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I struggled with giving critical feedback to a friendly employee

John Cline

Senior Engineering Manager at Blue Apron

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Problem

A new developer was hired for my team and the first projects that he worked on were not great. His code was full of bugs, and his deadlines were not met. However, he was a really nice and positive person.

"His code was full of bugs, and his deadlines were not met."

I was not sure whether he could improve the quality of his work or how quickly he was delivering it. After six months we had our first "feedback conversation", and I gave him some feedback, but didn't make it explicitly clear that he was not meeting expectations.

On the next project, the same problems occurred. Other members of the team lost a lot of time, as they had to spend time going back and forth on his work. However, even after this second project didn't go well, I still didn't make it clear that they were underperforming.

Actions taken

I finally decided to put him on a performance improvement plan. As part of this, I gave him some projects to work on, where he had to show that they could do a better job than in the past. However, when I had a discussion with him he was very disheartened.

After the first half of the performance improvement plan, I didn't observe any significant improvements. I warned him that if nothing changed then I would have to let him go. After that, instead of putting more effort into his work, he showed even less motivation, and I eventually had to let him go.

Lessons learned

Looking back, I realize that I should have given him critical feedback much earlier on and should have made it clear that he was not meeting expectations. Of course, it is a challenge to give negative feedback upfront, especially to someone who's so friendly, but it is more important to establish trust than to be liked by everyone on your team.


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John Cline

Senior Engineering Manager at Blue Apron


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingPerformance ReviewsFeedback Techniques

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