Providing Constructive Feedback When an Employee Isn’t Meeting Expectations

Providing constructive criticism is one of the most difficult, but most important, parts of being a manager, especially when an employee isn’t performing at a high level.

But a survey by the Harvard Business Review found a majority of employees actually prefer constructive criticism to positive feedback, believing criticism is more beneficial to their overall growth and job performance.

When providing constructive feedback to an underperforming employee, how can you ensure the meeting stays on track and proves effective?

Here are some tips and strategies.

Give Advance Notice

Don’t just spring criticism on the employee. Schedule the meeting ahead of time and identify what will be discussed. This allows the employee time to reflect and prepare, and prevents them from getting defensive, which ultimately leads to a more productive meeting.

Identify the Problem

Be as specific as possible in defining the problem. Focus on the employee’s actions, not their personality – you want to make it clear that this is performance-related, not a personal shortcoming.

Be ready to provide detailed examples of problematic actions – specific missed meetings or deadlines – and illustrate how those actions impact the rest of the team. You can also contrast the employee’s problematic past actions with examples of how they could respond differently in the future.

You should also identify what is expected of the employee – don’t assume that the employee already knows.

The employee should walk away understanding: What is the problem? Why is it a problem? What is expected of me moving forward?

Have an Open Dialogue

You want this to be a two-way conversation. If you’re doing all the talking, the employee may feel that they’re being lectured or reprimanded, which makes people less receptive to feedback.

Give the employee an opportunity to explain their side of the issue. There may be extenuating circumstances, such as medical issues, that are affecting the employee’s performance. Listening and showing respect for these circumstances opens the door for positive change.

Listening and showing respect opens the door for positive change. Click To Tweet

Collaborate on a Solution

Once problematic actions and the related impact have been identified, expectations have been established, and the employee has had a chance to ask questions, work together to form a positive solution.

Identify what changes you would like to see and allow the employee to provide input. How you can better support them? What would help them to succeed in the future? A collaborative solution will endow the employee with a sense of ownership and accountability for making changes. Write the solution down, give one copy to the employee and keep one for yourself.

Check In

After the meeting, follow up regularly – this gives you the opportunity to share positive feedback, when the employee’s behavior improves, or provide additional tips and training, when necessary.