We've all been there.
You don't exactly relish the thought of sitting them down and giving them the feedback they so desperately need. But research says you must. The far-reaching impact of a negative employee is too brutal to ignore and left unaddressed it brings the whole cultural ship down (and can vastly impact team performance as well).
You probably already know this.
But how to proceed? That's a trickier question.
Here's a research and experienced backed six step-method for delivering feedback to even the most difficult employee. I call it the SHARES model, you can use it for giving feedback in general, but I've also "overlaid" advice for how to use it with difficult employees.
So schedule some one-on-one time with the employee in question, think through the feedback you're going to give, and share it one step at a time as follows:
First describe the "state of the union"--what is the context of the feedback you're going to give, what is the situation. Stick to the facts without emotion. It's easy to get the feedback session off to a horrendous start by allowing your frustration (or even anger) to show through. It puts the recipient in automatic self-defense mode.
Halo the discussion with empathy and sincerity as you enter the next step. You want to make it clear that you are there to offer support. Receiving tough feedback is hard to hear no matter who you are, so the recipient deserves some humanity and grace in the process. Of course, you must also be firm, especially with the difficult employee.
Give specific details on the performance shortfall or behavior. Difficult under-performers often use the lack of specificity and clarity on the issue to be addressed as an excuse later in the evaluation process to shift blame. Don't let them off the hook.
Share the result or the impact that the behavior or shortfall is having on you, others, a project, or even the employees desired career progression. It's about the impact of the behavior, never about the individual personally.
And especially with the difficult employee, it's important to be crystal clear on the consequences of them not addressing the performance issue satisfactorily.
Give an example of an alternative behavior or desired alternative outcome. This goes to the need for specificity and clarity again--it's critical that they understand what good looks like here.
And especially for tough under-performers, it's important to let them choose the solutions for how they will arrive at the desired alternative behavior/outcome. You want the employee feeling like they are an empowered part of the solution and are not merely having an ultimatum thrown at them.
Solicit the employees point-of-view while listening to understand and empathize. Understand that the employee may be experiencing shock or anger. They may feel rejected or want to reject what they're hearing. They might move quickly through all of this and into acceptance and even feel embarrassment or extreme humility. Give them space to process. Be comfortable with silence. Close firm, but supportive.
This is a critical point in the process--many managers do a good job staying on task delivering the feedback but then get unwound by the emotions embedded in the employee reaction. They end up revising or watering down what they were saying previously, creating mixed messages that ease the pain in the moment but ultimately cause confusion.
Bonus Tip: Start With a Question
For the toughest feedback, even before you launch into the SHARES method, you can open with what I refer to as The Golden Question--"How do you think you're doing?"
Often times you might be surprised at just how self-aware people can be. The employee may take you halfway down the road towards where you want to go with the discussion. It softens up the blow of some of what you have to share because the employee will have already said it him/herself.
But in the case of the truly non-self-aware employee, go right into the SHARES method.
Giving feedback is hard. Giving feedback to the hardest people is even harder. Now you have a method to ease the pain--for everyone involved.