Having a small staff promotes close relationships between managers and employees. People tend to get to know each other well both professionally and personally, and a family-like camaraderie may fill the workplace. While such bonds provide a great sense of being a team, they can make delivering criticism difficult. Leaders may put off having tough (but necessary) conversations because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Inaction, however, won’t correct mistakes and foster the stellar performances necessary to help your small business grow. And believe it or not, staying silent can even hurt the relationships you intended to protect. When they don’t receive feedback, employees get anxious about their performance and question how you “truly” feel. They value your input – as long as it gets delivered correctly. Take these measures to respectfully and effectively offer feedback:
Stay factual and specific. Talks that sound like an attack on character encourage defensiveness and deaf ears. Instead, present verifiable statements without making judgements. Saying “The report was not on my desk by 9 a.m.” will start a more level-headed conversation than opening with “Are you out to anger clients by not getting your work done on time?” Likewise, without specific examples, workers may not understand exactly what’s bothering you and what measures they can take to right the ship.
Be timely. Studies show that most employees want to get feedback in real time, as soon as possible following the event that inspired it. Wait too long and risk the person not even remembering the incident in question and instead wondering why you’re dredging up the past. Postponing discussion until you’re too irritated to hold your tongue any longer also is a bad idea because you’ll likely come off as angry and out to punish rather than as constructive. Above all, why leave a problem unfixed when your small business depends on everyone’s best efforts?
Use discretion. Nobody wants to be embarrassed in front of peers. Don’t let the closeness of your staff lure you into thinking you can say whatever you want whenever you want. Word travels quickly in small environments, so address issues privately behind closed doors.
Encourage conversation. After sharing your concerns, encourage the receiver to share his or her perspective, ask questions, seek clarification, and develop an action plan. The individual will see your conversation less as a personal attack and more as a healthy discussion on how to improve the business.
Give positive feedback too. Don’t skimp in this area! Regularly letting workers know exactly what they’re doing right boosts morale, raises confidence, and increases the likelihood of great behaviors being replicated. Perhaps best of all, it also softens the blow when you do need to offer constructive criticism.
Want more small business leadership advice and resources? Learn about the essential elements of a standout recruitment strategy.