LME010 – Feedback about employee performance

Feedback about employee performance can be difficult. How can you make a clear statment without hurting people’s feelings?

As a supervisor or manager it’s your task to give regular feedback about employee performance. If you do this, especially if you criticize, you want to achieve something: you want to help your employee, for example, to improve his behaviour.

However, in order to help him accepting your feedback, you should be appreciative and respectful – and yet clear and distinct. It’s not that easy.

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Useless feedback about employee performance


Here’s an example on how feedback went wrong and can destroy employee motivation:

John has been working as a service engineer for your company for three years. He’s a lot out there at the customer’s site to repair machines. You’re his boss. You appreciate John, because he works carefully and has a high level of expertise.

However, John is working very slowly. On average he needs twice as long for comparable repair work as his colleagues. Recently, a customer complained about a repair again because it took too long.

You want to help John to do the repair work faster. However, if he will not improve in the next 6 months, you will have John transfered to the internal custom service department.

That’s why you have a talk with John. You need to make a clear statement. Maybe you’ll say something like:

“John, again one of our customers has complained about you. You worked too slowly. You need to improve your working speed significantly.

If you don’t manage to handle the repairs in the same speed like your colleagues, then I will have to transfer you to the internal service department.

You need to improve in the next 6 months. I hope you understand. So make sure to get the repairs done faster.

Come on. In the end, it’s not really that difficult.”


That’s a clear statement. But does it show appreciation? Not at all. Such feedback hurts.

Wrong feedback destroys self confidence.

With such a critique you destroy Johns self confidence. It’s a terrible leadership mistake to give feedback in such a way. You only criticized him by generalizing – John‘s just too slow! – and you did not offer any help.

With feedback about employee performance you want to help but with this wrong feedback you just threatened your employee with the tough consequence if he doesn‘t change and works faster. This isn‘t constructive. This isn‘t supportive but it‘s leading with fear. That doesn‘t help at all.

How could you make this feedback about employee perfomance even worse? Give this feedback in public – in front of the team. That will be most destructive to Johns self-confidence. – Don’t do it.

When you criticize in this harsh way, you don’t get any positive change in behaviour! What you achieve instead is that John becomes totally insecure. He probably doesn’t know how to work faster without reducing quality. But will he ask his boss for help? Never. He fears you and therefore he doesn‘t trust that you will help him.

Respectful feedback is not enough…

Now, you may say:

“Exactly, once I had such a boss as well. You shouldn’t behave like that. If you critize you have to do it respectfully and offer help.“

Yes that’s true. But please don‘t fall into the other extreme: Some managers focus only on appreciation and respect, but don‘t dare to make a clear statement at the same time.

“John, I am very satisfied with your working quality. It‘s an outstanding quality you deliver to our customers. Really excellent.

Of course, I am aware that high quality takes time. High expertise is needed and a lot of things need to be checked. You have to work carefully. And you are working carefully. I absolutely appreciate this.”

John loves hearing this. He understands that his boss is very satisfied with his work.

“But I still have a little something: you know, the customers always want high quality but the time and the costs always keep pushing. You know what pressure customers sometimes build up.

It would therefore be good if you could carry out the repair work a little bit faster. If you need any help, just let me know. As I said, the quality of your work is excellent. You just need to work a little bit on your speed. – We understand each other, don’t we?”

Do you think that John understood what his boss had tried to tell him? I believe that John only got the positive message, not the underlying criticism.

In the evening, John comes home to his wife and tells her that his boss praised him.

“Darling, my boss is very satisfied with my work. He especially appreciates my high expertise and the excellent quality I deliver with my work.”

John only remembers what he wanted to hear. OK, he needs to be a little bit  faster with his work, but that‘s not decisive for him. He’s repressing it.

After 6 months, John is staken completely by surprise when his boss – i.e. you – put him into the internal service departement – supposedly without prior warning.

What went wrong with this feedback about employee performance? You recognize it: The boss has not dared to say clearly what the matter is.

Successful feedback about employee performance

Here is a correct statement, you as his boss should have made:

“John, I appreciate your high level of expertise and I also appreciate your high quality work when doing the repairs.

However, on average you need twice as long as your colleagues. I am sorry, but that is not acceptable. As you know, different customers already have complained about your work being much too slow.

If you don’t improve your working speed significantly in the next 6 months, I am sorry, but then I have to transfer you to the internal service department. I don’t want that and I know you don’t want that, either.

Now, how can I help you? What do you need from me so that you can do the work in a similar speed like your colleagues?”

That’s good feedback about John’s performance. Now he knows what his boss appreciates in his work. But he also understands that he has to be faster if he wants to keep his job. At the same time, the boss offers to support him.

Clear statement, but appreciative, respectful and with the offer to help:

How can I help you? What do you need from me so that you can do the work in a similar speed like your colleagues?”

If you give feedback about employee performance take care that you appreciate their good work, but tell them clearly what they need to improve. And offer them your help. That’s a good way to make a clear statement without hurting people’s feelings.