What Most Leaders Miss When Giving a Negative Performance Review

By April 6, 2023 May 28th, 2023 Building a Better Team

Last Updated on May 28, 2023 by Dave Schoenbeck

Many managers dread giving a negative performance review. They anticipate that a critique of an employee’s performance will be demoralizing and can lead to resentment. But, when done right, what we consider a “negative performance review” can be the key to an employee’s growth and success. Here’s how to nail it.

A grim faced manager discusses poor performance with a female employee

How to Deliver a Bad Performance Review

When dealing with an underperforming employee, an honest performance review is kindness. Conversely, if you’re delivering a negative performance review, it’s because there is a real need for the employee to change their ways.

My philosophy has always been about staying focused and saying what you need to help your colleague improve, excel, and prosper. It’s better, to tell the truth now and have it be uncomfortable if it makes them a better employee in the long run.

Here are my top 8 tips for delivering a negative performance review.

  1. Don’t blindside your employee. The performance review should not be the first time employees hear of substantive issues with their work unless they are very recent. It would help if you gave regular feedback throughout the year so that nothing in the review would be completely shocked.
  2. Cite specific examples of good and bad performance. Employees can’t improve unless they know precisely what to work on, but they’ll feel dejected if your review is nothing but criticism. So, give examples of the behavior you want to see more of and what needs work.
  3. Stay objective and avoid bias. Unconscious bias can play a significant role in the review process. Be fair, and don’t shy away from hard truths, but don’t be overly harsh.
  4. Listen to their concerns, but be firm. You should let your employee explain themselves if they want to, and there might be compelling reasons for their poor performance, but you still need to see improvement at the end of the day. So don’t let this soften your need to get them to perform better.
  5. Offer concrete suggestions to improve performance. It’s not enough to identify areas that need improvement. You should also set tangible metrics and make a game plan, so your employees know what steps to take and how their progress will be quantified.
  6. Establish specific review checkpoints. Along with setting goals for your employees, let them know when you expect to see improvements and how often you’ll check-in.
  7. Ask questions. It’s essential to engage with your employee throughout the review. Ask questions like “How do you think you can make these improvements? What do you need from me? What will get in your way that will make this difficult for you? Do I have your commitment to work on these opportunity areas?”
  8. Take your time. A big miss for leaders is that they don’t spend enough time on the review’s conclusion. Instead, ask the employee to summarize the evaluation in their own words so you know you’re on the same page.

While it can be uncomfortable, a negative performance review can also serve as inspiration for an employee’s future success. So it’s worth the temporary discomfort to help your employees thrive at your organization.

If you’re concerned about your ability to effectively deliver a negative performance review, a business coach can help. Click here to schedule a free video call with Coach Dave to discuss how to give a constructive performance review.

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