≡ Menu

How to give feedback to difficult employees

Trust is a vital commodity when you are running a small business. When someone in your team does work of a very poor standard, this not only potentially jeopardises your relationship with your customers, it also erodes trust and therefore needs to be handled quickly. However busy you are, you need to make time for a difficult conversation and provide honest feedback.

feedback to difficult employees

Having managed quite a few teams in my career, I can say with conviction that nothing can make these meetings pleasant. However, certain practices are much more effective than others in softening the blow enough that the message sticks and the person doesn’t feel demoralised. Here are some steps to help you retrieve the situation, as told by Richard Foster-Fletcher from Toastmasters International.

Control your emotions

If you are feeling angry or despairing because you feel your business is being undermined it won’t make for a healthy conversation. Take a deep breath, relax, make sure you are in a calm and collected state of mind before you even think of starting a conversation.

Use a checklist

To avoid emotional venting I also recommend preparing a short checklist so you remember all the points you need to cover.  This will help keep you on track.

Take action quickly

Delaying the conversation will not make it any better. It’s very human to procrastinate on such tasks, but the sooner you do it, the stronger your case is likely to be. Bottom line, get the job done before time causes the impact of it to fade away.

Do it face-to-face

If you are tempted to send an email – stop yourself. Emails are already bad at conveying positive emotions, so an email of negative feedback is that much worse. Particularly in a small team, you need to be brave and take the person to one side and talk.

Identify the root cause

Consider why your employee has made this mistake.  My experience suggests it can either be because the person cares too much and has let themselves get overwhelmed or they don’t care at all and can’t be bothered to do a decent job.

In the first case, it is important to coach them on their approach to their work and how to manage stress and deadlines. With the latter second, the attitude itself needs to be tackled first.

Provide a chance to speak

Once you are done laying out the basic issues and observations, it is best to let the other person speak. They may be feeling defensive at this point, so it is helpful to let them take control of the narrative for a moment and provide their side of it. It makes them feel that you are there not just to criticise, but also to listen, and this makes a lot of difference in how feedback is perceived.

Discuss the work, not the individual

Keep the conversation and feedback focused on the specific task you are critiquing. This helps avoid anything that might be perceived as a personal attack. The person is probably already feeling a little defensive – commenting on anything else, especially not directly related to the work is going to make them even more so.

Be specific

Few things are more infuriating or unhelpful than vague feedback. Remember you are aiming to help the individual and your business.  Avoid phrases like “this was bad.” Discuss the work done and point specifically to what went wrong. Then, discuss how those issues can be resolved today and what can be done to improve the quality of the work in future.

Establish a plan and follow-up

One of the biggest mistakes I used to make regarding feedback was not deciding on a plan and a calendar date for follow-up. Always ensure that the person knows what to do and has some level of accountability after the review.  You may discover that you need to put a new business procedure in place to help everyone.

End with encouragement

When someone has done some dreadful work trying to end on a positive may feel insincere. In such moments, it is better to end with a statement reaffirming your faith that the person will be able to leave the inferior performance behind them and move forward. For the sake of the individual and your business you ideally want them to leave the meeting feeling hopeful rather than defeated or resentful.

Feedback conversations are important for any business owner.  You don’t want bad feeling in the team if one person is seen to be undermining your collective efforts.  You need your feedback to be timely and effective. If all goes well the recipient will see this as a learning opportunity and be reinvigorated as a valuable team member contributing to your business growth.

More on managing staff and managing different personality types.

Top Articles

Do I need an accountant for my limited company?
Find out what a limited company accountant could do for you.

Mortgages for limited company directors and contractors Are you self-employed and looking at getting a mortgage?

How much limited company tax do I have to pay? Find out the latest tax information for limited company owners.

Company Bug Newsletter

Keep up to date with small business news and guides by signing up to the Company Bug newsletter.