Ask Achievers: How can we give effective constructive criticism?

ask_achieversIn this week’s Ask Achievers, Jewel Celestine shares best practices for giving constructive criticism. Jewel is the Employee Success Business Partner at Achievers, where she develops and implements strategic HR initiatives pertaining to performance management, talent development, and employee engagement. She has been in human resources for the last ten years serving as a learning and development consultant, HR business partner, and HR strategist.

Dear Ask Achievers,

Our organization has praise down, but we seem to be struggling on the constructive criticism front. Comments often come across as mean-spirited, passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, or not at all. Do you have best practices for delivering effective negative feedback? I want to make sure our staff is learning what it needs to grow without the drama or potential for abuse.

Constructive criticism is an art, and too often a neglected one. Recognizing positive behavior yields great results, but you’re right, it’s critical to correct negative behaviors, too. Here are some best practices I have seen used in effective workplaces:

  • Create clear standards of behavior and ensure they are well communicated.
    • Set team goals, work process standards, metrics, etc. that provide a neutral and objective standard of what is expected.
    • Use these as the standards by which all employees are measured. If employees deviate from the standard it is time for constructive criticism.
    • Give timely feedback and offer specific examples to support the feedback being given.
    • Explain why the behavior needs to be corrected; i.e., what is its overall impact on others and/or downstream processes.
    • Offer 360 degree feedback to give a broader, big-picture view to the person receiving feedback.
      • When feedback comes from multiple sources, you remove bias and the message comes across as less harsh.
      • Share feedback from coworkers, clients, dotted-line supervisors, direct supervisors, and self-assessments.
      • Ensure the conversation is a true two-way dialogue where employees have the chance to respond to the feedback. Let them share their perspective on things for a more complete assessment of the situation.
      • Allow the employee to reflect and digest feedback and then come back to discuss and clarify further. Encourage ongoing feedback.
      • Agree on an action plan and partner on how to correct behavior going forward. Provide support where possible.
        • Set specifics for the action plan e.g., timeline, metrics, goals, description of what success looks like, etc.

In the end, constructive criticism—just like recognition—should be positive, immediate, and certain. Give clear feedback and focus on how to improve behavior instead of dwelling on what went wrong. Make it a conversation instead of a lecture and your message is much more likely to be heard.

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