In a perfect world, you’re a solopreneur with a perfectly assembled team of specialists to outsource to, who you’ve onboarded with ease. Your business is running like a finely tuned machine. Work gets done on-time, with expert quality, and all the moving pieces gel sublimely.
Except that sort of situation is exceedingly rare. So at some point you’ll find yourself in the position of needing to sit down with a member of your team and have “a talk” about how they’ve missed the mark or delivered work that isn’t up to your standards.
This can be awkward, nerve-wracking, and frankly something you would just rather not do -- but it’s got to be done. Fear not, because today you’ll learn how to effectively deliver constructive criticism to your team, minus the panic.
Get clear on the issue
The foundation of a low-stress feedback session with a team member is being prepared. Getting crystal clear on the exact issue will help you stay focused during the conversation, and will also yield the best results. Is there an issue with timeliness or lateness of their work? Mistakes or errors slipping through the net and into your hands (or worse yet, the clients’)? Or perhaps what they’re delivering is technically correct...but is missing the mark in representing your style and brand in the best way possible.
Being able to summarize the issue you’re experiencing in a short sentence or two will help you avoid accidentally rambling or skirting the issue. For example: “We need to address that your last three articles have been late.”
A tip: One way to proactively avoid these issues in the first place is to have a stellar onboarding process. Process docs are critical in onboarding.
Schedule the feedback
Delivering constructive criticism to a contractor isn’t the sort of thing that goes over well as a surprise. No one likes to feel as though they’ve been put on the spot. Schedule a meeting at least a week in advance, preferably to take place on Skype or over the phone, if you’re working remotely. Email may seem like the quick and easy way to take care of delivering the feedback, but it lacks the two-way communication that’s essential in avoiding misunderstandings. The goal is that you’re both feeling prepared and comfortable when the time comes to share your thoughts on where improvement is possible.
A tip: A classic method of delivering feedback is the Sandwich Technique, where you deliver the criticism “sandwiched” between two pieces of positive feedback. On the surface this seems like a great idea because it lets you get the conversation going with a low-stress compliment, deliver the negative feedback, and then bring the tone of the conversation back to a positive place with some more sweet words. Everyone leaves feeling pretty great!
But delivering feedback is about creating change, not warm fuzzies, so I recommend avoiding this technique when you’re delivering feedback to your team. It dilutes the importance of the critique you’re giving. There are times for positive reinforcement, and times for criticism -- mixing the two can leave everyone unclear on where they stand.
Bring solutions to the table
Identifying the problem is only half the journey in improving your team’s performance. Think back to high school and what it was like to get a big red X on a math exam. Not much use to you in figuring out what to do differently the next time. But the teacher sitting down with you and walking you through the better/correct/more efficient way of solving the problem meant that you were building a skill set that’d help you ace it the next time around.
Same goes for our businesses. Provide the criticism, and the skills or tools they’ll need to get it right. Below are some you solutions you might propose.
If the issue is...
- Timeliness: Ask what’s causing the delays, and explore how you can help them hit deadlines. Consider offering to reschedule deadlines to another day of the week to avoid overwhelm in their calendar, or commit to giving a minimum advance notice on work you need done.
- Errors or omissions: Review onboarding materials and offer to provide additional training on the issue areas. Screen sharing, recorded guides and manuals can be great supplementary materials to guide the team in hitting your expectations.
- Brand or tone: Provide examples of language or visuals that are on brand, or assemble a style guide to help with consistency. You could even book a follow-up call to workshop some of their lacking/off-mark deliverables and help them understand why and how to adjust going forward (just like our math teachers walked us through the tough questions).
Feedback goes both ways, and establishing regular check-ins with your team members gives you an opportunity to exchange feedback. At first, team members may be hesitant to share their thoughts on how you could do better (or differently) to help them be successful at their work, but handling their feedback with grace -- and taking action to adjust course -- will go a long way in fostering that flow of communication.
Having the hard talks is part of being boss
Discussing opportunities for improvement with a team member is never pleasant -- but as a solopreneur, it’s an essential skill that will help you cultivate a strong network of contractors and specialists that can help you deliver your best work to customer and clients. Focusing on clarity, solutions, and being open to receiving suggestions will help you make the process as stress-free and productive as possible.