I recently spoke at a workshop for human resource professionals and found that a major concern remains how to criticize an employee’s performance or behavior in a constructive and respectful manner. Given the importance of the issue, I thought I would share an article that appeared in e-Talk several years ago. Its contents remain relevant, important and helpful.

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Remember that each employee is the “face” of a company, especially those who deal directly with customers and clients. Therefore, companies have a vested interest in the quality and professionalism of each employee’s performance, which must be monitored, measured and managed effectively.

Constructive feedback, coaching and critique are common methods for communicating expectations, standards and direction, as well as providing opportunities for improvement. Early intervention is key to remediation and achieving desired performance.

Most employees want to do good work, so fair, respectful and accurate feedback and coaching from managers and co-workers will not only improve their efforts, it will also build trust and solidify relationships. Start by giving employees the benefit of the doubt and expect good results. If that doesn’t work, then coach them for improvement.

Here are a few guidelines for painless performance improvement:

1.  Acknowledge and identify an issue or a problem

Since avoidance gives permission, communicate sooner rather than later.

2.  Prepare for the conversation

Be sure that you understand the problem objectively. Do not make assumptions. Provide clear examples and be sure you are prepared to state the specific outcome you desire and be ready with possible solutions.

3.  Time, place and attitude

Timing is important: never surprise someone with this kind of conversation. Give the employee time to prepare, too. Conduct the coaching discussion in private and give the person your full attention. Be an active listener and be willing to be wrong.

4.  Problem solving

Employees must take responsibility for their own conduct and should be part of the solution. To more clearly understand the employee’s point of view, consider asking the following:

  • Help me understand what’s preventing you from…
  • What would it take for you to be successful?
  • We’re in a tough situation here and I’m a little concerned…

5.  Check in

Inquire if there is anything further they want to add and identify what success looks like going forward. Be sure they understand why it is important for them to improve and define how improvement will be measured. Be specific by providing one or two examples.

To summarize  

1. Be timely: address issue as quickly as possible

2. Be accurate: clarify information (write it)

3. Be specific: outcome for conversation (include examples)

4. Be respectful: separate problem from the person

5. Be clear: specifically, what will success look like?


You cannot guarantee a good outcome — you can ensure a fair and respectful process.