Giving constructive criticism is one of the toughest parts of any manager's job. You need your employees to improve their performance but you don't want your feedback to leave them upset or discouraged. Before your next round of small business employee reviews, consider these pointers.

1. Get in the Right State of Mind

Long before review time, employers should establish performance review processes and guidelines in a policy that is clearly communicated and consistently applied to all employees. This can help set everyone's expectations and reduce confusion and aggravation when the time comes.

If your employee performance reviews are going to be effective, you must be in a positive state of mind. You cannot be tired, angry or frustrated when you go into the meeting. You may say something you'll regret and might not even mean. If you can, take at least 10 minutes before the meeting to do something relaxing — take a walk, grab a coffee, meditate or listen to some music. If your bad mood seems unfixable at the time, try to reschedule the review.

2. Keep Running Tabs

Speaking of being in a bad mood, gathering materials for one employee review can be stressful — and if you have to do several at once, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. That's why a good strategy is to document employee mistakes, achievements and other observations as they happen. You can keep these in confidential file folders, notebooks, or using a secure app. Having them in one place to look over prior to your review will save you time beforehand.

3. Give Specific Examples

Another way this strategy is helpful is because it sets you up with evidence so that you're not just pointing the finger. For example, instead of telling an employee that they don't make clients feel valued, you could say, "On January 25, you were 20 minutes late for a client meeting, which meant you had to rush the presentation." The same goes for positive feedback. Vague commendations can feel like empty flattery, but hearing a good deed reported back to you can be a big confidence boost.

Including examples in the feedback process can help prevent employees from feeling attacked, and provide them with clear direction on areas for improvement. You are trying to correct a habit, not go after the employee as a person.

4. Make It a Conversation

During an employee review, it's easy to just make a list of what your employees have doing wrong and tell them exactly what they need to do to fix the problem. But this will most likely put them on the defensive.

They will be more responsive if you frame it like a conversation rather than an order. For example, instead of telling employees that they are always late on their paperwork and that that needs to stop immediately, ask, "Why has this paperwork been late?"

This gives them a chance to give their side of things. There might be an issue you haven't noticed. Maybe the employee is too busy dealing with customers to keep up with paperwork, and that responsibility should fall on someone else. Letting him or her explain also encourages taking ownership of the problem, which can put more of a fire under your staff to improve.

5. Give Feedback Outside of Formal Reviews

Employees need feedback throughout the year — once or twice is not enough. Whenever an employee shows improvement, give them immediate praise to show you notice.

On the other hand, if you see a problem coming back, address it with the employee as soon as possible, rather than allowing it progress. Don't wait until the next formal meeting to point out that the mistakes are still being made.

Above all, remember to be professional and transparent in your small business employee reviews — and don't forget to ask your employees what you can do to help.

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Tags: Human Resources Feedback Management