How to Give Performance Feedback to a Failing Employee

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but as a leader, it’s an important, though unfortunate, part of your job. In the past, it’s been reported as much as 60 percent of employees haven’t received useful feedback from their leaders. Even the best leaders who understand performance management, providing real and sometimes negative performance feedback can stop them in their tracks.

Simply put, performance feedback is a formal or informal meeting between a team leader and team member, mentor and mentee, or manager and employee. It happens as a result of understanding performance management and engaging in the process, where Stephanie Hammerwold talked about in an earlier post. Hint, feedback doesn’t just happen during the performance review. Even getting to the point where you’re ready to provide productive performance feedback is a big deal because most of us avoid it all costs. While we tend to want to only give positive feedback, I find that the negative performance feedback is the type our employees need most. The price you pay by avoiding it is usually the continued ineffectiveness of you as a leader and poor performance from employees.

Tackle those tough conversations and provide useful performance feedback with these five tips:

5 Performance Feedback Tips

Prepare Your Script

Remember that preparation is key and approach the circumstance as you would any other presentation or meeting. Even if it seems foolish, write down your talking points and practice them aloud. When the time comes, this enables you to remain focused and maintain your composure. Spend some time planning and practicing responses to possible comments as well.

Remain Calm

Your attitude and demeanor will determine how the action plan is handled and how the meeting as a whole is conducted. Will they be disheartened, motivated to make changes, enraged, or indifferent? Your mindset and strategy will greatly influence the outcome. Keep your composure while being forceful, and keep in mind that fear isn’t a lasting motivator.

Start Positive

The meeting as a whole and how the action plan is handled will be shaped by your mood and approach. Will they feel dejected, inspired to make changes, irate, or indifferent? A significant deciding aspect is your mindset and strategy. Remember that fear is not a lasting motivation and maintain a calm yet firm attitude.

Be Firm with Feedback

Don’t sugar coat the issue but be gentle with your critical comments. A conversation like this is intended to enlighten your team and motivate them to improve their performance at your company.

Create a Plan of Action

Leave the meeting with a strategy in place to assist them in getting better. Together, develop a strategy to raise the likelihood that they’ll participate in the process of improvement. I advise seeking out other people’s ideas first, then adding your own. List your objectives, describe the activities you’ll take to improve, and set up follow-up dates to assess your progress.

I’ve always assumed that nothing is good news, and this is undoubtedly true when it comes to the workplace, expectations, and how a person carries out a project. It’s crucial that we sit down with an employee when their performance isn’t up to par and go over expectations, what worked and what didn’t, and how they can improve.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jody Urquhart says

    People are more motivated by loss then reward. So performance evaluation ( and loss if you don’t improve) can be really effective. Not to drill fear into everyone but so many people are concerned about management soft skills (recognizing people enough, motivating them etc) performance can be undermined


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