How to deliver bad feedback to employees

By: Richard Foster-Fletcher

Date: 26 October 2018

How to deliver bad feedback to employeesAs a small business owner, you need to be able to rely on all your team members. So if someone does a really bad job or makes a serious mistake, it can be an emotionally-charged situation.

You need to act quickly to give feedback, and ensure this doesn't happen again. It may not be pleasant to do, but it's time to brace yourself and take charge.

Here are nine steps for giving constructive, fair feedback, so that you and your employee can move forward.

1. Control your emotions

If you are feeling angry or despairing because you're worried about the impact on your business of your employee's mistake, it won't make for a helpful conversation. You need to manage your emotions: take a deep breath, relax, and make sure you are in a calm and collected state of mind before you start a conversation.

One action that is useful here is to write a short checklist of the key points you need to get across. This will help you stay in control and on topic.

2. Consider the root cause

Before speaking, consider why your employee has made this mistake. Experience suggests it can either be because the person cares too much about their work and has let themselves get overwhelmed, or because they don't care at all and can't be bothered to do a decent job.

In the first case, it is important to coach them on their approach to their work and how to manage stress and deadlines. If the latter is true, the bad attitude itself needs to be tackled first.

3. Take action asap

Procrastination will not make the situation any better. It's very human to put off such tasks, but the sooner you do it, the stronger your case is likely to be.

What's imperative is to get the job done before time causes the impact of it to fade.

4. Chat one-to-one

Avoid any temptation to send an email. Emails are already poor at conveying positive emotions, so an email of negative feedback is that much worse. Especially in small teams where you know the person well, you need to have a one-to-one meeting.

5. Allow discussion

Once you have finished laying out the basic issues and observations, it is best to let the other person speak. They may be feeling defensive at this point, so it is helpful to let them take control of the narrative and provide their side of what happened.

This will show them that you are not just there to criticise, but to listen and be fair.

6. Keep focus on the issue

Keep the conversation and feedback focused on the specific work issue you are critiquing. This helps avoid anything that might be perceived as a personal attack. For example, if you are pointing out embarrassing inaccuracies in a client report they wrote, this is not the time to also bring up their persistent poor timekeeping.

If someone is already feeling defensive, commenting on anything else, especially something not directly related to the issue at hand, is going to make them more so.

7. Keep feedback specific

Vague commentary will not help anyone. Avoid phrases like “this was useless/bad/unhelpful”. Discuss the work done, and point specifically to what went wrong. Then, discuss how those issues can be resolved today, and what can be done to improve the quality of work in future.

8. Agree a plan for improvements

One of the biggest mistakes I used to make regarding feedback was not deciding on a plan and a calendar date for follow-up. Always ensure that the person knows what to do, and has some accountability for making improvements after the review.

You may discover that you need to put new business procedures or policies in place, to help everyone.

9. End on a positive note

When someone has done some dreadful work, trying to end on a positive may feel insincere. It's better to end with a statement which reaffirms your faith that the person can leave the inferior performance behind them and move onwards and upwards.

For the sake of the individual and your business, you want them to leave the meeting feeling hopeful and positive.

One of the challenges for business owners is holding tricky feedback sessions. If you manage your own emotions, take time to prepare and move quickly, you'll not only get over a difficult situation - you'll also help your team member contribute positively to your business from this moment on.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Richard Foster-Fletcher, Toastmasters International