How to Manage a Difficult Performance Review Conversation

It’s never easy for an employer to give a difficult performance review, but to help improve the business and the employee’s skills and work, these difficult conversations need to be had.

It is easy to see when an employee’s performance has dipped, but when is it time to have a difficult performance review? Most employers believe that it is important to knock the problem on its head before serious mistakes begin to be made or have a negative impact on other employees.

It is important for HR professionals to help coach managers in giving these difficult conversations. Why is it important for managers to receive the correct coaching? — Managers then know how to deal with some employees who may get upset or even someone who might not be happy with what they are hearing and become angry, some may even be accused of bullying. There’s a lot to think about before giving a difficult performance review.

According to Harvard Business Review, it is essential to be clear from the outset. This news can not be a surprise to the employee when having a difficult performance review conversation.

How to Manage a Difficult Performance Review Conversation


It is critical for managers to start their performance review conversations with a positive attitude, even if you will be giving a difficult performance review. Employers should not be hearing this obstructive feedback for the first time during the review. Managers must think carefully about what they’re going to say and how it could come across. When employers are having these unconstructive performance reviews, it’s critical for them to have examples to back up their comments.


When giving feedback, employers must take the ‘full picture’ into consideration. This observation must be within the working environment.  Feedback should be based on people’s performance rather than on their personality.

Right environment

Where the performance review is taking place it must be in a convinced area and most importantly, private. What is being discussed during these reviews must be kept between the manager and the employee. The correct amount of time should be given, where the employers have enough time to give their feedback with backup, as well have the employees to have time to ask questions if needs be.

The unexpected

When having these conversations, some employees may ask awkward questions like—why didn’t they get a pay rise or promotion? Personal issues that you weren’t aware of may also come up during a performance discussion. Whatever emerges, make sure you give a supportive response where appropriate.

Agree on a plan of action

Once the feedback has been delivered, conclude the conversation with a plan of action. Work alongside the employee to set clear, SMART goals for what needs to change and how that will be achieved. The individual must leave the meeting with a clear outcome of what is expected.

Record the details and follow-up actions of your meeting in your HR System as there is written information of the actions the employee must take.

Finally, if you would like to learn how WorkCompass and our Virtual Coaching Assistant can transform your managers into effective coaches. Please get in touch today with one of our team.