How to Give a Bad Review

May 11, 2012
4 Min Read

It’s the part of being a manager that everyone dreads.  A less than stellar employee’s review is coming up, and you have to be the bearer of bad news.

Ideally, the feedback you are about to deliver shouldn’t be a surprise.  Good managers address negative performance as specific examples come up and immediately work with the employee to improve.  But in the real-world, this may not always happen, and even if it has, the annual or semi-annual review is the time to re-address past issues.  Here are a few suggestions to help you through what may be an uncomfortable task:


Spend Time in Advance

You will need to cite at least two instances of each area that needs to be improved, so go through your e-mails, notes, and other documentation to make sure you can present an air-tight case.  With negative feedback, it’s especially critical to be objective rather than subjective.

Don’t Involve Other Subordinates

Whenever possible, use examples you witnessed first-hand.  It’s a dangerous game to rely on another of your reports for negative performance details because the details are hearsay and you don’t want to play the “he said she said” game.  Shifting responsibility for the feedback to another team member may also cause an interpersonal issue between those two, so try to avoid naming names.

Get Straight to the Point

Don’t put off the review conversation because that will just make things worse for both of you.  Sit down the week the review is due and don’t mince words.  While it may be easier to start off with small talk, asking about the employee’s child’s birthday party and telling her you’re disappointed in her performance in the next breath will sound insincere.

Present a Balanced Viewpoint

Speak to your positive feedback first, demonstrating that you are aware of her positive results and contributions.  Then, before you launch into the areas for improvement, thank the employee for her willingness to listen to and address these areas with an open mind.

Keep Your Tone Professional

Your employee may become defensive.  Do not let her emotions rile you.  Keep the discussion factual, don’t raise your voice, and never allow comments to veer into personal territory.  Your feedback should be related to the employee’s job performance – nothing more.

Follow Up Conscientiously

Work with the employee to develop concrete action items related to performance improvement.  If you need to put her on probation, make that clear.  Set up periodic check-ins to ensure that key issues are being addressed, and take responsibility for the fact that she is your employee to develop.  Document everything so that you can’t be dinged later for letting her go without cause or warning.

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