Criticism is an unenviable, yet inevitable part of life. And while there is a widely accepted dislike of receiving criticism, there’s also a large amount of dread felt in delivering it. That dread is a major reason why constructive performance feedback is either not delivered effectively or worse — not delivered at all.
What’s important to remember is that feedback – positive or negative – is about improving performance. Which means it needs to be timely, honest and future-oriented.
To make it not feel like criticism, your goal is to ensure that when the conversation is over, the key issue has been discussed, a plan is in place to address it, and both sides leave with positive takeaways. If you’re a manager dreading your next tough performance conversation with an employee, here are some tips that can help you prepare.
1. Make sure feedback
If feedback is malicious or inappropriate, it’s not going to help improve performance. So be thoughtful in your delivery. In order to be constructive, feedback should be timely, clear and indicate the behavior you’d like to see from the employee going forward. If you can’t offer that kind of coaching, it simply comes across as criticism.
2. Make sure feedback is properly directed
It’s easy to get frustrated when a task isn’t getting done or is being completed poorly. (If your emotions are running high – wait until you’re in a calm state before delivering your feedback!) Remember though, your feedback needs to be based on facts not opinion.
If an employee is not performing to standards, don’t assume you have all the information. Ask probing questions to identify what may be behind poor performance.
Then ask yourself: What role did I play things going wrong? What could I have done differently? What tools or guidance could I give my team to effectively tackle this problem?
3. Make sure feedback is articulate, persuasive and actionable
Develop a plan together to ensure the employee truly understands the performance behavior that needs to change and how to do that successfully. Get the employee’s input into this action plan to increase accountability and engagement in the process.
4. Try using a feedback model to guide your conversation
Take the stress out of delivering feedback by preparing in advance. However, I suggest avoiding the sandwich feedback model. While it’s tempting to cushion any tough feedback you need to deliver by “sandwiching” it between two pieces of positive feedback…the approach dilutes your objective.
There are tons of feedback models out there that can help you…including a few here:
- Employee Feedback and Coaching Templates – Use these templates to guide your next employee feedback or coaching conversation.
- Telling Employees the Truth About Employee Performance – Learn how to communicate tough messages with honest, respect for the employee and get-back-on-track opportunities to improve performance.
- Performance Conversations (for real): in Just 10 Minutes a Month – this archived webinar delivered by Jamie Resker describes an simple and effective way to provide performance feedback on a regular basis…in just ten minutes a month.
- Three Options for Bringing Up New Information During Annual Employee Performance Reviews – Sometimes you do need to bring up new information during the performance review. In this post, learn how to do it effectively.
Going into a conversation prepared with a clear delivery of the issue and a willingness to develop a plan of action with your employee is the best way to ensure a positive outcome. Good feedback drives employee recognition, employee engagement and decreases turnover. Win-win all around!
Your turn: What advice do you have for helping managers prepare for a tough performance conversation?