The first time I fired someone, I cried. Right there in front of her. Just cried. In spite of what every piece of firing advice told me NOT to do…
There were two reasons for this…
1. I genuinely liked this person.
2. Having to fire her was partly my fault.
See, in my early days of Uplevel, I was scared to give feedback to the people on my team. I thought I would over-power them. I thought they would resent me. So I glossed over problems, minimized mistakes. Basically, I did everything I could to avoid confrontations.
In this case, I kept not giving feedback on this person’s mistakes. In fact, I did some of her work myself, telling myself she’d figure it out somehow… until it was too late. I had to fire her. Things had gone too far afield, and I didn’t know how to bring them back.
So, in my own fear of giving feedback—I hadn’t taught her how to work for me.
Hiring And Firing Is Expensive
Here’s the biggest problem.
Hiring is expensive. In fact, each full-time person you hire costs $57,968, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
And no, that number doesn’t include training.
So NOT losing $58,000 in a year would be worth it, right?
Plus, if you let someone go each time they mess up, you’ll never teach your team how to help you. Which means you won’t be able to build a strong business.
And that sucks.
Because instead of burrowing your pedicured toes in the white sands of Cancun to celebrate your record breaking year… you’ll wind up being burnt out all the time.
Now, I’m not trying to sound like your great uncle who used to walk to school uphill both ways…but I’ve learned some things in my years of running this company called Uplevel.
Through the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on my own coaching, and the hundreds upon hundreds of books I’ve read—I’ve gathered the hard-won feedback strategies and systems I wished I had when I was starting out… so you can spend less time messing up, and more time doing what you love.
Your Action Plan for Giving Negative Feedback to an Employee
Step 1. Deal with it. But deal with it intentionally.
Address the situation right away. Letting things fester makes problems bigger. Remember this mantra: Your success is directly proportional to the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have.
But note the key word.
However fired up you are—and trust me on this one—holding your tongue while you think through your response is always best. (You won’t always get this right. So reward yourself lavishly when you do.)
Step 2. Your 3-Point Realignment
Before you share feedback, manage yourself. [Do NOT skip this step.]
A – Vent in private. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Write it all down. Let fly. (This one’s for your eyes only.)
B – Own your part. Ahh. Glad that’s off your chest? Now, ask yourself: What role did I play? What could I have done differently?
Maybe you didn’t communicate your expectations clearly.
Maybe you aren’t clear on your expectations.
Again, write it down.
Think through what a job well done looks like to you: What does it look like when it’s done, and done well?
Being this explicit might feel bossy at first, so here’s another mantra to remember: Clarity is your #1 job.
Your team won’t get it right if you don’t tell them what is right.
C – What’s the point? Giving feedback isn’t for venting, making anyone feel bad, or boosting your own ego.
Did they cross a line so badly you need to fire them, or do you want them to stick around? If it’s the latter, then make sure your short-term goal (acknowledging their mistake) fits with your long-term goal (future success).
Before you bring up the issue, ask yourself: How will giving this feedback serve me and my business?
Step 3. The Feedback Six-Pack
Now it’s time to clean up that messy pile of emotions you vented earlier and have the conversation.
Your team member should leave the conversation knowing what they did wrong, how to succeed next time, and—I can’t stress this last one enough—that you support them in their growth.
So here’s what the conversation needs to look like. Make sure you prepare these steps prior to the meeting so that you’re clear and balanced:
Respect their time and your own by scheduling a specific amount of time that works for you both.
Do this: I’d like to set aside ___ minutes today to chat about _____________, just so we’re on the same page. Does ___ am/pm work for you?
Don’t do this: “Hey can you talk right now?”
2: CREATE A CONTAINER
Set up the container for this conversation by requesting that they hear you out, and let them know they will have the chance to respond when you are complete.
Say this: “I’m going to share something that didn’t go so well this week, and my request is that you listen – and then you can have the chance to talk once I’ve said my piece here. Okay?”
Don’t say this: “Thanks for meeting. Let’s talk about what went wrong today…”
The power of sincere gratitude can’t be overstated. What do they do right? Let them hear it first.
Say this: First off, I want to you to know how much I appreciate __________________(ex: your creative problem solving; your enthusiasm; how you always meet your deadlines.)
Share your disappointment directly and honestly—but frame it in terms of the result of their actions, never as an attack on their personality.
Say this: I didn’t receive that client email from you in enough time to deal with it properly (UNEMOTIONAL DESCRIPTION OF THE EVENT) so I wasn’t able to respond to her needs in time (THE IMPACT IT HAD ON ME/THE BUSINESS).
Don’t say this: You didn’t get me that email on time and now the client is pissed.
If you want someone to do better next time, they need to know, specifically, how to succeed, not just that they didn’t. Give them actionable solutions, as well as context for why those solutions work.
It’s important to me that _______________________ (context). Which means that in the future, here’s what I need to happen: _________________________ (action steps).
Once you’ve spoken your piece, give them the chance to respond. And listen. (Research shows employees are more engaged when bosses are open to feedback.) When people feel supported in finding solutions to problems, you’re far more likely to have the creative and productive team you dream of.
Say this: So do you have anything you want to share here? What can we do to support you in making this happen?
When you stay present in these conversations, the results are remarkable—and your team will start to recognize the value you see in them. Here’s a chat I got from a team member recently—after one of our most challenging conversations.
Step 4. Follow-up
After you’ve worked together to find a solution, make sure of two things:
1 – That they fully understand your expectations, and
2 – There is a scheduled way to follow up.
Say this: I appreciate your willingness. How about we check in ___________ at _____ am/pm? That way, we can both try out this new system and iron out any kinks next week.
Don’t say this: So you’ll let me know how it’s going, right?
Bonus Step: Notice
Pay attention. If you see an improvement, however small, mention it.
And if you really want them to feel psyched to work with you? Research shows VERBAL appreciation matters more than
It’s natural to focus on fixing what’s wrong, but when we take time to notice what’s right — we can inspire the kind of loyalty that builds extraordinary teams.
Mistakes are inevitable. But it’s whether we let failure push us off course, or confidently lead our teams through the trenches… that makes all the difference.
Now, I’m curious: Which of these steps was the hardest for you to imagine yourself doing? Is there anything I missed here?