It would be nice if we could always be positive with employees and offer nothing but praise. However, criticism and critique are sometimes necessary, and it’s vital for the growth of your employees and company.
Management and leadership must learn to provide feedback appropriately. They must deliver it in a way that encourages good results. The last thing they want is to belittle anyone.
Provide Criticism at Appropriate Times
It is vital that employees don’t feel managers and supervisors only talk to them when they have done something wrong. You should never scold or lecture employees. Instead, provide criticism during one-on-ones after building rapport. If you directly witness problematic behavior then, of course, you should address it immediately. However, for ongoing issues, it’s better to treat them as a mentoring opportunity by helping the employee learn to thrive.
The best way to ensure that employees do not feel as if they are being constantly criticized is to provide positive feedback and regularly thank employees for their work. When you do a performance review, consider using the sandwich method. Begin the review with positive feedback before moving to criticism but end on a positive note. Doing so helps people feel better about the criticism and take it more to heart.
Make Feedback Part of Your Culture
Positive feedback needs to be part of your company culture. That way employees will take negative feedback more seriously and treat it as constructive. They will be more likely to understand the necessity and care behind the criticism. Too much criticism and negativity leads to criticism being ignored or employees disengaging from their work. Thank your employees regularly and give positive feedback at every opportunity so they feel appreciated. You should also encourage peer feedback and a culture of gratitude.
This will not only make criticism more effective when it must be given but overall promote a good atmosphere and a strong relationship between employees.
Manage How You Feel
We are all human and it is easy to become angry and disappointed when somebody screws up. We also all have personal biases.
Managers and leaders must learn to manage their emotions and assess their personal biases. If you are angry, you should wait until you have calmed down to address the behavior if possible (unless it is an immediate safety concern). You need to be fair to everyone involved. If you have a personal bias that precludes dealing with something calmly and fairly, consider having HR step in to address the issue to handle it properly.
Yelling at an employee is never going to achieve anything other than resentment and poor morale and should never happen. Take time to calm down first and you will be able to address the issue in a more positive and constructive way.
Make Feedback Part of a Discussion
A common mistake made by bad managers is to tell employees they are wrong without inviting them to be part of the solution. Sometimes your solution to an issue is not going to work for them. People will respond better to feedback that allows them to have agency and work out with you how to set them up for success in terms of avoiding the issue in the first place.
You absolutely need to address the end problem. However, having employees help resolve the immediate issue prevents them from feeling targeted or scolded. You can also gain more tools in your own kit for dealing with future issues. Employees are adults and can often solve their own problems with a bit of help. You can then note their solutions to suggest to others having the same issue.
Follow Up with Ongoing Changes
If you need an employee to fix a problem, give them the time and space to do so. Avoid hovering and nagging and stay calm while they resolve the situation. It is unfair to follow up almost instantly and ask why they haven't fixed it. While some things have immediate fixes, others may need time to try multiple methods before finding a solution.
If they do not resolve the situation within a reasonable amount of time, you can re-address it then. There is still the possibility that poor performance may be ongoing, and if that’s the case, more drastic measures may be necessary. However, if they resolve the issue quickly and timely, you must thank them and give positive feedback quickly. That leaves a positive impression in your culture and motivates more employees to fix issues and come to you for help. It demonstrates there is true room for growth in your company and that they can learn from their mistakes and those of others.
Positive feedback from fixing problems ensures future problems will be fixed. If disciplinary action must be taken, do so calmly and after a fair chance has been given to fix it.
Lean on HR to Improve Experiences
All of this requires a bit of extra work from HR. HR needs to be available to step in if tempers rise and to ensure that things are discussed calmly. They also need to design protocols to encourage peer feedback and ongoing support to employees.
A professional employer organization (PEO) can help with this by taking mundane tasks off their plate so that they can concentrate on important items and support a strong company culture that encourages employees to grow.