Giving feedback shouldn’t be limited to an annual performance review. You should make time to meet with your team on a regular basis to check in and let them know how they’re doing. If they get used to hearing from you, they’ll be less tense. The stakes will be lower and they’ll be more open to hearing the truth about how things are going.
Timing matters. Your feedback should come as soon as possible after you observe something you’d like to bring attention to. That includes catching them doing something terrific. Let them know you noticed while they’re still feeling good about it themselves. The old management maxim “praise in public and criticize in private” works for a reason. Don’t be afraid to let them know they’ve done a good job in front of the team.
Signal your intent right away when you start the conversation. Lead by saying things like “The reason I am telling you this is…” and “I am hoping the result of this conversation will be….” Keep the focus on behavior rather than character. Be sure to reassure them that you’re unhappy with what happened, not who they are as a person. It’s natural for a worker to become defensive, so work on managing your emotions and keeping your body language relaxed and your voice level.
Be specific with your feedback. If she acted unprofessionally, what does that mean? Was she too friendly, too casual, or unprepared for the client meeting? Is this behavior unexpected, an outlier? Or is it part of a pattern that concerns you? What was the impact of the behavior on customers, the company, or the team? How, specifically, would you like the behavior to change?
Assume good intentions. Let him know you believe he wants to do his best and that he cares about his work. Use phrases such as “I believe you care about this company, and we want you to be successful here, too. I’m hoping to help you get back on track before this becomes a bigger problem.”
Finally, be sure to take notice of positive changes in behavior. Managers often make the mistake of pointing out bad behavior and forgetting to reinforce positive behavior. If they’re making an effort to change, make an effort to tell them you’ve noticed.
Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, author and executive coach, offers a model of feedforward rather than feedback. He suggests you focus on behavior that could be improved, asking for suggestions from the employee or the team about how to get better. This collaborative model puts you both on the same team, focused on positive change. In other words, you’ll start to put the “constructive” back into “constructive criticism.”