“Effective managers address issues as they arise. But we need to accept that these skills don’t come naturally, but can be learned.” - Jamie Resker

Help Your Manager to Give Feedback Early and Often

How many people in your organization are capable of better work, modifying or adopting new behaviors, and becoming better versions of themselves? How many of us have seen this “movie” play out in our organizations:

A manager alerts you to an employee’s less than stellar performance:

  • “Sam shows no sense of urgency.”
  • “Adrian is a perfectionist who re-does work that should be passed along sooner.”
  • “Jess has a habit of taking over in meetings.”
  • “Michel is a chronic complainer who never offers up solutions.”
  • (I’ll let you fill in the blanks!)

Your first question to the manager is, “So, when’s the last time you had a conversation with Jess about taking over in meetings?” Sheepishly, the manager admits they’ve neglected to raise the issue.

I Tell All Managers To Give Feedback Often And Early

It’s frustrating when managers let patterns of underperformance perpetuate. There are many reasons managers, and people, avoid giving feedback (too busy, afraid of an adverse reaction, making the problem worse, damaging the relationship, etc. ). People also make excuses like, “That’s just how they are,” or “This person isn’t capable of changing.”

Managers Need Support In Learning What To Say And How To Say It

One approach I teach for starting a conversation is what I call, “I couldn’t help but notice that…”

Here’s an example:

Manager: “Hey, Jess, can I share an observation with you?”

Jess: “Um, okay.”

Manager: “I couldn’t help but notice in the meeting this morning when Morgan and Don were speaking that you interrupted and spoke over them before they had a chance to finish their thoughts. I’m not sure if you were aware of this or not.”

Possible responses from Jess:

“I did? I’ll watch that the next time.”

This response shows that the person has heard the information and is open to modifying their approach. Keep talking; the conversation is heading in the right direction!


“I’m so passionate about the project that I want to get my views across.”

This response indicates awareness and explains the rationale for speaking over people. Talk about future expectations: We want to make sure everyone on the team is heard, so let people wrap up their thoughts, give others a chance to weigh in, and then share your perspective. Ask a coaching question such as, “What are your ideas to share your perspective and make sure everyone is heard?”


“Morgan and Don’s ideas are useless.”

This response will lead to discussing the:

Negative impact (see the SBI model)

Future expectations (“Moving forward I’m going to ask that you…”)

Review of team norms and related/supporting values in your organization (“We’re a place where each relationship matters, so one of the things I want to see you do is___.”)

Finding The Words

The “I couldn’t help but notice that ______” starter enables people to initiate awkward, but important conversations. The most important thing is taking the first step: finding the words to get the conversation started.

2017-03-27 HRExaminer photo img jamie resker profile photo 200px

Jamie Resker, HRExaminer.com Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

At-Risk Employees Versus Low Or Problem Performers

When performance is off-target, and the manager has yet to engage in a conversation, I advise against labeling people as low or problem performers. Instead, I describe this person as at-risk.

At-risk for:

  • Being passed over for new opportunities or more interesting work
  • Gaining a reputation of being incapable
  • Being put on a PIP
  • Losing their job
  • Landing on the people to lay-off list

Think of your at-risk employees, not as problems, but as people in need of support. No one should ever fail in their job because the manager hasn’t provided the right direction (gross misconduct excluded).

Try this: Picture a person close to you. Your significant other, son, daughter, parent, or a good friend who is struggling at work, and unaware their standing is in jeopardy. Help your managers see employees as people with lives, aspirations, families, and financial obligations.

Effective managers address issues as they arise. But we need to accept that these skills don’t come naturally, but can be learned. Go beyond telling and assuming that managers are heeding your advice to give feedback early and often. Train and support your managers to engage in the right conversations.

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