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Updated 27 Sep 2020

Three ways to coach – not criticise – employees

Most entrepreneurs hate giving their employees feedback on how they’re doing. As a result, they do this once a year in the form of employee performance reviews or, at worst, they avoid the process.

Victor Cheng, Entrepreneur, 26 October 2013  Share  0 comments  Print

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That’s because people often equate feedback, especially the negative kind, with confrontation. Most of us are usually never taught how to give feedback in a welcoming way, yet we know how to receive constructive criticism in other areas of our lives and actually appreciate it.

Take sports, for example. No matter what sport you played growing up, you had a coach who told you what you were doing right and wrong, so that you could improve.

A good coach constantly gave you feedback and you appreciated it because you wanted to get better and win. But while most of us have had such positive experiences at some stage, this kind of coaching is rare in business.

Here are three steps to help you turn cricitism into coaching so that employees welcome your feedback.

1. Define the goal

Feedback works so well in competition because the common goal – to win – outweighs the coach’s discomfort in giving criticism and the player’s discomfort in receiving it. Olympic athletes don’t resent criticism on how to improve. In fact, they resent not getting advice that might help them win medals.

So what is your business’s goal? Unless you have a business that’s trying to change the world, like Apple in its early years, I find personal goals that also benefit the company resonate better with employees than big-picture company goals.

For example, an employee will be more motivated to achieve a personal goal of R5 million in sales than help the company make R100 million in sales. All employees have career goals. The key is to find out what goal each person has that benefits both the individual and the company. Agree to work together to help them achieve it.

2. Set feedback expectations early and often

Once a goal has been defined, set the expectation that employees will receive performance feedback. You can give feedback as often as daily for someone in a new role to monthly for a veteran running her own division. Most employees would benefit from even 30 seconds of feedback weekly. Tell them how often you will provide feedback and that they should ask for it if you forget.

3. Start every discussion with the goal

Start every feedback discussion with the employee’s bigger picture: “I have some suggestions to help you achieve your goal of R5 million in sales.”  By making the conversation about the employee’s goal, your critique lays the groundwork for a welcome, rather than confrontational, conversation. Always frame the discussion as a way to help your employees achieve what’s important to them.

Coaching feedback helps competitors win medals and trophies, so there’s no reason it can’t help you and your employees achieve business success. 

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Victor Cheng, Entrepreneur

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