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Employee Performance Feedback

Steps to Giving Effective Employee Performance Feedback

In a previous post, "Confronting Difficult Employees," we discussed how to work with the managers at your company to ensure that critical employee performance feedback is given to your employees in a consistent and fair manner. Now we’ll review, step-by-step, how to prepare effective employee feedback and then when and where to give it.

How to Prepare to Give Employee Performance Feedback

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Before you approach an employee and schedule time to talk to them, it’s important to know what you’re going to say and why. The following is a checklist of steps to take when preparing to give employee performance feedback.

1. Take notes. Your notes can either be for your own records or they can be ones that you plan to use for training the manager involved in giving feedback. Carefully collected notes provide you with examples so that you can be specific when giving feedback on an employee’s performance. Rather than saying, “You’re always late,” you can say exactly when the employee has arrived late to work.

You want to avoid non-specific language like, “You have a bad attitude all of the time,” or “You’re not very effective at working in teams.” People cannot digest those broad statements and are likely to come back at you with a counter argument. Plus, when the situation gets tense, you may forget specific details so it’s helpful to have written notes to refer to.

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2. Do some research. When it is appropriate, do some research on the complaints you are getting about an employee. Are the complaints only coming from one person? It’s different if the employee behavior complaints are coming from three or four people or people outside of the employee’s department. You need to sort out whether or not the situation is a personal one between two people or is actually coming from a significant behavior problem.

3. Find a quiet, private space. Most people have heard the advice to “Praise in public and correct in private.” That’s good advice and essential to follow when giving critical employee feedback. That said, if a one-on-one or too-private of a setting puts you at risk of harm or doesn’t work for any reason, it’s okay to choose whatever setting is appropriate.

4. Make time for employees. Managers often feel that they don’t have time to give employees feedback. In fact, there is nothing more important for that manager to do. Dealing with an employee situation is crucial because negative situations can affect the mood of an entire team, hurt productivity, damage employee performance and make other people unhappy in their job. One positive suggestion you can make to managers is that they schedule time on their calendar to talk to their employees.

5. Give employees some time to prepare. Tell your employee ahead of time that you need to talk to them without giving them too much notice. Employees will appreciate having some time before they are brought into discuss a sensitive topic. In some cases, it is appropriate to meet with the employee immediately. But, whenever possible, give them some time to collect their thoughts without allowing them too much time to mull over the issue without full information. Too much time could cause a lot of negative feelings for the employee. Giving them a heads up in the morning about a meeting in the afternoon is appropriate. Don’t give them several days or several weeks notice.

How to Deliver Effective Employee Feedback

Once you have done your research and set up a time to talk to the employee, how do you start and finish the conversation. Here are some steps for delivering feedback.

1. Ask if you can give the employee feedback. This is a controversial way to start. Not everyone can follow this method in their organization. The reason it’s important to ask the employee if you can give them feedback is because it shows respect for the individual and makes sure that they are willing to listen to you. If someone says “no” you must be willing to accept that. But, in general, the employee will be curious enough to eventually want to hear what you were planning to say. If the employee says “no” twice, you can then change your tactic and say, “I need to talk to you.” Let them determine when, on the next day, they want to have the conversation but make it mandatory. At least you have sent the message that you want to respect the individual and their situation. Then, when you do start the conversation, use a question like, “May I give you some feedback?” or “Can I share something with you?” Starting by asking the employee and getting them to say “Yes” starts the conversation off better than another approach would.

2. Describe the specific behavior. Your description of what’s going on should be about a specific behavior, not about the person. You don’t want to say a general critique like they have a bad attitude or are lazy. Instead, try a statement like, “You were late to work on three different occasions last week and I am concerned about the kind of reputation that sets for you in the workforce. I am concerned that there may be some issues there that we need to address.” By focusing on the employee’s behavior, you are reducing the chance that they will respond in a defensive manner. It’s possible that the employee who is late is taking care of a sick child and a sick parent and you didn’t know that before this conversation. So, focus on describing the behaviors in a specific manner and not making the conversation personal. Practice statements like, “When you…” Avoid statements that begin with “I think” or “I feel” or “I’ve noticed.” You want to focus on the specific behavior and avoid using “I.”

3. Describe the impact. Here is where you talk about the consequences of their behavior. In some cases, these consequences may be positive but the conversation is still a delicate one. We’ll get into examples of those sorts of conversations in a later post. The impact of this person’s behavior could be greatest on you or on someone else. Focus on the impact that you think will have the most meaning to this person. Some people are most motivated to know how the situation will or is impacting them personally, while others want to know how their behavior is impacting the company, their team or other people around them. You can say, “Here’s what happens…” or “The impacts of your actions are…”

4. Set next steps. Towards the end of the conversations, you’ll want to answer the question, “What are we going to do about it?” A great thought to consider is, “Feedback is about the future, not the past.” The conversation you are having is hopefully not about documenting poor employee performance so that you can eventually fire the person. The hope is that your feedback will actually cause them to act differently in the future. This last step is, therefore, the most critical and should be the most time-consuming.

Emphasize to the employee that your goal is to address the behavior and then look forward, not backward. Work with the individual to come up with a solution. The solution should come from the individual, not the manager. It won’t work to impose a sanction on someone who hasn’t bought into it. You start with, “What can you do differently? You know the situation, you understand the consequences. Now, what can you do differently?”

Employees are not often in a situation where they get to determine a solution and it’s often impressive to see that employees have higher standards for themselves than even their managers do. If you engage them in the solution, they’ll be more committed to making it successful. Remember that discipline is about teaching. It’s taking the time to teach the person something and get them on the right track. It’s not about beating up on an employee verbally, either. Most employees are dealing with a difficult situation, be it in the workplace or at home.

Also, you may also want to just say, “Thank you, keep it up” if it is a meeting to deliver positive feedback. That’s a nice situation to be in.


Stacey Carroll

Director of Customer Service and Education

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Stacey Carroll
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