recognized. Lack of recognition for performance can cause a lack of involvement and even disengagement. You can greatly help your employees by encouraging them and showing them how to ask for positive feedback and recognition from their managers. They shouldn’t have to wait for their annual review to get positive feedback on the work they are doing. After all, you can’t be proud of yourself until somebody’s been proud of you.
9. Open your employees’ minds to the possibilities and reality of loving their work. Without a clear-cut understanding of what they have to do to advance or succeed, people quickly become de-motivated. Explain what’s required for your employees to move forward in the organization based on the company’s or department’s plans for the next one, three, and five years. Provide clear career paths to encourage employees to explore new career possibilities in-house so they can make a lateral shift within the company. A lateral move can help them enjoy their jobs and stay engaged. Help your employees discover new and exciting opportunities (new projects and new activities) that lie within their work that will bring them a greater sense of love for what they currently are doing.
10. Establish a mentoring or coaching program. Encourage your star employees to spend time mentoring other model co-workers who enjoy their jobs and are performing well. This allows your employees to observe, study, and shadow the person they most identify with so they begin to understand what they do that helps them enjoy their work so much. Designate senior employees who will act as impartial, unconditionally supportive guides who ask evocative questions to draw out your star’s wisdom.