Use your EQ for Giving and Receiving Performance Feedback

Feedback : A manger’s Nightmare

Article by Dr. Pratik P. SURANA

Chief Mentor and Founder


There are two types of performance feedback that give Supervisors and managers their greatest headache – the inconsistent performer and the high performer. Whilst the principles of good feedback always apply these two types of performers seem to need a slightly different emphasis.

The inconsistent performer can be frustrating because there are good and bad parts to their performance. Averaging things out is not appropriate, nor is ignoring either their lows or their highs.

And as for the high performers, if only you could clone them!  Yet just giving them praise doesn’t feel right, nor does finding fault just for the sake of it.  The question is how do you give feedback that is honest and which also makes the feedback process feel of value to you and the employee.

It seems straightforward enough to find general tips on giving feedback in these situations, but some managers want (and need) more specific language and  key phrases that can be used. This article will cover both some general principles as well as provide some specific phrases that have been proven to work.

It is critical to note that every person and every situation is unique, so feel free to refine these tips to suit your precise situation – they are a guide and cannot be a magical solution to every circumstance.

Inconsistent performers

 Let’s begin with the employee who is inconsistent – the person who sometimes performs really well and yet at other times delivers work that is below or even well below what is expected. This could be the employee who is great with customers yet cannot complete order and delivery paperwork correctly.

It is important to praise their good work and also to schedule your feedback for a period when they are on an up! Make sure there is something positive to tell them as it is your comparison point and will help you draw appropriate attention to the fact that they can perform well, yet do not do it consistently

First thing you need to do is find out if this person is actually being complacent; just because everyone else is running about like headless chickens, fighting fires and making a big fuss about how busy they are it doesn’t mean that the person serenely sitting quietly and working is being complacent. They may just be being more efficient than everyone else! You need to look at actual output rather than activity. Only if the output is missing or flawed is there actual evidence of complacency.

Second thing you have to do is assess whether the complacency you find is consistent. Often you will find that someone is underperforming short term or only in a specific part of their role. This is not to say that you should allow or condone this; it still must be tackled, but you need to be able to be specific about the area of shortcoming rather than raising a ‘blanket’ matter. For instance, Dave doesn’t do the final checks of the figures before sending them, rather than Dave is unreliable, or Dave didn’t do the final checks last week, rather than Dave never does the final checks.

Now that you have actually identified and measured the complacent behaviour you need to investigate the underlying cause. Yes, you could just rely on the authority of your position to tell Dave to sort himself out or start walking, but that will present you with a heap of other problems that are worth avoiding at this point. By finding the cause you, or Dave, can manage it, if you don’t find the cause the problem will simply come back, or worse, spread to others.

There is a little ‘equation’ that goes P=S+W. This is Performance = Skill + Will. Complacency is the Will part, so for the purposes of this article we aren’t going to consider the option that Dave doesn’t do the final checks because he lacks the Skill to do them, but simply because he is lacking the Will to do them (or to do them properly).

You may follow the process :

Often you will find that once a person realises that their complacency has been noticed and commented upon, they will start to improve their performance; in everyday circles this is the the boss is watching, look busy response, in more scientific circles it is called the Hawthorne Effect.

If the cause of the apparent complacency is some element of genuine hardship; exhaustion caused by ill health or family problems for instance, then as a manager you may find that simply suggesting a couple of days off work might help the individual to sort out their problem and return to form.

If the person has no genuine and acceptable reason for being complacent then you can follow a simple 5 step process to get them back on track. It isn’t heavy and it isn’t legalistic; it is a quick and straightforward approach.

1. Clearly explain what you have seen that is not acceptable; be specific and be brief, for example

You have been late three times this month, on the 3rd, the 7th and the 11th. Each time by over 30 minutes.

2. Briefly explain why this is a problem…avoid just going for the mechanistic;

Your contracted hours are 9 to 5 and you aren’t doing them

Instead try to focus on the impact their complacency is having, for example,

By coming in late other people are having to cover for you and that is not fair on them

3. Tell them what changes you expect to see in their behaviour- don’t beat around the bush; be blunt, be absolutely clear, make it measurable, for example

I’ll expect to see you here on the dot of 9am every morning for the next month

If the response if the individual at this stage is contriteness and an assurance of improvement, skip to step 5

4. If, and only if, they still don’t seem to be taking this seriously, explain the positive consequences of their improvement;

If you do this then I’ll still be able to consider your request for leave

..if that still doesn’t seem to be getting through go for the negative consequences of failing to improve, for example,

If you are late again without a really good reason then I shall put you on a formal warning for dismissal

5. Set a review date; as Oscar Wilde said, “Nothing concentrates the mind so much as knowing you are to be hanged in the morning”

If the person repeats their unacceptable behaviour you need to instigate formal proceedings to get them out of the organisation; if you don’t others will start to copy this behaviour. If they improve, thank them, and then don’t mention it again!

 In terms of specific language:  “I appreciate your good work (include a specific an example) and that’s what makes it confusing for me when you (now give an example of the below expectation performance).

Then ask for them to help you understand why there is a variation or difference.

Using an example it would be “Dinesh , I appreciate your good work and the way you handled the product return from Mr Sarkar on Thursday, and that’s what makes it confusing for me when you are rude and swear at your colleagues like you did with Jeevan on Friday. Can you help me to clarify that or help me understand why there is such a difference?”

It is important to give the employee an opportunity to respond as there may be a very good reason for the inconsistent performance:

•    Some staff may only want to deal with people and not paperwork or process (in which case you need to consider how we’ll suited they are to the role they have)

•    Others may have a personality clash with another employee (you need to consider conflict management, some coaching to develop interpersonal skills or whether people are suited to their roles)

Or there may be a personal or health reason.  Your focus is on how they perform at work – getting into the cause is a separate and later matter.

When providing feedback your focus is purely on the impact at work – on colleagues, you and customers – and that is where your attention must be especially at the start of the meeting.  In terms of inviting their input and agreeing next steps, you may very well get into some of the reasons behind the performance – and that could be the time to seek specific and specialist advice on how to most appropriately handle the situation.

High performers

Many leaders say that they wish they had a team of high performers.  However this can create problems too.  If you have a team of high achievers, you must wonder who will be happy to do the lower level or lower impact tasks? Those things that are still essential to the success of the business yet may not be desirable to a high performer. A team of high performers can be a greater flight risk too – in other words, because they are so good (and often know it) they are more likely to resign or be poached by another employer.

Giving good feedback to top performers can be challenging because:

•    If you praise them too much they may feel there is no challenge left in your company and they’ll go somewhere else to find a challenge!

•    It can feel artificial and awkward to tell someone they are perfect – is anyone really perfect?

•    It may not be what they need

Many high performers excel because they set high standards for themselves and want to do their very best at whatever they do.  Get to know your people and when you have a high performer check in with them about what it is that makes them “tick”.

Discover if the person is super competitive with themselves and likes a challenge and stretch. If that’s the case, you might get them involved in special projects or some additional and complex tasks that align with their current work

Some high performers are very proficient at their work, love what they do and want to keep doing it. Giving these individuals extra tasks or stretching them may make them uncomfortable and have them thinking of resigning!

Deliver the feedback that you value and appreciate their work and their contribution.

Then ask if there is anything they would like to add or how they would like their goals or objectives structured in the year ahead.

Yes there is the risk that you’ll be asked for a pay increase – but research consistently shows that money is not the only motivator, so don’t be side tracked by that request.

The critical factor is get to know your people. Your feedback is based on your observations yet their perspective is also important.

A successful opening may well be “It seems to me that you are putting in some effort and doing some great work, do you think you are achieving the results you set out to?”

And this line works well if someone is not performing well (just omit the comments about doing great work – performance feedback is no time for lies or surprises)

All the best with your performance feedback conversations!

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