Whenever managers need to get real with employees and give some constructive criticism, there's always the chance for such feedback to prompt an icy or defensive reaction from whoever is getting the less-than-stellar comments on their performance.
One factor that doesn't help these situations at all is the structure of the meeting in which such feedback is given. Criticism is inevitable in the workplace, but not inherently negative. Yet if saved up for a year-end review or otherwise communicated in a manner not thought through beforehand, the potential for criticism to flare into conflict becomes greater. The balance between substance and structure is a careful one that HR professionals and managers must strike when trying to give critical feedback in a way that motivates positive gains.
A strategy that can help facilitate such productive interactions is continuous performance management (CPM). As a concept, CPM promotes ongoing communication and feedback that managers can utilize as a way to plan better for criticism, as well as soften blows and ensure positive takeaways are provided.
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Pitfalls of giving criticism
Sometimes things don't always go as planned: projects fail, deadlines are missed, quality isn't up to par, employees become disengaged with their job. Whenever a corrective action is needed, it's most likely to result in managers giving criticism. This is at once used to both raise awareness of issues to employees, as well as to suggest paths forward they can take to improve productivity or attitude. But in the end, criticism is criticism, and nobody particularly enjoys being told they did a bad job or that they need to improve. Yet these are critical interactions managers and employees must have; there's no evading a simmering issue.
When criticism in the workplace is approached in the wrong way, the stakes and risks are heightened. There's more chance an employee reacts badly or managers come off as overbearing or carrying a personal beef. This can happen if criticism is:
- Held until the end of the year: There is hardly anything more demoralizing to an employee than a year-end review that rattles off their losses, mistakes and errors. Even if good is mixed in, the abundance of bad can produce the opposite effect that constructive criticism intends to have. Saving every comment up for the year's end can make an employee feel like they're getting dumped on. Even if an employee knows a particular criticism may have merit, he or she could reject it for the bad will instilled through an unpleasant feedback experience.
- Abrupt or overtly negative: Excluding certain circumstances that warrant equally forceful reactions, most criticism benefits from not being abrupt or framed in foreboding light. Such meetings can make employees feel attacked or ambushed, and hardly translate to the productive interaction that constructive criticism is meant to embody. The gravity of the situation should dictate the tone of the response; but if a mild, though annoying, mistake continues to be made, hammering down on employees could have a detrimental effect.
Making conversation of criticism
Everyone benefits when criticism is well-structured and well-received. Managers have to create environments in which such outcomes are possible, and adhering to the principles of continuous performance management can clue managers into just how they can accomplish that goal. As its name implies, CPM is all about a promoting a constant stream of back-and-forth communication. Folding criticism in the workplace into an ongoing open dialogue can help normalize it and foster more productive interactions.
When criticism is a conversation, managers can more easily bring up sensitive points related to performance or attitude knowing employees understand it as a regular part of their continued engagement. Employees can then give their own interpretation of events or assessments and collaborate more efficiently and honestly with managers. Removing the stigma of criticism is critical to making constructive feedback resonate.
Increasingly, organizations have turned to CPM as a way to dethorn criticism (to a degree), as well as enable other productivity and efficiency gains. Having a conversation instead of a critical hearing doesn't just get employees on board with feedback, but gives managers greater insight into their workforce. Knowing, for example, that a particular deadline was missed as a result of an employee feeling overworked helps managers better identify problems and solutions.
Continuous performance management is a key tool that any business can deploy to standardize criticism in a way that employees can support and learn from. One consideration, however, is that organizations also need their own support systems to schedule meetings, document criticisms, share notes and monitor results. For that, companies can contact BetterWorks for more information on our software solution to power CPM strategies. Contact us today.