How to Provide Performance Guidance without Destroying Employee Morale

By January 4, 2013Blog

HR Advisor

Human Resource Insights from Kathleen Weiss

Dear Kathleen:

How do we help our managers to provide performance guidance without destroying the morale of the employee?

Jack H.

Dear Jack:

Negative feedback is difficult for anyone to receive, especially if it is delivered in an abrasive or discouraging way. The purpose of feedback – whether it be coaching, mentoring or discipline – is so that the employee will rise to the level of performance needed for the success of that position. Conveying the employee’s weaknesses while keeping him or her motivated is an essential part of being a good leader.

Try these basic steps:

  1. Take a deep breath – It’s often difficult to give criticism, especially when you work closely with your employees. Realize that providing constructive feedback is part of management’s job on behalf of the company to improve operations. It’s not always comfortable, but is it a necessity of any business.
  2. Step back from the situation for a moment and approach it from a perspective of curiosity. Many managers make the mistake of pouncing too quickly without asking questions. Did the employee perform poorly because he/she needs additional training? Has the performance been great and suddenly faltered? Think about the entire situation and performance history of the employee.
  3. Just the facts– Keep your discussion strictly fact-based. Point out specific situations. This is not personal. It’s business and it’s best to keep it that way. Here are some examples:
    Bad Feedback Good Feedback
    You are always late Sandy, you have been late 6 times in the last month
    Your work has been sloppy Your attention to detail needs improvement. In the last several reports, you’ve made “these” mistakes. (Have a copy of work, if possible.)
    You can’t get along with others We’ve had complaints from 3 companies regarding your personal interactions and they have conveyed that
    You have not followed procedures On the AAA project and the YYY project, standard procedures were not followed. You did X when the procedures say Y
  4. Listen! Don’t forget to ask the employee what their thoughts are. This will allow you to gauge if they are aware or completely unaware of the issues. Do they feel they need additional training? Is there something in the workplace that is hindering their success? Are there any disability issues where an accommodation is necessary? Open communication can offer tremendous insight.
  5. Document-document-document – Be sure that all discussions are documented. If it is a performance issue that has come up several times, the first couple may just be a conversation with a note to the file. Certainly after two conversations, a formal documentation process should be started. If you don’t have a standard form, get one. This way, everyone is treated the same. The form should include: the basic employee information, previous discussions and/or warnings, facts of performance issues, consequences to company/clients/co-workers of the poor performance, what is expected to improve, consequences to employee for not improving, any training needed to help improvement, date of next meeting and signatures. In addition to the above, it’s always a good idea to also have a section for the employee to respond and add their thoughts or plans for improvement.
  6. Good and Bad – Don’t forget to tell the employee what they are doing right, how important that is and what they add to your organization. This holds true regardless of whether your employee is a janitor or VP. People like to know when they are doing well.
  7. The wrap up – End your discussion letting the employee know that you have their best interest at heart, that you want them to succeed and that is why you are taking time to meet with them. This allows the person to exit the meeting with value instead of feeling like they just got a tongue lashing. Everyone wants to feel valued and respected. That’s the way to keep your employees motivated.
  8. The follow up – Keep in touch with the employee on a regular basis. It does not have to be a formal sit down every time. Make sure to point out when they do something well, as well as when they need coaching. A tried and true book for any manager is “The one minute manager.” It’s a short, powerful read.

SWK’s HR Advisor services provide cost-effective human resource solutions to small businesses. If you want more information on how to change your current vacation and sick policy to a PTO policy – or you have an outdated employee handbook that needs to be revised – please contact Kathleen Weiss, SPHR, at 973-758-6122, e-mail or visit Kathleen’s HR blog can be found at

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Disclaimer: Information provided is not intended to be and should not be considered legal advice. As always, please consult your attorney regarding your company’s legal matters.

SWK Technologies, Inc.