Providing Constructive Criticism

By The Intersect Group

No one’s perfect. We all make mistakes, or we feel really awkward when we need to learn something new.

And who is the one usually telling you that you made a mistake or “here’s how to do it better”? Your manager.

Many managers provide criticism and course corrections the wrong way in that they aren’t constructive. Or the manager is tired/angry, and the rebuke is forceful or even cruel.

We know that you don’t want to be that person. Instead, you want to guide your team members to the right course firmly but gently.

Managing team member behaviors when warranted without destroying their self-esteem

A demoralized employee is an unhappy employee (obviously), someone who probably will not work to improve their performance. They will more than likely resent their manager and possibly start looking for another opportunity elsewhere.

But someone who has been critiqued the right way has a far better chance of improving their job performance and appreciating their manager’s course correction. They will see it for what it is: an opportunity to become even better at their job!

  • Offer the critique as soon as possible, when a correction is needed or a mistake is made. And NEVER critique publicly.

Don’t wait. The sooner it’s pointed out, the faster the mistake is corrected.

Critiquing someone in public, even if you do so constructively, can be embarrassing. It’s always best to offer the critique/correction in private.

  • Remember the Oreo, or two-thirds of one.

Many people say one should offer criticism with a positive thing first, followed by the criticism, followed by a reminder about the good thing (like the black and white layers of the famous sandwich cream cookie). But others think this is wrong because the worker will remember the last statement (a compliment) rather than the critique in the middle and request for improvement.

Instead, open on a positive note: “I’m so grateful that you completed the project five days early,” followed by the critique. “Yet I feel that some parts are rushed and incomplete.” And then immediately….

  • ….ask your team member what they think of their work.

This helps make sure they own the project’s quality. You should segue immediately from your critique (as described above) and ask them for their take on their efforts. They may provide excuses that paint them as a victim of circumstance, and if they do, keep asking questions as to what they could have done to prevent those circumstances.

Show approval for any statement they make that shows them taking responsibility: “I really appreciate that you said you could have paid better attention to the time limits on the project.”

  • Circumstances sometimes are beyond someone’s control; acknowledge this.

For example, if something was delayed because of someone else’s inaction. Let them know it’s perfectly Ok to ask a colleague how their part of a project is going, if they, themselves, can help in any way, etc.

  • Offer solutions for the next time circumstances are truly beyond their control.

For example, if a vendor was late in delivering a resource needed to complete the project, encourage your team member to contact the vendor to find out the new arrival date and then come to you with the information. That way, you and your team member can work together to develop a solution and/or new deadline.

Another example: your administrative assistant may report to you and another manager. Both of you gave the assistant the same deadline for two different projects without knowing about the other project. The right thing for the assistant to do would have been to tell both of you that the other has a pending project due the same day. But the assistant may not have known this or may have felt it wasn’t their place to do so. Let them know it’s perfectly fine to let managers know when dueling projects come up so that the managers can speak with each other and decide what takes priority.

These examples show how you can help your team members become more assertive and confident in their roles. They grow. And you get a wiser, more productive, and skilled employee.

Being a good communicator and sharing information

Clear communication and information sharing are two ways to support your team.

Our next post in our “Advice for New Managers” series will offer tips on ensuring you communicate clearly.

If you’ve decided that 2021 will be the year you move into management, make sure you look over our current job opportunities and then register with us – if you haven’t already done so – and apply for any job(s) that appeal to you.

We’re looking forward to helping you reach your career goals!