5 Steps to Providing Good Constructive Criticism

As soon as you hire someone you’ll need to start providing constructive criticism. Whether you do it in a formal manner (performance evaluations), or you do it on-the-fly at a project-by-project level, doesn’t really matter; constructive criticism is part of the game.

Constructive criticism is important; employees need to understand where they’ve gone wrong, and how they can improve. It’s not about treating people like crap, or being negative…it’s about raising the bar, matching your expectations and helping people improve.

How can you do it well?

Here are 5 steps:

  1. Plan before you do it. Make sure you know what you want to say, and why. Have a clear path through the discussion. Leave room for questions and dialogue. Keep the conversation open and flexible, but make sure you plan to get your key points across.
  2. Build the person up. Before you get to the criticism itself, focus on positives. Highlight some of the good work the person has done recently, goals that were met or surpassed. Emphasize positive, solid qualities that the person brings to the table. This isn’t about over-inflating egos or setting a person up for a fall; it’s about making sure the person understands they are valued and important, even if the next thing you’ll be doing is pointing out some problems.
  3. Provide clear criticism. Now it’s time to bring your concerns to the table. Do it as concisely as possible. And as clearly as possible. Don’t waffle around. Get to the point. Your approach will differ depending on the person you’re speaking to; some would rather you spit it out, others require a slightly more delicate approach. Still, it’s best to make sure your criticisms are as clear as you can possibly make them. Otherwise it makes it difficult to set a clear path towards improvement.
  4. Build the person up again. Focus on solutions. Focus on re-emphasizing the positive, while keeping an eye on what needs to be done to improve. Open it up for discussion…“What do you think of my assessment?” Or “What do you think of your recent performance?” The goal at the end of a session like this is to leave the employee understanding the problems, and having a path towards resolving them, without feeling like crap.
  5. Follow up. This exercise should never be undertaken without follow up. It may be another meeting scheduled with the employee. It may be an impromptu session, where you review the progress made. If the person knows there’s follow up, they’re going to feel more confident that the criticism isn’t hanging over they’re heads forever. It’s not a permanent dark cloud. Follow up can erase constructive criticism, if the person has improved and met goals. Always follow up. Even if it’s a quick compliment on a job well-done and not a formal second review. Follow up.

Giving constructive criticism is part of being a boss. You need to evaluate employees and measure their success.

When providing constructive criticism you want to make sure you get the message across and set goals, without demoralizing or devaluing the person.

October 3, 2006 Posted in Business by

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

My bio »

or

Follow me on Twitter

Get updates and special content
When I publish new content, get it directly in your inbox. Subscribers will get special stuff as well not available on the blog (but I promise it will be infrequent + high quality.)
Get the Lean Analytics Book!
Awesome Jobs
Check out the job opportunities at my portfolio companies.
Startup & Investor Resources
Find Stuff
My Photos