Practical Communication

Performance Improvement Feedback that Gets Results

Last week, I discussed the evolution of criticism, constructive criticism, and constructive feedback. I also outlined the benefits of perceiving and presenting feedback as “performance improvement feedback” as opposed to constructive criticism.

So how do you provide Performance Improvement Feedback in a way that will help ensure it is perceived as the gift you intend it to be?

The answer is a simple, five-part formula.


1. If possible, ask whether the person is interested in the feedback.

In some instances, it may not be your role to provide feedback to someone. In other instances, the person’s actions may not be wrong, but may not be as efficient as you know they could be if they did things differently. In these cases, it may be best to first ask if the person is interested in your input before providing it.

However, never ask if you’re going to provide the feedback anyway. For example, if you are a supervisor and you see an employee behaving inappropriately, there’s no reason to ask if they want the feedback, because you need to provide it regardless of whether they want it or not.


2. Describe the BEHAVIOR you’ve observed as specifically and non-judgmentally as possible.

Instead of saying, “You were rude to that customer,” ” say, “I noticed when you were entering orders in the computer, a customer came up to your counter and waited more than five minutes before you helped him.”

Being very specific leaves little room for argument. Whereas broad, vague, or general statements will likely result in a counter-argument or defensiveness.

Additionally, if there was any positive aspect of the employee’s behavior- such as something they did do right or their intentions were good, be sure to mention that as well.


3. 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.


4. Ask (or tell) what could be done differently the next time.

In this step, you have a choice to make. Sometimes it’s simpler and more straightforward to just outline the behavior you want to see.

In other instances, it’s better to ask the employee 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.


5. Ask (or tell) what the positive consequences would be of the “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.


Therefore the conversation might go something like this:

“Denise, I noticed, when you were placing the evening’s orders, a customer came up to your counter and waited more than five minutes for help. I realize you were in the middle of the order and appreciate that you wanted to get it done. (Behavior) Unfortunately, our customers don’t realize that we need to get orders placed. They don’t like to wait. As a result, the customer came and found me to complain. (Consequences) Therefore, in the future, I’d like you to either stop entering the order and help the customer, or, if you’re almost finished, at least acknowledge the customer and let him know you’ll be right with him. (Positive Behavior) This would help avoid having customers come to me to complain that they’re not being served promptly. (Positive Consequences)


In the scenario above, if you wanted to take the “ask” approach instead of the “tell” approach, instead of telling the employee what positive behavior you expect and the positive consequences that would result if they exhibited that behavior, you’d say,

“What do you think you could do next time to avoid making a customer wait as long?”

And once the employee answers, you can say, “I think that’s a great idea! And if you did that, how do you think the situation would have turned out better?”

An additional benefit of asking instead of telling is when the employee comes up with great alternative behavior, you have the opportunity to turn a Performance Improvement Feedback discussion into an opportunity to provide praise, as in the exam


The gift of Performance Improvement Feedback, when packaged properly, will be a gift others’ will be able to receive graciously. It just takes a little forethought and some good packaging!




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