In a perfect world, you would never have to correct or criticize your employees. Your staff would perform their jobs flawlessly, without errors or oversights. Project teams would function with the ease and efficiency of a well-engineered machine. There would be no miscommunication, omissions, misplaced files or missed deadlines. Productivity would soar….
Unfortunately, managers can only dream about this utopian workplace environment. The reality is that mistakes and shortcomings are an inevitable part of our lives. As the old saying goes, nobody’s perfect. From time to time, you’ll have to give an employee less-than-positive feedback about his or her work.
There’s a wrong way and a right way to criticize. The wrong way will demoralize the individual and create an environment of fear in the workplace. The right way preserves the person’s dignity while turning the mistake into a learning opportunity. Here’s how to do it right every time:
Keep it Professional. Don’t lower the person’s confidence by attacking them personally (e.g., “I can’t believe you don’t know how to do this!”). Most people know when they’ve made a mistake and don’t need anyone else’s help in feeling embarrassed or self-conscious. If you want the employee to be open to the criticism you’re about to offer, don’t put them on the defensive by blaming, shaming and finger pointing. And remember to criticize in private, never in front of other people.
Focus on facts. Address the problem, not your feelings about it. For example, if an employee chronically misses project deadlines, instead of saying, “I’m sick of you turning in your work late,” communicate how the behaviour negatively impacts workflow and impedes efficiency for the group.
Be specific. Even if the staff member repeats a mistake he or she has made once before, focus on the most current instance and offer guidelines to correct the problem. If the issue is late weekly reports, for example, simply say, “I’ll need your weekly report by 10 a.m. every Friday from now on.” If the tardiness continues, it will then be appropriate to point out the pattern, but always cite a specific, recent situation when holding that discussion.
Be direct. Say what you mean in a polite but straightforward way. This doesn’t mean sugar-coating the criticism by using euphemisms or vague language – for example, “You’ve been coming in a little bit late every day.” Be clear: “Your tardiness is beginning to negatively affect your performance.”
Control your emotions. There will be times when you’ll experience a strong emotional response to an employee’s mistake. Check your temper and wait until you’re calm enough to deliver dispassionate feedback. Yelling and screaming are never an option.
Stay on track. Write down ahead of time the key points you want to make in a discussion so you don’t go off on a tangent or forget something important. This will save time when you meet with the employee.
Get the employee’s side of the story. After you’ve made your comments, give the other person a chance to explain what led to the error. You may be unaware of extenuating circumstances. Keep an open mind and listen closely. You may realize that this particular situation is merely a symptom of a larger underlying problem that could be affecting other team members as well. Willingness to admit that the system, not the individual, is at fault is one of the hallmarks of a good manager.
Be solution-oriented. Your bottom-line goal is to make sure that the mistake (or one like it) does not happen again. Be willing to change procedures or do whatever is necessary to correct the problem. For example, if the employee is an enthusiastic, loyal worker but lacks a key skill to do his or her job, consider providing mentoring or additional training.
Recognize a job done right. Providing criticism is important, but don’t become a negative manager who comments only when someone makes a mistake. Praise is also an effective tool for reinforcing positive employee behaviours. Unlike critical feedback, praise should be given frequently and publicly and is a powerful motivational tool that inspires employees to do their best.
It can be challenging to strike the right balance between correction and encouragement when you criticize an employee. But if you know the right way to criticize, you’ll not only be able to correct the mistake but also give the employee the guidance needed to make changes that will benefit your entire organization.