One of the biggest headaches for performance review must be offering negative comment and making recommendation for correction. How to maintain trust with subordinates while ensuring that they accept our criticism?

In fact, the question in the above has already pointed out the key, which is trust. If our subordinates “trust” us, it means they trust that our words are what we mean. In addition to mutual trust, the following tips should be helpful when HR manager or supervisor have to make recommendation for correction.

1. Focus on One Thing at a Time without Delay

No one likes criticism. Therefore, we tend to leave it to year-end appraisal to make recommendation for correction, if we still remember the actual incident. However, for underperformers, the above means the manager has to go through a long list of criticism and corrective recommendations at year end, making the subordinates hard to endure the review process.

The better way to do it is to point out one issue at a time and make recommendation to the subordinate with minimal delay. On one hand, the subordinate may be able to respond and improve right away. On the other hand, it avoids both our subordinate and us forgetting the details of the actual incident, resulting in unnecessary dispute during our conversation and performance review.

2. Fairness

For whatever reason, people care about fairness to a greater extent when facing criticism, and always want to know if other colleagues will face similar criticism by committing similar mistake. As an HR manager or supervisor, it is not our responsibility to fully disclose what we have done to other colleagues.

However, we can still offer hints that we treat employees fairly. For example, when we talk to our subordinate, we may highlight the fact that our subordinate is not the only one who commits such mistake.

Alternatively, a high-level summary commenting the overall performance of all staff can be shared to all colleagues, after completing the year-end appraisal. In the summary, we can highlight the fact that there exists certain misbehavior in the company, and that such misbehavior is not limited to individual case and/or individual colleague.

3. People or the Behaviour?

Should we focus on people or the behavior when making criticism?

For sure we should support with facts when making criticism. However, if we simply focus on behaviour, similar mistake may repeat in other aspect.

Therefore, as a coach or even mentor of your subordinate, we may consider shaping our recommendation according to personality, capability and career aspiration of our subordinate. By means of “criticism”, we should not only focus on particular incident or misbehaviour, but also treat it as a warning or opportunity of change when we observe that our subordinate deviates from his own career aspiration.

We should also encourage our colleagues to embrace criticism, which is also a success factor to ensure they can keep on track with their aspiration.

4. Articulate Our Expectation

Even if we are not up to the standard of “coach” or “mentor” in point 3 above, we still have to be clear on our expectation on our subordinates, and also the required standard of their work.

Concrete requirements may be appropriate for colleagues with repetitive tasks. On the other hand, we may consider providing a check-list of things to avoid, for colleagues with higher autonomy on their job.