As a business owner, there are many things you need to provide for your staff, and one of the most critical for employee growth is constructive criticism. Without effective guidance your staff has no way to tell if their work is satisfactory or how they can improve. For small businesses, finding and retaining the right staff can be a challenge, in part because of a lack of communication and feedback. Fortunately, learning how to give constructive feedback is easy. While it can take practice, our guide can help you along the way.

What Is Constructive Criticism And Why Is It Important?

In short, constructive criticism addresses areas where an employee can improve and offers strategies and solutions on how to move forward. Correctly using constructive criticism is essential for actively and effectively encouraging employee growth. One key to note is that it must be paired with active solutions. Criticism alone will cause employee morale, happiness, and productivity to plummet. Positive feedback (while it can have benefits) can have its own drawbacks if used alone. For many employers who are conflict averse it can be tempting to fall into the habit of only giving positive feedback, but this stagnates employee growth and often leads to negative behavior to not be addressed and corrected. A healthy blend of positive encouragement and constructive criticism will create the best blend of positive morale and direction for employee growth. To use constructive criticism to maximum effect, avoid creating a situation where staff feels embarrassed or upset, while this can’t always be avoided it’s easy to minimize by working to create a supportive and learning positive environment. 

Take A Step Back, Be Clear, Observational, and Direct

When you realize an employee needs guidance make sure you are not reacting from a point of anger or frustration. Consider your own experiences; if someone gives you an angry critique how do you react to it? Are you able to learn from your mistake well, or do you focus too much on the other persons emotional reaction? When addressing an issue with a staff member, operating from a point of clarity and neutrality will give you the best results. Once your own emotions are under control, offer a clear and observational assessment of what went wrong with a direct method for improvement. For example, “I noticed that you were using x program in x way last week. At our company we use it in y way. Let’s take a few minutes this week to do a quick review on how and why we prefer to use the program in y method.”  

Be Sincere, Empathetic, and Explain Your Why

No one feels good knowing they’ve made a mistake, and often it’s easy for employees faced with criticism to become embarrassed. When an employer approaches mistakes with sincerity and empathy, staff is much more likely to learn from their mistakes and move forward with the desire to learn and do better. Criticism alone can lead to employees feeling unmotivated, resentful, and unwilling to learn. Instead, addressing issues with constructive ways to improve and the sincere encouragement that you believe in them will encourage them to take initiative.  

Keep Conversations In Person & Be Prepared To Listen

When it comes to employee feedback of any kind, keeping your conversations to in person meetings is important. Tone is easily, and often lost when you’re not face to face, and even positive feedback can be misconstrued or glossed over when given via email. Instead, have all conversations in person and provide follow-up emails after for your records. This simple trick can save you plenty of headaches down the road. Last but not least, make sure to take the time to listen to your employee, as it can also be a good time for you to learn. Was their mistake a result of a miscommunication during training? Or, do they know a method from previous experience that might actually help your business run more efficiently? Additionally, they may have follow-up concerns or questions you’ll need to address. Regardless, always build in some extra time at the end of your constructive criticism meeting.

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