Don’t Ignore Poor Performance — It rarely improves with time. In fact, it usually gets worse.
I have seen it many times in my HR practice. Business owners call me because they are at the end of the road with a problem employee. Performance problems or behavior issues are left unaddressed. One incident pushes everyone over the edge. Managing an employee is time-consuming, emotionally draining, and potentially expensive, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We tend to avoid difficult conversations. However, when problems are identified early and addressed through feedback, things usually turn out better. Not all problem employees become superstars with proper feedback but at least they see it coming. At least, employers can demonstrate they followed due process.
More importantly, feedback is how we grow in life, AND it’s something the millennial generation seeks. So get used to it. You might be asked for feedback more and more!
The art of giving corrective feedback
Giving feedback is an important management task but certainly not an easy one—especially when the feedback isn’t all sunshine. Giving corrective feedback is not just a politically correct way to address negative feedback, it reflects the intent of the feedback. Corrective feedback is done with a mindset to help. Negative feedback doesn’t care if it hurts.
Corrective feedback requires a manager to motivate and counsel in a way that alerts employees to where the problems lie and what must be done to solve them. It is a skill and it can be learned.
Sheila Heen, Harvard Law School lecturer, recommends a six-step method to give corrective feedback:
- Just say it as you see it. Don’t sidestep the issue; be straightforward and tell the employee exactly what your concerns are.
Example: “I’m troubled by the way you deal with your co-workers.”
- Timely – Give feedback immediately. Feedback is most useful when given at the earliest opportunity after a particular incident. Effective feedback allows the recipient an opportunity to correct behavior right away.
- Specific – Paint a specific picture of how you view the situation. Describe what you see happening by using objective details, not subjective opinions.
Example: “When you get resistance from your co-workers, you become short and use an aggressive tone of voice and inappropriate comments.”
- Connect with the bigger picture. Make sure employees understand the connection between their behavior and the negative results. This lets employees know that they can control the consequences.
Example: “This creates a tense work environment and affects the productivity of the team. “
- Give credit when credit is due. That way, employees will know what actions to repeat in the future. Plus, they’ll know that you appreciate the effort to do it right.
Example: “I know dealing with Julie can be difficult. I like the fact you don’t approach her with finesse and focus on coaching her through the work, rather than only pointing out her mistakes.”
- Set expectations. As a manager, it is important that you try to make employees understand what it takes to be successful.
Example: “Understand that working well as a team and fostering a positive atmosphere is very important to our organization. Working well with others even under difficult circumstances is an important skill if you wish to move on with your career.”
Remember, feedback is a tool to trigger change, not a punishment. A positive reaction is a more likely result when you correct the behavior rather than attack the offender.
Tips for Constructive Feedback
- Don’t give feedback when emotions run high. Cool down first. Check yourself to avoid communicating your own frustrations. The employee will be on the defensive and less receptive to the message.
- Give room to maneuver. Most situations don’t require you to dictate exactly what needs to be done or how. Giving employees room to maneuver and allowing them to make changes on their own reduces resistance to following your feedback.
- Get to the point right away. Don’t get lost in too much small talk to “soften” the corrective feedback. Don’t overwhelm the employee with too many details.
- Put the feedback in writing after you have had the conversation. It helps reduce misunderstandings, allows you to perfect your message. It’s a smart move in case of a legal challenge.