Performance Feedback: Don’t Just Say “Bad Job”

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In a previous post, I describe how it is important to provide some more details about what was good when you tell an employee “good job.” In this post, we look at the other side, “Bad job.”

When you want to say something like “Bad job” to your employee, you are actually striving to change behavior of the recipient of the performance feedback. On top of that, you have to get closer to the facts regarding what the person did. You aren’t allowed to say, “Bad job” (or “You really screwed up”)—this won’t change behavior for the better, but will serve to make the employee despise you. Instead of saying “Bad job,” start again with the event that happened to warranted the urge to say, “Bad job”. In essence, you’re starting a dialogue before rushing to “bad job”:

Manager: “I got that email from a customer that says that you haven’t provided an update on the delivery time frames. Can you explain to me what’s going on?”

Now the person has the ability to clarify what’s going on. They may own up to their shortcomings in the situation, or, in many situations, reveal some new information that will help you resolve the issue.

Employee response #1: “Uh, that’s not my customer, that’s Joseph’s.”

If this is the response, you can discuss whose customer it is, and clarify the confusion. “Oh, then can you tell me why did the customer cite you in the email as the one to provide the status update?”

Employee response #2: “I didn’t follow up with them because there was no update.”

If this is the response, you have the chance to provide performance-based feedback“In the email string, you said you would follow up by last Friday, and as a result, I now need to provide the follow up, causing extra cycles with the customer, and this risks reducing customer satisfaction. In the future, even when there is no change in status, please provide the update anyway, as that is what you agreed to with the customer. Can we agree to that?

Note how there was no “Bad Job” or “You screwed up” in there. The manager targeted the action generating the feedback, the result or impact, and iterated the expectation moving forward. There’s also request for agreement. Yes, this is more wordy than “Bad job” or “I’m mad at you” or “I’m sick of this” (none of which are acceptable), but that’s the sacrifice you have to pay for being a manager. Compressing your language for the sake of efficiency doesn’t work here. It will spiral out to more inefficiencies later.

Employee response #3: “I hate that customer.”

In this case, you now have two things to provide performance-based feedback on! First, the use of appropriate language in discussing customers, even behind closed doors, and second, the issue of the customer status update. On the language issue, you can utilize your own response as the impact:

Manager: “When I hear you say, ‘I hate that customer’ it makes me concerned that you are creating a poor environment for servicing customers. I can’t support the use of this kind of language here—especially when it involves customers — even behind closed doors. Can you instead describe what’s going on with the customer that makes you say that you hate them?”

Now move on to response #2 above. Yup, that’s a lot of work, but it’s good work!

How’d I do with this blog entry? And don’t just say, “Good job” or “Bad job.” Let me know what you liked or disliked, and your expectation for how I can improve in future blog entries. Also, feel free to share in the comments examples of things you’ve had the urge to say to employees that were not performance-based. The community can discuss alternatives that are more performance-based!



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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


3 Responses to “Performance Feedback: Don’t Just Say “Bad Job””
  1. Sue says:

    As a newer manager, this is an interesting observation. With the hectic pace of the day, it’s easy to pass a quick judgment on an employee’s action without really understanding the motivating factors behind his or her decision making. Nice tip! (see I didn’t say Nice Job)

  2. Walter,
    Great post. It’s amazing how important context is when communicating. So many times the true meaning is lost because of missing or mis- information. We don’t take the time to put the situation into context by collecting all the facts.


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