One of the most challenging yet beneficial parts of being in a leadership role is providing constructive criticism. It can be difficult to deliver negative feedback to an employee or coworker. Yet, if done correctly, constructive criticism can be incredibly beneficial. It allows you to express exactly what expectations aren’t being met, and gives the recipient a new perspective on how they can improve.
For those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with delivering constructive criticism, I’ve created an in-depth guide to facilitate the process.
The issue here is that often you’ve seen the same problems over and over with your executive or employee, and they need to make changes and they haven’t made these changes. That’s when you really need to address them in a more specific and maybe intensive way.
“Matthew, in the past month, you’ve made two major decisions that touch the product team and the marketing team without consulting them or even letting them know you’ve missed the opportunity to get their feedback, which would be valuable and their input, which is essential to the success of our project. And now I’m concerned that because they haven’t been in the loop, they’re not going to CO on the process with you. So it’s gonna be much harder for us to finish this project. We’ve talked about this before. And you told me that you’d make sure to get people’s input before you made decisions. I need you to fix this one problem by going and talking to these folks right now. And then even more critically, I need you to operate differently from now on. You’re not going to be successful and we won’t be successful as a business if you don’t collaborate a lot more closely. I’d love to hear back from you by the end of the week about your plan to solve this once and for all. I’m here to help you if you need me. And I’m more than happy to talk through your plan. But I need you to take ownership of this issue and fix it.”
Here I have communicated to them the seriousness of the issue. This specific thing you want them to go and fix, and the timeline that you want to hear back from them, it’s not just going to fall off the radar that you’ve actually agreed on a timeframe, they’re gonna come back and give you a plan. That’s important to make a forward motion. My suggestion to you is that you roleplay, this, I know, you don’t want to roleplay it, nobody wants to roleplay. But I really encourage you to do that. Because first of all, it’s going to help you get your tone neutral. And that’s going to possibly reduce defensiveness and set up actually a good dialogue after this conversation, which is important.
Constructive Criticism: Follow-up
Now, let’s assume that you’ve had a couple of these conversations and things have not improved, that is disappointing. But we have to get to the conversation before the firing conversation. You never want people to be surprised when they get fired. And you also want to tell yourself, I did everything I could to help this person make changes, and I communicated to this person and the person should not be surprised. So that’s why it’s important just for you and your own sanity.
“Camelia, we need to have a serious conversation. You and your team have consistently not met your goals or even come close. And as a result, we’ve had to move the new product launch twice at the last minute. I know things come up. But your job is to anticipate what those things are. Manage your team to deal with them and work with your peers to coordinate all of it. And I don’t see you doing that. What I need you to do is immediately debrief with your team and your peers, pull together a launch schedule that will meet our business goals, and then make that date. If you can’t do that within the next two months, I’m sorry to tell you, I’m going to have to find a new leader to take your role. And we’re going to have to part ways. I’m telling you this because I want you to know where I stand on this. And I want you to take it seriously. If there’s anything you need for me to help you improve, let me know. I want to hear back from you by the end of the week about how you’re approaching this.”
“Matthew, we need to have a serious conversation. We’ve talked in the past about my concerns about you making unilateral decisions about areas that affect other areas of the business. Collaboration and transparency are super important values here. And if you keep making decisions in a vacuum, you aren’t being collaborative or transparent. You’re also not getting good ideas from others, you’re surprising people, and you’re not getting buy-in from the people that you need. You’re also making people feel dismissed. It’s not a sustainable way to work. I need you to know that if you can’t fix this issue, we’re going to have to part ways. I’m telling you this because I want you to know where I stand. And I want you to take it seriously. I need you to fix this immediately by mending fences with your peers and employees and taking into account their input before key decisions. If there’s anything you need for me to help you let me know, I want to hear back from you by the end of the week about how you’re approaching this. And I need to see improvement within 30 days.”
Now, this is definitely one you’re going to want to roleplay. And remember to stay even-keeled and be ready for discussion after this, I can’t give you a script for an unscripted dialogue that’s going to take place after you land this one. So in your roleplay, think through how your employee might respond. And what you might say during the discussion that will follow. When you prepare for what they say in response and practice getting your mouth around the words of the script, it will make you feel much more confident.
“Wise people prefer to benefit from constructive criticism rather than be ruined by false praise.”
— Shiv Khera