Tips on how to give constructive criticism

Hemingways Holdings, Director, Ross Evans interview [David Njaaga,Standard]

Kim Scott, a coach to top tech CEOs in Silicon Valley and a best-selling author hired an employee who she described as kind, funny, supportive and caring. She brought him into her team because he had a great resume and amazing references.

However, almost a full year after she hired him, she took him out to coffee and fired him. As she described the painful incident that created an inflection point in her career, she also shed a lot of light on one of the things that people leading teams struggle with - how to give feedback effectively.

Fact is, for each helpful and constructive way of giving feedback, there is a harmful one. How, then, do you know whether you are building a dysfunctional team or a highlyperforming one?


No one likes to have difficult conversations. In Kim’s case, the first thing her employee asked her after she fired him was ‘Why didn’t you tell me my work was below standard?’

Think about it this way - when a member of your team or someone who looks up to  youdoes shoddy work - you have two choices - either give them candid feedback and present them with an opportunity to grow or deliver false praise.

The latter creates a pleasant environment, neither you nor the team member will feel uncomfortable, but you are also denying the other person an opportunity to improve their performance. This means that you or the other team members will end up picking up the slack, creating resentment and setting a poor precedent in the team.


Sandwich criticism with praise. The problem with this approach, though, is that you could end up piling on the praise to the detriment of delivering the criticism - the feedback for improvement could end up lost and the opportunity to improve as well.

One rule to ensure that the praise does not seem fake is to point out one specific thing that you liked, explain why that insight stood out and how it resonated with you.

Then comes the hard part: Keep in mind the phrase ‘It’s not mean, it’s clear.’

You want to be as clear as possible so that the other person sees exactly what they need to do next time. Give them some tips on how to improve it the next time. Also, ask them if there’s a specific area they need help where you can lend an insight in.  


 Remember that in the example above, you are not criticising the person (you are not calling him/her careless), you are criticising the lack of delivering a strong closing.

Always remember to focus on the specific quality you need improved and not the person overall - this is the hallmark of developing a growth mindset with your team. It also takes not being judgmental or mean - something that we all need some practice in.


Don’t compare the person you are offering some feedback with another person. Not only is it in bad taste but it will only cause resentment and your feedback may not be acted upon. You can compare the person’s performance with their past performance but never with another person.