Constructive feedback is your secret weapon to inspire employees to continually learn and improve, but they have to be open to your suggestions. If you set a condescending tone, employees may see well-meaning advice as code for, "Let me tell you how to do your job better." Improve the impact of your constructive feedback by making sure you create a positive environment in which employees feel comfortable sharing their questions and concerns.
1. Establish Trust
When employees are distrustful of your management team, they are hard-wired to approach performance review meetings with a defensive attitude. Your first obstacle is to undo the stigma that evaluations are driven by bias and superficial observations. Make it clear to any incoming hires that you intend to provide ongoing constructive feedback — no matter how well they perform — and follow through on that promise. Instead of reserving feedback for annual or quarterly evaluations, communicate frequently with helpful suggestions and due praise, so employees are less likely to assume your feedback is based on negative opinions of them.
2. Give and Take Feedback
Do not blame employees for failing to meet standards that you never clearly defined. Employees' performance may suffer if they are reluctant to confront you about vague or contradictory instructions, and new hires may be afraid of appearing unqualified if they ask for help with an overwhelming workload. Set an example for your employees by being open to constructive feedback yourself.
Ask employees what you can do to help them boost productivity. Avoid accusatory language, and prompt employees to reflect upon their own strengths and weakness with questions such as, "What are your goals when starting a project, and what techniques do you use to achieve them?" By establishing a friendly, two-way exchange, you can naturally introduce helpful solutions and ask employees if they understand how one technique might be more effective than another.
3. Be Positive but Direct
Positive reinforcement encourages employees to let their guard down, making it easier for you to deliver constructive feedback without facing total resistance. Never avoid addressing shortcomings that cripple your workflow. Instead, lead with a compliment about a specific skill, accomplishment or idea that improved productivity. Follow up with a clear statement explaining how the employee's recent behavior hindered projects goals or teamwork, but make sure you do not make accusations about the employee's overall character or intentions. Try to keep conversations out of hostile territory, and let employees know your main concern is to help them continue to perform well.
Your long-term goal is to foster employees who solve problems independently and communicate effectively with the entire team. Use performance reviews to discuss joint plans to make improvements and nurture employees' success. When you offer constructive feedback as soon as problems arise, you can help employees weed out performance flaws and identify areas where you need to provide more coaching.
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