I used to hate giving negative performance reviews nearly as much as the person receiving them. I didn’t like the confrontation. Nor did I like damaging someone’s pride. The aim of the objective is to improve an employee’s performance, but sometimes it would have completely the opposite effect. The employee would become discouraged or angry, and on one occasion an employee quit a few weeks after his review.
But there are better ways of giving negative reviews that could even improve their morale and encourage them to make the change. Tips that I wish I had known way back then, like:
1. Emphasize the Act, not the Person
Project management is a stressful industry, and it can be easy to come down too hard on a person who makes mistakes. Project managers should focus on the act of dropping the ball. This takes the pressure off of the employee. People are much more open to criticism if you focus on the act, and not their personal qualities. This also keeps attention on what’s important: getting the job done properly.
2. Focus on Strengths
Negative performance reviews are so bad for morale because they make self-improvement so daunting. As you pile on fault after fault, the wall can get so high that they don’t feel motivated to climb anymore. They eventually give up and move away.
Focusing on strengths, on the other hand, gives employees a platform that they can use to better themselves. It shows that there is something about them that you value and that they can build off of. They still have to improve their performance, but can do it in a way that suits them best.
3. Give an Action Plan
Giving the employee an action plan does three things for an employee:
First, it gives them a strategy to adopt as they strive to improve themselves.
Second, it’ll allow them to measure their progress, and see how much and how fast they’re improving.
Third, it tells them you haven’t given up on them. That you’re not going to fire them right after the performance review and you still want them around.
All three things tell the employee, “my manager has my back, and wants me to succeed.”
4. Encourage Feedback
Give the employee a chance to respond to your feedback. For all you know, you’ve been looking at their situation the wrong way. Maybe they’ve been doing their best in a bad situation, and the problem is actually how you’ve been managing things.
Even if it’s not your fault, their feedback may clue you in to things that you can fix to help your team perform better. Changing the working process, for example, or setting some new rules in place. And taking suggestions lets the employee know his opinion is valued, and therefore, so is he.
The core learning is: show that you value them. As long as you give constructive and actionable feedback, and let people speak their mind, even a negative review can create stronger loyalties and better morale.