Resource Centre Employer’s Corner Giving Constructive Feedback to An Underperforming Employee

Giving Constructive Feedback to An Underperforming Employee


Giving feedback to an underperforming employee can be challenging. You want to mentor them to improve their performance while still ensuring that their morale is not crushed. At the end of the day, constructive feedback must be given to ensure that the employee’s performance improves for the sake of the team’s performance and for their own sake.

Most managers hate giving negative feedback to their employees but it is the sign of a great leader to give constructive feedback to an underperforming employee and enable them to improve their performance and grow at the same time.

If done properly, this kind of feedback can mitigate against a negative reaction and create a path for a successful career in the organisation.

How to give negative feedback positively

So, how do you go about giving negative feedback without creating hostility while creating room for growth and improvement?

Constructive feedback

  1. Have a conversation about it

While you should show leadership and point out areas that need improvement, it is always important to try and get to the bottom of the poor performance. This is because, several factors sometimes precipitate poor performance, such as a lack of skills, a poor working environment, or even personal problems that may be affecting the employee.

This also gives the employee the chance to identify their shortcomings and be actively involved in coming up with ways of improving their performance, a process that creates the right environment to bring lasting change.

  1. Focus on the person’s strengths

Every person has their own strengths and weaknesses. However, an extensive focus on a person’s shortcomings does not help them on their journey towards improvement. The way to ensure that the employee gets to better themselves is by pointing out what their strengths are and showing them how they can be used to improve their performance.

  1. Offer your support

It is not enough to let an employee know that their performance is not satisfactory. It is also not enough to clearly state what is expected. Sometimes, the employee simply needs you to offer leadership by offering your assistance and support.

Once you offer your support, the affected employee will not feel ambushed and the support helps them to make the necessary changes so as to improve their performance. Giving constructive feedback is not enough. It is your responsibility as a leader to offer guidance and help anyone who is in your team to grow. This motivates employees to do their best as they feel that their efforts are recognised.

  1. Use the sandwich approach

When giving constructive feedback, too much negativity can make the person affected become defensive and this will not help them see the problem.

It is advisable to give positive feedback, followed by negative feedback, and finally, finish off with positive feedback. This shows that you recognise the person’s positive input and you appreciate their efforts.

This method will help you identify the employee’s strengths and show them how they can be used to improve performance. It makes the employee less defensive and they will appreciate the fact that you do not only dwell on their shortcomings but that you also acknowledge their positive input as well.

  1. Ensure that their duties and responsibilities are clear

Sometimes, an employee may not be sure about what they are supposed to be doing. This happens in cases where duties overlap and the employee is not sure of their core responsibilities.

Take this opportunity to clarify any grey areas and give the employee clear direction. This will also help you in providing the necessary support which can lead to success.

Be clear about what needs to change or improve so that the process of crafting a roadmap is smooth and falls within the organisation’s targets. Clarify what is working out for the person and what does not bring any value and how to align the two properly.

  1. Let the employee take the lead in crafting a strategy for improvement

When someone comes up with their own goals, they are likely to take ownership and play an active leading role in ensuring that they are met. This also helps the person come up with achievable goals that are within their scope and expertise. The point here is to make them own the goals so that it is easier for them to execute them and it becomes easier for you to hold them to account.

When crafting goals, let the employee take the lead and offer additional ideas. Your contribution should be within the limits of the employee’s capabilities and geared towards achieving the organisation’s overall goals.

  1. Find out whether the person needs additional coaching

In some cases, it is prudent to find out whether the employee requires additional skills to enable them to cope with their job effectively. A skills gap may be a cause of underperformance and you can organise to have the person trained in-house or through formal training. Improving one’s performance can take various means and getting a skills upgrade is one effective way of doing it.

  1. Monitor the progress regularly

Have regular meetings to assess the progress towards achieving the targets set for the improvement roadmap. Negative feedback can be devastating and it is important to keep close contact with the affected person to ensure that the implementation process is on track.

Regular monitoring also demonstrates that you are interested in helping the person improve their performance, which enhances their commitment. You also get to demonstrate leadership by showing that this is not a malicious move, but a move aimed at helping the person grow.

Checking up on the person also ensures that any mistakes made along the way are corrected in good time. You can also identify any gaps that need to be filled in terms of resources required and provide them accordingly. Monitoring will require you to invest some time in the employee but it will also show that you are interested in keeping the team strong and ensuring that those under you perform well.

In the monitoring stage, give credit where it is due as it can inspire and encourage positive behaviour. This feedback is important as it helps to keep the employee on course and reinforces positive actions.

You might hate giving negative feedback and that is okay. However, in some instances, it is necessary for overall organisational performance. Most people would rather just avoid it altogether but sometimes, it is necessary as it helps in improving performance and helping an employee grow.

Giving constructive feedback is not enough and it is important to design an improvement plan; assist the affected person come up with ways of improving their performance; ensure that the employee gets the support they need on the road to improvement; make duties and responsibilities clear to the person affected; encourage dialogue and finally; monitor the person’s progress so as to keep all matters aligned. A good process facilitates improvement and growth and forges a positive working relationship.

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