Feedback and Constructive Criticism

Bryan Brulotte - Unity. Prosperity. Compassion. #CanadaUnited

Employee feedback and constructive criticism is an important part of a leader’s daily routine. Here are seven do’s and don’ts when giving feedback to an underperforming employee:

Do: Be timely
The most effect feedback comes quickly after the action takes place. This keeps it relevant and meaningful, and ensures it’s fresh-of-mind for both the employee and the manager.

Do: Be specific
Vague comments lead to defensiveness. Give constructive feedback in direct and specific terms, and have all relevant facts on-hand to support your claims. Also, have suggestions for changes or actions ready to discuss with your report once their problematic behaviour has been acknowledged. Transitioning seamlessly into a “next steps” conversation will keep the feedback feeling constructive and less like an attack.

Don’t: be emotional
Before approaching the employee, it’s important to address and stabilize any anger or frustration about the situation. An especially common emotion to bring into the conversation is impatience. However, any of these emotions can seriously derail the effectiveness of the feedback because it will make the employee feel attacked and, again, defensive. A manager needs to neutralize their emotion, focus on the facts, and share the impact.

Do: Focus on patterns
If an employee is consistently using a behaviour that leads to underperformance, the manager can describe the pattern. For example, something like “You often arrive late after lunch, and that seems to be impeding your ability to hit your deadlines” offers specific, direct insight that can be discussed further. Exploring patterns also helps to put an action plan in place because it focuses on smaller, easier-to-address behaviours rather than big-picture issues that might overwhelm.

Don’t: Use absolutes
Avoid using absolutes – ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘every time’. People who are showing a pattern of behaviour probably aren’t always showing it. When you use absolutes, it gives the employee an argument against the issue or behaviour that you’re discussing – and once they have a way to defend themselves, they can shut down to the feedback you’re providing. Words like “often”, “at times”, and “frequently” present a more accurate version of the situation.

Do: Give them reason(s) to change
It’s all well and good to tell an employee how their actions (or lack of actions) are impacting the company – but that alone might not get through to them. Remember, people change for their reasons, not your reasons. The impact has to be something important to the employee. When addressing an issue, talk to the employee about how changing their behaviour can benefit them.

Don’t: Get irrelevant
It’s important to limit constructive feedback to areas the employee has the ability to change – otherwise, you’re just being hurtful. Remember, there’s a difference between feedback and criticism, and only feedback is appropriate in the workplace. Also, don’t pile on the problems. Stick to one timely issue, and the action plan to address it. If you discuss too many issues in one sitting, it will be overwhelming for the employee.