Workplace Communication

Performance Improvement Feedback in Four Easy Steps

Performance Improvement Feedback in Four Easy Steps

In last week’s post, Stop Criticizing and Start Giving the Gift of Performance Improvement Feedback, I discussed the evolution of criticism, constructive criticism, and constructive feedback. I also outlined the benefits of providing others with “Performance Improvement Feedback”, so that the giver and receiver both see the feedback as a gift, an opportunity for improvement, rather than punishment.

So how do you provide Performance Improvement Feedback in a way that is clear and positive, not vague and critical?

The answer is a simple, four-step statement.

businessmen discussion in office performance improvement feedback1. Describe the person’s BEHAVIOR as specifically and factually as possible. 

It’s important that you be able to tell someone exactly what they did that needs improvement. What you can’t do is confront someone with your opinion or interpretation of what they’ve done. Telling employees, “You were rude to that customer,” doesn’t tell them what they DID or SAID (behavior), but your opinion or judgement of their behavior. Even if they agreed with you, how does someone fix “rude” or “not being a team player”?

A specific, factual, statement of behavior would be,

“Derek, I noticed when you were entering orders in the computer, a customer came up to your counter and asked for help. You said, ‘just a sec,’ but continued entering three more orders before helping him.”

Being very specific leaves little room for argument. If you actually saw and heard the exchange between the customer and employee, and saw the employee put in three more orders before helping the customer, it would be difficult for the employee to get defensive and deny the behavior.

2. Explain the consequences of the behavior.

It’s important that people know that their behavior has consequences for themselves, for their coworkers, for their customers, and for the organization.

“When customers have to wait for more than a few minutes, they get impatient and start complaining. They don’t understand that putting in orders is a priority as well.”

3. Ask the person what he or she could do differently next time to get a better outcome.

In this step, you have a choice to make. Sometimes it’s simpler and more straightforward to just tell employees the “right” thing to do the next time they face a similar situation. In other instances, it’s better to ask them how they’re going to change their behavior. Asking provide a learning opportunity because it requires the employee to figure out what needs to be done differently.

Ask: “What do you think you could do differently next time to avoid having a customer complain and ask to speak to a manager?”

Tell: “The next time this happens, I’d like you to stop as soon as you finish your current order and help the customer.”

Businesswoman Interviewing Male Candidate Job performance improvement feedback4. Share the positive consequences of the new, “better” behavior.

Just as we want to see the consequences of poor behavior, we also want them to understand the positive outcomes and consequences when they  handle things correctly. This help reinforce the importance of doing things the right way.

“I think that ‘s a great idea Derek. If you stop doing order entry quickly and help customers right away, it shows them that they are our priority and keeps them happy.”

Did you notice in Step 4 above, that the phrase begins with praise for the employee? That’s one of the benefits of taking the time to ask for solutions in Step 3 instead of providing solutions. It gives you the opportunity to praise the employee for solving his or her own problem, thus ending the conversation on a positive note.

Performance Improvement Feedback may be simple, but it’s not always easy. It can be a challenge for some to “think on their feet,” and come up with the right words on the spot. Therefore, unless the feedback is incredibly time sensitive, it’s okay to take some time to think about the conversation and plan what you’ll say before delivering it. Doing so will increase the chances that your feedback will be more effective and received by others as the gift you intended it to be.


Amy Castro is a workplace communication expert, speaker, trainer, and writer of  The Performance Communication Blog. She also authored the book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done. If you’re interested in having Amy present a workshop for your organization or speak at your next event, go to


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