I understand that no one really says this, but don’t tell me you have never thought it! Of course, the “baby” in question may not be a little human being but a project someone has undertaken at your direction and it comes back—well—not as pretty as you had hoped.
Several years ago, I worked with a wonderful woman as my administrative assistant. She was pleasant and a good worker. (To any former co-workers reading this, you are probably not the person involved.) She had asked me if she could design the program cover for a collegiate student event, and I had agreed. After a couple of days, she came into my office with a big smile on her face and showed me what she had been working on. The cover design would have been great for a youth retreat in 1955, but this was several decades later. It just would not work. So, how do you tell someone her “baby” (or project) is not pretty and where do you go from there?
First, affirm the person’s initiative and express appreciation for the investment they have made in the project. He or she probably thought they were doing what was expected of them.
Second, always comment on the product or the project and not the person. The worthiness of the person is not the concern, but the outcome of their work is.
Third, be very honest and specific about why this does not meet your expectations. Perhaps this is the time to say, “I probably should have clearer in what I wanted.” Make some suggestions about how it could be done differently.
Finally, don’t take the project away from the person involved. Everyone deserves a second chance, so give the person that opportunity. You might suggest someone who could share some ideas about the execution of the assignment (a graphic designer on staff, for example), but you should let the person take the responsibility for taking the initiative to make the contact.
Did I make a mistake in letting her do the project in the first place? No, when someone shows interest in doing something, we should make an effort to let them try. This is the way a person attempts new things and gains new skills.
Remember, ugly babies usually grow up to be beautiful people.