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How to write a poor performance review?

There are, from time to time, employees who need a wake-up call of sorts that will hopefully turn around their poor performance. How do you write a performance review for a poorly performing employee? Other than approaching them with grace and empathy, what are some tips you have? Apart from writing the review, how do you go about delivering the review to the employee? Now, how would that change if you think the employee is hostile, or could easily create a hostile environment?


(Agent) |

I had to do this ~3 months after I was hired. The written review was along the lines of " While Susie Q does well with X, immediate improvement is needed in A, B, C..." then a documentation of the issues that were causing problems and the expected changes that would correct the issues. This was already a somewhat hostile person and not happy with the management change, so as you can imagine it didn't get better.

During the actual review, I had all of the backup supporting the improvement requirement (failing to comply with policies, poor attendance, etc...) and stated it as fact - none of it was opinion. I started the hard part before I told of the improvement plan by saying the goal was to help her succeed in her role and that I was there to help.

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

This is one reason why I prefer OKRs. The review (positive or negative) writes itself.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Emerson - Would you be willing to expand a little more on OKRs? I can do an internet search for the pros and cons, but I'd like to hear your thoughts. I tend to trust people on Proformative, especially someone like you who has a lot of experience and in-depth knowledge.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |


I too never heard (assumption here) of OKR. So I did some research. Very interesting concept. In my mind (and from what I read) another take-off of MBO (not meant to be a negative comment).

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |


Here are a sample list of companies using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)...
Paperless Post*
Nerd Wallet**
UpWind Solutions*
Vox Media*

As a short version, essentially you let employees set their measurable goals (in pursuit of departmental and company goals). Think of it as an EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE KPI. Then they review THEMSELVES based on those.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Here's another conversation about performance reviews here at Proformative, along with a sample performance review form:

"Evaluating Employee Performance Review Examples or Pros & Cons of a Scorecard Approach"

Although it doesn't really answer your question Chris about how to write a performance review or how to conduct the review itself, it is a handy form.

Also, here's a useful course on giving feedback to a certain kind of executive:

"Wise Words for the Intense: How to Give Feedback to Intimidating Executives"

Best... Sarah

Lyle Newkirk
Title: CFO
Company: Corrigo Incorporated
(CFO, Corrigo Incorporated) |

Try to think of it from the employee's side. Think about what they need to do to move from being a performance problem to a productive employee. Then communicate it as clearly as possible being as specific as possible. The specifics should be in writing so the employee can have something to use as guidance after the review is over. Some may take it seriously and some may not but at least you have made every effort to turn around a problem employee.
This may seem blunt but it is a far more humane way to treat an employee than to suddenly tell them they are fired for poor performance when they have not been given the proper chance to address their issues.

(Associate) |

In my opinion the opposite needs to happen. The reviewer needs to talk to the employee to see what the employee needs to do better. The experiences I have had show that the reviewer does not know what is needed, and I have been on both sides. The reviewer can then decide what is a reasonable request.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

In my view, if an employee has bad work performance, first to be blamed is the supervisor .
My question is: how to deal with supervisors giving bad performance reviews purposely so that the employee cannot receive raises and promotions?

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Does that actually happen often? I don't think it does. I believe that bad supervisor who do what you suggest in your question are few and far between. It takes a bad supervisor to not want to see their employees succeed. If employees under me succeed in their work, then I believe I will succeed too. If they fail, I fail.

Steve Sheridan
Title: Associate
Company: Dean Lewis Associates
(Associate, Dean Lewis Associates) |

Hi Anonymous A. I believe the answer to your question is to make a list of your accomplishments and ask to sit down with the supervisor to go over them. The employee needs to be in total control of their emotions so perhaps a day or two to calm down is needed before the meeting. The employee also needs to take time to consider what was said and address those issues as well. Some of the complaints may have merit.

Ross Anderson, CPA, MBA
Title: Controller
Company: TFS Capital
(Controller, TFS Capital) |

There should be no surprises at the performance review. Supervisors constantly need to be giving their employees feedback, especially where there are shortcomings. I have seen other employees totally blindsided at reviews. It creates a bad environment. Also, it's not just the overall review, but a good review can be received negatively if it mentions items that catch the employee off-guard. Even items that may not be bad, but just come off as odd and a surprise, can be taken the wrong way.

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

I've written many times about the ineffectiveness of yearly performance reviews. Thus, when I read your question my first thought was why did it take so long? It seems to me that if you are working closely with an employee as manager, mentor, coach, there should be no surprises. I also believe that ripping the band-aid off quickly is far less painful than prolonging it and using euphemisms.

The sandwich approach leaves much ambiguity - and perhaps the reason this employee hasn't gotten the message before is because it was too kind - too couched - too soft.

You can be clear and direct without being insulting or cruel. Speak to the behavior - the task - that needs to be corrected, not the person. Don't attack, but be clear.

(Team Lead - CBAR) |

Hi Chris,

This is my first public post on proformative and I am responding because I will hate to be your employee (have to be direct). At my last employment, I was blindsided by a superbly horrible review, to put in perspective - exceptional reviews at mid-year review completed by a different supervisor for a completed project was downgraded by my new supervisor. Please beware of finding faults in your employee - You can create a life long enemy or end up damaging someone career for life. Needless to say, I am no longer with the company, got a better offer elsewhere and my first review at new place was exceptional as it had been except for the 1 time - got my mojo back. Please note that I have received performance reviews in the past that are actually useful for my career development and of course performance - The difference here is that you are looking to punish your employee with performance review . . . please stop.

You do not have to wait for performance review to tell your employee that they suck? Address the issue as it happened - give specific warnings, expectation letters/emails; talks over coffee etc that is what I do for my employees and when it comes to appraisal time - its a handshake not tears of sorrow.

Good luck friend.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Thanks for your public response, Anonymous. I'm glad you've found a place that's a better fit for you. I had something similar happen at my first place of employment.

To be clear, I'm not about to give a review. I'm wanting to be prepared when the time comes. To that extent your comment is helpful. Thanks again for sharing.

Jaime Campbell
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Tier One Services, LLC
(Chief Financial Officer, Tier One Services, LLC) |

I relish conducting them now as an employer.

These are two-way reviews; some people call them 360-degree reviews. They consist of four parts:
My self-review
My review of my team member
My team member's self-review
My team member's review of me

We each fill in the scores for each line item, and then we get together to compare scores and talk about where we aligned and where we didn't. We mutually determine what we want to commit to in order to make certain things work that aren't working the way that we'd like, or to capitalize on new opportunities.

Topic Expert
Scott MacDonald
Title: President/Owner
Company: AlphaMac Resources, Inc.
(President/Owner, AlphaMac Resources, Inc.) |

First, examine the situation and make sure you as a manager are providing adequate training and tools for them to do their job. It is unethical to call someone on the carpet when you aren't giving them what they need to succeed. I have seen many instances where an employee is being "corrected" yet have not been trained or given the right tools to do their job.

My first approach at correcting an issue is verbal.

If they are truly making an effort to improve, but need additional guidance, I still do the correction verbally.

This doesn't mean that you can't put directions or lists of duties in writing, but I think it is counter productive to do a formal written coaching document.

If after the verbal coaching, they can't or won't improve, then you can go to a written format. I am sure your HR department has a process for this.


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