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In the world of performance management, even the most seasoned senior leaders struggle with giving constructive criticism. 

Indeed it’s a sensitive topic, and these meetings are often stressful, especially when employees believe that their job is on the line.

Here are a few tips for making performance management meetings more productive and pleasant. 

Do Your Research

For each and every performance review, always do your homework beforehand. Gathering facts and data will help to give your employees the “why” behind your comments, and will give them a clear picture of how their actions affect the business. 

Star performers, in particular, can be the most difficult to give feedback to, simply because they are more likely to be hardworking individuals with ethics and integrity. 

Because they likely aren’t used to being offered constructive criticism, they could easily misinterpret constructive criticism as negative.  

Take special care with your top performers by asking them plenty of questions, and be sure to frame everything as positively as possible. 

Say Thank You 

A little gratitude can go a long way! But don’t just say “thanks for all your hard work.” 

Instead, take a little time ahead of the meeting to pinpoint a few specific things that they do well, and why you appreciate this.  

This could be something as simple as, “I love your positive attitude every day!” or “I appreciate how you are always willing to take on extra tasks when someone is sick. It makes my job a lot easier knowing I can trust you to take the lead on this!” 

When people know exactly what they are doing right and why this makes a difference, the constructive criticism won’t seem so harsh.

Performance management is just as much about reinforcing great contributions as it is about helping people improve. 

Show Them How to Improve

Don’t just tell your employees that they need to improve something and end it there. It’s your job to show them how to get there. 

Depending on the nature of the issue, this may include a detailed conversation about self-improvement inside and outside the office. 

Also, be sure to ask them questions about how they’re feeling and what they think after you give feedback. If you frame constructive criticism as positive feedback, you are more likely to see real results on all sides. 

Read more on how to fix a broken team. 

Discuss Their Career Path 

A performance review is a perfect opportunity to help employees get a clear understanding of where they are headed career-wise. Maybe you thought they were up for a leadership role but they are more interested in moving to creative, or perhaps the new business course they just took piqued their interest in another department. 

Leadership roles will likely come into question here. Definitely help out by pointing them in the right direction, and highlighting skills they need to develop to take on higher-level management roles. 

The point is that this is an opportunity to ensure that they are focussed and content with what they’re doing and that mistakes aren’t being made because (for instance) they are bored or just not suited to that type of work. 

Here’s a way to handle difficult conversations

Be Cautious Bringing Up the Past 

Performance management is about supporting their growth, not focussing on flaws. If you do focus on mistakes, they may feel that they are being put down and this could demotivate them.

Phrase everything in a positive and future-oriented way, reinforcing their capacity for growth and improvement. Your constructive criticism can include, for instance, examples of ways that they fixed mistakes or improved certain habits in the past. Remind them that they are good learners and are able to grow and change. 

When you focus too much on the negative, employees will probably react badly. But framing things in terms of goals will help them understand — and celebrate — progress. 

Always Make Time for Feedback  

Skipping regular feedback sessions during performance management meetings which include constructive criticism is a disservice to your team, individual employees, and the entire business. 

Avoiding it because you are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings is probably the worst thing you can do. 

Most employees appreciate clear communication. As long as you are gentle, positive and clear with your words, they will appreciate that you took the time to show them how to grow and improve.  

Want to learn more about how to improve employee performance? Click on the link below to schedule a consultation. I look forward to connecting with you!  

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you: 

HR Leaders Need to Master the Simple Art of Language Packaging
3 Basic Principles of Strategic Thinking
Promoting Accountability as the Core of Your Company Culture

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Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734