Constructive criticism is a very valuable gift to give to your employees. Unfortunately, many leaders lack the courage to offer it, and the employees on the receiving end are sometimes not so happy to get it.

But if you do not fairly criticize or confront employees when it's appropriate, you're setting them up to fail. And if employees aren't willing to hear it, or if they ignore the advice you give them, then they too are setting themselves up for failure. So the key is delivering criticism in a way that ensures your message will be heard.

It's probably no surprise that there's definitely a right way and a wrong way to offer the gift of constructive criticism to the members of your team. At its heart, criticism should accomplish these key objectives:

  • Make the person you're criticizing aware of the behavior you see and why it's a problem for you.
  • Show the person you're criticizing what changes will alleviate the problem.
  • Increase the likelihood that the behavior won't recur.

So, how do you accomplish these three things? Follow this three-part plan for offering constructive criticism:

1. Be specific. When offering criticism, speaking in generalities does you no good. It's not enough, for example, to say "You need to up your game," or "I'm not happy with your performance." Instead, zero in on the specific problem--for example, "You were late for three out of four of our weekly staff meetings last month. I can't have an effective meeting when attendees show up late."

2. Describe the exact behavior you expect from them. If you're going to criticize an employee's behavior, then you should also offer one or more examples of the correct behavior that will solve the problem. For example, you can say, "I need you to be in the conference room and ready for the meeting no later than 9:00am every Monday."

3. Agree on how to prevent the problem from recurring. If you want your constructive criticism to have lasting power, then your employee needs to take it to heart. This means reaching an agreement with the employee on how he or she will behave in the future. For example, you might ask, "Can we agree that you will be on time for all future meetings?"

Remember: feedback is the breakfast of champions. While the feedback we receive may sometimes sting, it's essential that we receive it, and that as leaders that we give it. The growth of your employees--and the ongoing success of your business--depends on it.