Delivering Negative Feedback to Employees is Tricky, But These Tips Will Help

Delivering Negative Feedback to Employees is Tricky, But These Tips Will Help
Performance appraisals can be tough on both managers and employees, especially when a problem or weakness needs to be addressed. To further complicate matters, feedback should be provided on an ongoing, year-round basis, not just during yearly review meetings. The following tips will help these conversations flow more smoothly, and ensure that employees receive the information they need to successfully turn things around.

Feedback Should Be Timely

Provide feedback as close as possible to the occurrence of the behavior in question; it will be of little use to your employee otherwise. If you wait until the annual performance appraisal to address poor performance, your employee may resent that you did not give him or her the opportunity to correct the problem before "raise time." Even if you are discussing an employee’s excellent performance for the first time during the annual performance appraisal, it may be "too little too late" if that employee places a high value on recognition.

Feedback Needs to Be Specific

Avoid making vague generalizations when providing feedback to your employees, especially the use of words such as "always" and "never." Instead, describe the undesirable behavior in exact terms. Be able to substantiate, also in very specific language, the importance of performing the job correctly and the consequences of continued poor performance. While you and your employee should work together to develop solutions, be prepared to identify specific alternatives if necessary.

Feedback Must Be "Owned" by the Giver

Use personal pronouns such as "I" and "my" when providing feedback to an employee. These words enable you to take responsibility for your own thoughts and observations. Sentences worded in this way are less likely to be interpreted as accusations than those that use the word "you," reducing the possibility of a defensive reaction by your employee.

Feedback Must Be Understood by the Receiver

Ask your employee to rephrase your feedback to ensure that his or her interpretation corresponds to your intent. Also confirm that your employee understands what is expected of him or her, including the available tools and resources that can assist in the fulfillment of these expectations.

Feedback Should Be Delivered in a Supportive Climate

The setting in which you provide your feedback is as important as what you say and how you say it. Provide feedback in a disruption-free environment in which there is no risk of being overheard. Make it clear that the purpose of the feedback session is to assist your employee in achieving success -- not to punish or embarrass him or her. Allow your employee the opportunity to explain why performance has been below expectations. Offer your help and support and identify additional resources, such as training, books, or experienced co-workers, from which your employee can also learn.

Feedback Should Be Followed Up with an Action Plan

Together with your employee, formulate a strategy for improving his or her performance. This may include skill-building activities, practicing in a dummy environment (in which errors are not as detrimental), and/or using an entirely different method of performing his or her duties. Agree upon deadlines and measures, and schedule a follow-up meeting to review progress.

Reminder: While the focus of this article is how to tell employees what they are doing wrong, don’t forget to tell them what they are doing right! Even star performers need to be assured they are doing a good job.

While providing feedback to your staff on a consistent basis may seem like an added responsibility to your already "full plate," doing so will actually make your job easier: Your employees will always know what is expected of them, they will appreciate your interest in their success, and your work group will have a greater likelihood of meeting and exceeding its business goals.

Copyright Christina Morfeld. Reprinted with permission.

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