Delivering Constructive Criticism to Improve Team Performance

It's not always the best part of the job, but every manager is tasked with reviewing and evaluating staff performance, whether it's for your IT department or a project team. This can be a difficult and stressful moment for all concerned, particularly when the news is bad.  Read on to learn more about criticism and the steps needed to make it "constructive".

Whenever performance related criticism is in order, that criticism should be constructive and appropriate, and it should always be offered in the right context.... to help the employee get back on the right track. This is not an easy task, but with the right perspective, a well prepared manager can make the most of what could otherwise be a very uncomfortable situation.  It's all a matter of readiness.  So, before you prepare a negative performance review, or need to deliver verbal criticism to a staff member, make sure you have all the facts.  Here's how it works.....

Start with the Basic Performance Questions

  • Have performance objectives been fully and clearly defined for the employee?
  • Has there been an ongoing pattern of performance problems or is this an isolated incident?
  • If this is an isolated incident requiring immediate attention, are you aware of all pertinent facts, events, and extenuating circumstances?
  • Have you consulted with your manager and/or Human Resources to ensure that you are handling the matter in accordance with all internal policies?

Preparing for Constructive Results

With just three (3) primary steps you can get prepared for any coaching event and turn existing "negatives" into an ultimately positive and productive experience. At a minimum, you will have taken concrete steps to address potentially serious performance problems.  (Also Read:  Evaluating Team Readiness).

Step 1: Set the Time

  • If you are reacting to a specific performance problem, make sure that feedback is given as soon as possible after the incident occurs.
  • If you are preparing a negative performance review, make sure that your employee has sufficient notice and information to prepare for any related meeting.

Step 2: Set the Stage

  • Rehearse what you plan to say so that you can properly control the meeting, ensuring that you are well versed and confident in your opinion.
  • Be positive - stating the facts, but focusing on improvement. (here's what happened, here's why it's problem, now let's talk about what can be done....).
  • Be calm and consistent in your message.
  • Be specific - offering concrete facts and examples.
  • Be helpful - establish concrete actions for improvement to coincide with a specified timetable.  Clearly identify tangible improvement goals that can be measured.
  • Ask for feedback - performance communication is a two way street.  You want to ensure that your staff member has a chance to participate in the process.  At the very least, you need to know that your employee understands the nature of the performance problem, and the need for improvement. 
  • Ask questions ..... how do you think you can avoid this problem in the future?  How can I help you to improve your performance?
  • End on a positive note -  thank your staff member for their participation, showing respect and consideration for their feelings.  Be sure to affirm your commitment to their performance improvement.

Step 3: Follow-up

If you have given your staff member any specific steps for performance improvement, make sure you set and stick to a specific timetable for follow-up and review.  Don't leave the situation hanging until the next problem occurs.

Review your own performance. When all is said and done, your own instincts will tell you whether you have met your constructive criticism goals in each individual circumstance.

These are the questions to be considered…..

  • Was your criticism constructive?
  • Did you offer specific facts to support your opinion?
  • Did you offer tangible suggestions for improvement?
  • Did you engage the staff member in the discussion?
  • Did you learn anything new as a result of this encounter?
  • Did you feel good at the end of the meeting?
  • Has a next step clearly been identified for your employee?

Continue reading more on this subject in our next article Common Management Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them).

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