No one likes being told that his or her work is lacking but, as a manager, relaying this information is a fundamental part of your job. The manner in which you deliver constructive criticism, however, determines whether you are simply a manager, or a great team leader. Yelling and belittling your employees will prevent them from appreciating or trusting your leadership abilities. Your sales team is much more likely to respect your authority if you provide constructive criticism and support. Next time you need to deliver a negative assessment to a sales team member, remember these few steps to help turn your awkward discussion into a productive moment for everyone involved.
Choose the Right Time and Place
Make an appointment with the employee in question and choose a private, neutral location for the meeting. Dispensing criticism in front of other employees humiliates the team member and can also cause their coworkers to choose sides against you. People naturally want to support the “underdog” in a fight and stand up for someone who may potentially be bullied. Choose a place where you cannot be overheard to avoid embarrassment and keep other employees from joining the discussion.
Find a closed conference room to hold constructive one-on-one meetings with employees and discuss work issues. Meeting in your office may cause employees to feel guarded or uncomfortable. Without a neutral spot to discuss issues, they may feel as if you have a “home court advantage” because you are more at ease in your own workspace.
Finally, do not communicate too much about the issues through email. Tone and meaning can be misconstrued through email, leading to anger buildup and a potentially nasty response.
Focus on One Area For Improvement
If you bombard a sales team member with criticism, he or she is going to feel beaten down and unmotivated. Instead, approach the employee with one area in which they can improve. A single problem can be fixed more easily than throwing out a laundry list of issues and expecting change in every area.
Do not beat around the bush when discussing a problem with an employee. You should approach every discussion with directness and honesty. This does not include venting and allowing your emotions to take control. Take the time to think about the details of your criticism and put into writing the areas in which you expect change. Think about the situation ahead of time to prevent an outburst that could potentially damage your working relationship with the employee.
Make a "Positive Sandwich"
Avoid trigger words like “but,” “however,” and “although” when discussing criticisms with a team member. Preceding a statement with these words makes an employee anticipate bad news. Start the conversation with a positive contribution that the team member makes, mention the area requiring improvement, and finish the conversation with another positive contribution. Here is an example of how to use the “positive sandwich”:
Positive: “Your work ethic on the Brand X account impressed me, and the resulting sales report looks great.”
Criticism: “I would like to see you expand and go a little more in-depth for the interview portion.”
Positive: “I noticed you have been coming in early to work on the report and really appreciate your hard work.”
By cushioning the blow, you allow the team member to still feel appreciated and valued. Every employee has the ability to add something to team projects. Do not undervalue someone by constantly giving negative feedback. As a manager, it is important to notice the positives as well as the negatives in every team member.
Being vague with constructive criticism will not solve the problem. For instance, telling someone to be more professional isn’t helpful. This is subject to interpretation and does not provide a precise area in which they need to improve. Instead, make concrete suggestions, such as not using colorful language or following the dress code. Do not leave doubt in employees’ minds about what you expect.
Maintain Consistent Enforcement
Constructive criticism should always be objective. Make sure your approach is consistent with all employees. If you play favorites with a team member, other employees may notice and treat you and that person with disdain or anger. Treating employees equally is sometimes difficult, but favoring individuals lessens morale and motivation in teamwork situations.
Do Not Get Emotional
Keep your approach cool and consistent to avoid workplace drama. A productive relationship between an employer and employee is based on mutual respect. When a conflict arises, avoid personal attacks and blame to ensure the conversation does not escalate and cause additional friction within your sales team. Your job as a leader and manager is to reduce problems, not cause additional issues. Coming to the table with a cool head lets the employee know you are handling this critique professionally and not personally attacking their character.
Provide Actionable Steps for Improvement
Requesting improvement without giving actionable steps will get you nowhere. The employee may agree to your resolution without fully understanding it. This leads to frustration for you and the employee and results in few actual improvements. Make sure the employee understands what you are requesting and ask if he or she has additional ideas for approaching the situation.
Anyone can identify a potential problem, but a great leader maps out a course of action for the team. A detailed plan also allows you to review and reference specific adjustments if the employee is not adhering to the steps.
Do Not Make Assumptions
Base your criticism on observation and facts, rather than rumors and hearsay. Allow the employee tell his or her side of the story and do not appear to simply take someone else’s word regarding a criticism. This points back to the importance of being objective; remember, unless you hear it directly from the source, it is just workplace gossip.
Allow the team member to explain the reasons behind the handling of a situation. Sometimes, this can change your perspective, perhaps even placing you in agreement. Keeping an open mind is not only helpful, but will also provide validation to the employee once their side has been heard.
End on a Positive Note
Finish the meeting with another positive contribution. Ending with bad news or negative reviews can leave an employee feeling resentful or angry. Remind the employee that you are on his or her side with some much-needed positive reinforcement. A working team takes only one weak link to break down; reinforce your sales team with personal encouragement.
Mutually agree on the timing of a follow-up meeting to review the behavior in question. At that time, praise even slight improvement, as this will motivate the employee to further improve. If, however, behaviors have not improved, reference your list of actionable steps to identify where the employee is failing.
Dispensing constructive criticism in a productive and beneficial way may take years to master. Although it may be awkward to discuss what an employee is doing incorrectly, you can save time and energy by facing the situation head-on. Ignoring problems at work leads to resentments, emotional outbursts. Prevent these ugly confrontations by following these tips to successfully provide constructive criticism in the workplace.
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