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How a Manager Should Critique An Employee’s Work

It's not what you say, but how you say it.

Thomas Barwick/ Getty Images
Thomas Barwick/ Getty Images

By Danny Rubin

Constructive criticism is essential for team dynamics. If your employees don’t improve a little each day, then the company as a whole will languish.

Still, there’s a proper way to dispense critiques while you manage the relationship and remain in control as a leader.

I call the approach “considerate strength.”

Here’s what I mean.

Subject line: Feedback on the draft of your Acme presentation

Hi John,

Thanks for sending along the initial draft of the Acme presentation.

I can tell you spent quality time on the presentation, especially the case studies area. Nice work describing the app development we did for Tech Corporation. I like how you stressed Simon’s role as the go-between with the client when we were on the time crunch.

NOTE: Start with what you like about the person’s work and be specific (ex: “Simon’s role”).

I have a few critiques about the presentation. Please make the changes as soon as you can and send back over to me.

The opening three slides look boring. Not enough color or images. See what you can do to spice things up.

At 37 slides, it’s too long for a 20-minute pitch. Can we bring the slide count under 25? Try to combine slides or determine what we can do without. One idea: I think slides 12-14 with additional client testimonials are overkill.

I see a few misspellings. Use spell check and clean up the copy.

I look forward to the next version. If you have questions, let me know or stop by my office to chat.


– Leader’s first name

Deeper insight

Begin with the positives and then dive into what needs work. Notice how the critiques are not sugar-coated (”The opening three slides look boring”).

I don’t mean you should lace into people when they need to fix their work. But don’t dance around the issues either. Come out and explain the issues.

The balance is what I mean by “considerate strength.” Respect your team but push back when the work needs to improve. That’s the proper role of a leader.

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