HR Management

4 Tips for Giving Bad Employees Feedback

Discipline, writes Marcel Schwantes on, is a cornerstone of highly productive companies Yet most managers dread dealing with problem employees. But if conducted with a constructive and forward-looking focus, Schwantes contends, discipline provides consistency, guidance, and valuable feedback both to and from the employee.

Schwantes says the best managers handle the face-to-face discussion with a problem employee through the following:

1. Preparation

Four questions are critical to setting the right expectations and accountability measures before the discussion:

  • Does the employee understand what the problem is?
  • Does the employee really understand the expected level of performance?
  • Does the employee fully understand the consequences if performance standards aren’t met?
  • Have you gathered all of the facts (who, what, where, when, why, and how)?

The answer to all of these questions should be “yes” before you proceed.

2. Logistics (when, where, and how)

Don’t delay—it’s best to be proactive and fix the problem sooner rather than later. At the same time, you usually want to avoid getting into things while tempers are flaring. When determining when to address problems (close of business, end of shift, end of week, etc.), take into account the effect the discussion will have on the overall team. As for location, some prefer a neutral location, while others put the employee at ease by coming to his or her work space (if properly secluded). Either way, great managers always respect privacy.

3. Coaching and Counseling

The best managers are exceptional coaches. They identify the problem, request agreement, and work toward a mutual solution with agreed-upon follow-up. Schwantes says they coach and counsel, taking into account the following principles:

  • Discuss performance issues, not the person.
  • Limit the discussion to facts, not assumptions.
  • Be objective; back yourself up with documentation and records.
  • Spell out clearly what’s acceptable and how to achieve it.
  • Listen and allow for venting.
  • Share the blame, if necessary.
  • Focus on the future, not the past.
  • Find a better way. Use open-ended coaching questions to draw the employee out.
  • Affirm your employees’ ideas, and when possible, add yours as suggested improvements. (Don’t demoralize them further by telling them they’re wrong constantly.)
  • Allow employees to save face.
  • Summarize what’s been said and what you both agreed to.
  • Put it in writing if it’s serious enough.
  • End on a high note of confidence that improvement can happen. Be available and encourage them to seek you out when needed.
  • Follow up. Set a time and place to review progress.

4. Deal with Denial

Some problem employees will deny being a problem. Good managers deal with this by staying calm, cool, and objective. They use repetition—in a calm and assertive voice—to stay focused and drill home the point. What don’t they do? They don’t apologize, and they don’t engage in counterattacks.