Tips to Turn Negative Performance Reviews into New Opportunities

Negative performance reviews are sometimes unpleasant, but they’re necessary. To issue them effectively, you have to be specific, provide context, and offer clear guidelines for improvement. Here’s how.

Performance reviews are an important tool in the employee/employer relationship.

By regularly offering feedback on your employee’s work, you can turn any staff member into a more effective, efficient, and productive part of your team.

In the age of remote and hybrid work, it’s crucial for business leaders to provide their staff with ongoing feedback to ensure they know how to deliver the desired results.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to highlight the benefits of performance reviews and keep your teams motivated when the comments you’re giving aren’t entirely positive.

Negative performance reviews aren’t fun for either party, but they can be an excellent opportunity when used correctly.

Let’s explore how you can transform negative performance reviews into new strategies for growth.

Why is negative feedback important?

Most business leaders know how valuable positive feedback is for their employees. Letting your staff know they’re doing a good job encourages the right behaviour while keeping teams motivated.

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However, providing negative feedback is trickier.

If you go about it the wrong way, it can make employees feel awkward, uncomfortable, or even unhappy with their employer.

The key to transforming those negative comments into meaningful growth for your company is helping your employees to see them for what they are: chances to grow.

Even a negative comment about an employee’s performance is valuable because it shows your team members where they most need to focus on their development to thrive in your organisation.

Here is why negative employee feedback is ultimately useful:

Addresses issues early to avoid significant future problems

Negative feedback can make team members aware of issues that might undermine their relationships with their colleagues, or impede productivity.

Clarifies expectations

Team members can’t offer their best work when they’re unsure what you really need for them. When expectations are communicated effectively through feedback, they get a better idea of how to impress team leaders.

Builds confidence

Constructive feedback can be a way to show your employees that you value their efforts and want to help them achieve their goals.

Now that we understand the benefits of negative feedback, let’s go over some strategies you can implement to make sure it’s effective.

How to administer negative feedback effectively?

You can encourage your team members to make the most of negative feedback with the following strategies.

Provide context

Negative employee feedback is only effective when it’s clear and well explained. Simply telling a team member you’re not happy with their performance, without expanding on the issue will only cause frustration and confusion.

With that in mind, leaders need to ensure they’re delivering as much context as possible.

For instance, rather than telling an employee that you’re not happy with the way they send emails to customers, explain why that’s an issue.

Is the problem that the emails generally have too many grammatical errors and typos? If so, give examples of the problem, and explain what they can do to overcome them.

For instance, maybe they could use a proofreading app, or take extra time to check the emails before they send them?

Take the time to think about how you’re going to present the issue to a team member.

If you go in simply accusing a member of staff of not doing well enough without providing enough context, you run the risk that your employee will stop listening to suggestions out of frustration.

Emphasise the positive side of feedback

If employees constantly receive negative feedback, they can end up feeling as though their employers don’t appreciate them, or that they’re not meant for a specific career.

One study found that around 67% of employees consider the best managers to be the ones that offer more recognition, praise, and positive feedback.

So, make sure you try to show the positive side of what you’re saying.

If the problem with your staff’s performance is that they’re often late to work and end up having to struggle to get everything done on time, tell them how changing their schedule to ensure they arrive on time will benefit them.

For instance, you can advise that getting here early or on time means they’re less likely to have to work through a lunch break.

Although you should never make a problem seem smaller than it is when offering negative feedback during a performance review, you can make your employee feel like working on the problem is the best step forward for them and their team.

Highlight the bigger picture

Sometimes, employees struggle to make the connection between their work and the overall performance of the business.

If you approach your staff member and tell them you’re upset about the low quality of their emails, they might think that you’re just picking fault with something minor because you don’t like them.

To make the negative comments in a performance review feel less personal, it’s a good idea to highlight the bigger picture.

For instance, a bad email can have a negative impact on your brand and make it less likely that customers will trust you.

Highlighting this problem may make it easier for your team members to think carefully about their work, and how it affects the business image overall.

Highlighting the bigger picture is also an opportunity for you to remind your employees of the important role they play in making your company successful.

Reminding your team members of their purpose and their importance to your business can make them feel more invested in the business, and ensure they take more ownership over their work.

Work on the problem together

It’s difficult to feel positive when an employer or supervisor tells you you’re not doing a good job and simply leaves the issue at that.

However, if an employer presents an issue as something that the company and the staff member need to work on together, this can encourage a stronger feeling of commitment to the company.

So how do you do it?

For instance, rather than saying, “we’re not happy with your current customer service attitude”, say, “some customers have complained that you’re not extremely helpful, how can we fix that?”

Feel free to offer some suggestions of your own based on previous tactics that have worked for other members of staff.

It’s also worth giving your employees time to think about the steps they can take to improve if they’re struggling to come up with ideas in the moment.

Asking employees to give their own insights on how they can improve and grow gives them the chance to examine their potential weaknesses more carefully and come up with solutions they feel confident about.

This collaborative approach also shows team members that you care about helping them to do their best work.

Negative performance reviews can be an opportunity

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Implement a mentorship program

Sometimes, employees struggle to make positive changes to their performance because they don’t have the right example to follow.

This is particularly common among new employees and people working remotely, who lack direct access to people they can emulate daily.

If you know your staff members are struggling with a certain aspect of their work, introduce a buddy system.

Identify the top performers in your workplace and ask them whether they’d be willing to provide advice and guidance to newer staff members. This takes some of the pressure off your supervisors and managers when it comes to ensuring that everyone is meeting the right quality standards with their performance.

It’s also an opportunity to strengthen relationships between employees, so you’re more likely to benefit from strong team bonds.

Stronger relationships between teams increase your chances of keeping your best talent on board for longer.

Create a development plan

Performance reviews aren’t just a chance to tell your employees what you think they’re doing right or wrong; they’re also an opportunity to visualise a better future with your staff.

During the performance review, you can discuss what kind of issues you think your employees need to work on and ask them if they feel they need help with an area.

Start by letting your employees know what you’d like them to do better, then ask them to consider what kind of weaknesses they want to overcome themselves.

You could even ask them to make a list of the skills they’d like to improve over the next few years with your business.

Once you both have a stronger idea of where improvement is necessary, you can build a development strategy and even look at training opportunities together.

Around 80% of employees currently say they’re ready to quit their current role because of a lack of opportunities.

Working with your team members on development plans that make sense for both the business and individual addresses this issue.

Make the feedback discussion two-sided

Providing the right feedback to employees so they can overcome their performance weaknesses is crucial.

However, it’s also important for businesses to see the benefits of receiving feedback.

Just as telling your employees what you’re unhappy with about their work can help them focus on improving certain skills, it also helps to know where your team members need more help from you.

During performance reviews, make sure you set aside a portion of time to discuss what your staff members need from you to overcome any issues they’re currently having.

You might inform your employee that you’re not happy with the number of calls they log every day, then discover that their calling system is clunky and difficult to use.

Clearly that will be the reason they can’t operate as quickly as they’d like to.

You may even find that implementing a slight change, like allowing team members to install a new piece of software, helps you overcome multiple issues at once.

Asking for feedback from your staff members ensures you’re empowering them to do their best work. You could even make a positive difference to company culture.

Supplement regular performance reviews

Performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to sit down with members of your team and offer insights into how they’ve progressed within a specific period.

However, in today’s fast-paced environment, where the work landscape is changing all the time, performance reviews might not be as regular as they should be to encourage positive change.

Instead of waiting until the end of each year to discuss the things you’d like your employees to do differently, implement tools that can allow your team members to track valuable information about their performance in real-time.

Software and technology tools are available to help with tracking things like performance metrics, deadlines, and even workflow in a digital world.

Supplementing the occasional performance review with more consistent back-and-forth feedback in your workplace will ensure that you can address any issues your team members have more rapidly.

As a result, you will encourage constant, agile optimisation in your business.

In Summary

Negative performance reviews isn’t a fun experience for the business leader or the employee receiving the feedback.

We’d all much rather feel like our work is delighting and impressing our supervisors, managers, and employers. However, simply ignoring the issues your team members are having and failing to give them effective feedback isn’t the right strategy either.

With the strategies above, you’ll be able to present the negative feedback you have to share with your employees as the positive opportunity for growth it is.

Don’t forget to follow up with your staff and let them know how well they’re improving after they begin to implement changes too.

About the Author

Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate techie. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie devours the news on the latest gadgets and binge-watches his favorite TV shows. Follow him on @bmorepeters.

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