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

Treat the situation like any other type of presentation or meeting and remember that preparation is everything. Outline your talking points and practice them out loud, even if it feels silly. This helps you stay on point and keep your composure when the time comes. Also take some time to anticipate and practice responses for comments you might receive.

Remain Calm

Your attitude and demeanor will set the tone for the entire meeting and for how the action plan will be handled. Will they be discouraged, enthusiastic to make improvements, angry or apathetic? Your attitude and approach is a major determining factor. Maintain a calm yet assertive energy and remember that fear isn’t a long-term motivator.

Start Positive

When providing performance feedback or holding a meeting, review or discussion, it’s important to start the conversation on a positive note. A compliment such as telling your team member you appreciate their diligent note taking during meetings can really go along way. Be genuine and keep in mind that nearly every employee excels at something.

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

Don’t leave the meeting without a plan to help them improve. Create a plan together to increase the chance that they’ll be engaged in the improvement process. I recommend asking for suggestions first and then adding your own. List your goals, outline which steps will be taken to improve and identify follow-up dates to check on progress being made.

I’ve always operated under the assumption that no news is good news, and this is certainly true when it comes to the workplace and the expectations and execution of a project by an employee. When an employee’s performance isn’t up to snuff, it’s critical that we sit down with them and discuss expectations, what worked and what didn’t, and how they can improve.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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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