Human Resources mentor Robert Hoffman responds:
Ideally, feedback about performance should be an ongoing process. Tell your subordinates when they are meeting your expectations, when they have surpassed them, and when they are falling behind. Monitor their work, give them guidelines, help them set objectives, and assist with problems. At least once a year, sit down to discuss overall performance and plans for the coming year. At that point, if you have been giving them consistent feedback, positive and negative, there should not be any major surprises for either party.

However, when you become aware of an employee with a performance problem that is not responding to preventative measures, it's time to plan a more formal approach to confronting the employee.

Some tips for a successful coaching session:

  • Assure privacy and protect the employee's dignity by scheduling a meeting in a quiet office with no interruptions.
  • Open the meeting with a positive statement about the employee's progress or abilities.
  • Let the employee know that you are still unsatisfied with some aspects of his or her work, limiting yourself to the three most critical problems.
  • Discuss these problems in depth and give the employee specific examples of errors in judgment, miscalculations, complaints from other departments, etc.
  • Ask the employee to explain why he or she thinks these problems are occurring. Give him or her an opportunity to vent feelings, but insist upon your right to set standards of performances and to decide whether or not they are being met.
  • Ask the employee to come up with a plan for improvement and agree on a timetable for measuring success.
  • Offer a referral to an employee assistance program or a counselor to address possible underlying personal issues.
  • Spell out the consequences of failing to meet objectives (disciplinary action, suspension, termination, etc.).
  • Consider putting the problems and corrections in written form, giving the original to the employee and keeping a copy for your records.
  • If the employee gets upset or hostile, keep calm. Inform him or her that you can reschedule the coaching session, but that you need to address these issues soon because of their negative impact on the company.
  • Follow up with another meeting within an appropriate time frame. If there are improvements, congratulate the employee and make sure he or she understands that the improvements need to be sustained.
  • Assure the employee that performance problems are confidential and ask him or her not to speak to coworkers about them. Advise the employee that you will only discuss the situation with other managers if appropriate.