Expert advice for giving a bad performance review to a good employee

As a manager, one of the most impactful management tasks is creating and delivering performance reviews to your direct reports. This is a task that needs to be done on a regular basis so that both management and employees are aware of how they are performing in line with corporate goals and expectations. This task becomes more difficult when the employee is not performing at an acceptable level. The following advice should assist you in delivering a negative review in a positive light.


Cartoon with check mark

  • start off with a positive
  • focus on the performance, not the employee
  • give specific examples and ways to improve
  • provide an improvement plan
  • allow employee feedback

Cartoon with x mark

  • let relationships get in the way
  • schedule on a whim
  • procrastinate
  • back down
  • hold on

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do start off with a positive

Find at least one thing that you can praise the employee for doing well. If you start off with a negative, you will put the employee on the defensive from the beginning which can in turn change the entire tone and outcome of the discussion.

Do focus on the performance, not the employee

When creating the review and discussing it with the employee, make the focus on their performance — and not on the employee as an individual. Use a phrase like, “An area of your performance that needs improvement is,” instead of, “Your performance is the worst this company has seen.” The employee is not a bad person, but their performance is not measuring up and needs improvement.

Do give specific examples and ways to improve

Illustrate to the employee specific instances where they did not perform as expected. Provide hard copy documents or output to help demonstrate your point. Once you have illustrated how they did not perform, provide them with alternatives that would have created a more positive outcome.

Do provide an improvement plan

Now that you have identified the areas that need improvement, provide an action plan to get the desired performance. This should be a joint effort between the manager and the employee, but the manager should come prepared with ideas to start the dialogue.

Do allow employee feedback

Either during the review or at the end of the review, allow your employee a chance to give feedback. There may be an underlying reason for the poor performance, which the employee had not previously shared with you. By doing this, you are showing that you value their opinion and are open to moving forward together.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not let relationships get in the way

Regardless of whether you are friends, don’t let your personal feelings impact your delivery of the review. It is important to stay neutral and consistent when delivering performance reviews.

Do not schedule on a whim

Schedule the review to take place when both you and the employee have time to discuss the review and are not focused on other business initiatives. Make sure that the discussion takes place on neutral ground like a conference room instead of your office.

Do not procrastinate

No one likes to give bad news, so we tend to put if off for as long as we can. This in turn just increases the anxiety for the employee and the supervisor. So instead of putting off the review of poor performing employees, why not start out with those employees? That way you can get the bad news out of the way first for a change.

Do not back down

In some cases, an employee’s performance is tied to corporate bonuses and salary increases. So when you deliver a poor review, the employee may plead and in some cases beg for you to change your mind. Don’t give into this type of behavior. While it is important for the employee to give you input and feedback, you should not allow it to turn into a session of pleading for a better review.

Do not hold on

Once you have delivered the review and the plan for improvement, move forward. Too many times we will either critique the session or hold on to what was said during that session and apply it to future events. Remember to let It go!


No one enjoys telling someone they did a bad job, but as a manager it is inevitable that there will be a poor performer at some point during your career. Poor performers can improve and may even become your star performer. By providing constructive feedback and a detailed plan for improvement, you can increase the likelihood of that happening.

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