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Confronting Mistake-Prone Employees and Performance Logs

Do you have an employee whose performance is slipping or who has begun making more mistakes? It’s never easy to confront an employee and many supervisors put it off hoping the employee will improve. According to one recent survey, only 31% of U.S. employees agreed with the statement: “My manager confronts poor performance.”

However, it is vital to have that confrontation or conversation—for the employee and for the organization—and to approach employees in a fair, problem-solving manner. If this approach is used, either your employee will improve or you will have a clear, documented reason to proceed with discipline or termination if needed.

Feedback is as Easy as A, B, C (and D)

Here are some key rules for your performance meeting with your employee:


Make sure you offer an objective, concrete description of the problem instead of vague statements. You need to provide specific examples and dates which are backed up by documentation. You also need to avoid words like “always” and “never” as they don’t usually reflect realistic frequency. As an example, instead of saying, “You seem to be making more mistakes,” say, “Three of our last five reports had enough errors that I had to spend at least an hour fixing the numbers.”


You need to focus on the business reason for corrective comments and stay away from personality critiques. If possible, point to written employee goals and agency guidelines that are being affected by the mistakes or performance problem.

Consistent (and timely):

To have the most impact, be sure that you don’t just dump all of your criticism on an employee during a performance review or discipline meeting. To have the most effect on the employee’s ongoing performance, it is vital to provide regular feedback throughout the year. Performance reviews should be just that — a review of discussions held throughout the year.

You should try to give employees feedback as close in time as possible to the behavior you want to correct or behavior you want to praise.

One Tip: Don’t try to give corrective feedback when a person is upset or emotional; wait until the employee has calmed down.


Good documentation allows you to easily identify recurring mistakes and performance issues. (It could also help if the employee decides to file a grievance or sue.)

It happens to all of us: You sit down to prepare for a performance review and realize you can only remember what that person has done the past few weeks. Or, you could allow only a single incident (good or bad) to color your assessment.

If you’re relying solely on your memory to evaluate employee performance, you are making your reviews far more difficult than necessary. That is why you need to institute a simple recording system to document performance.

Helpful Tip: When you hold supportive or corrective meetings, you need to at the least write down the date, problem, action taken, result that occurred and any comments from the employee.

The most useful, easy-to-implement way is to create and maintain a log for each person. Performance logs don’t need to be complicated or sophisticated. They can simply be sheets of paper in a folder or files on your computer. You need to choose whatever means with which you are most comfortable.

What to Include and Leave Out of Performance Logs


  • Project assignments and deadlines met or not met
  • Your assessment of the quality of the employee’s work
  • Instances of tardiness, work absences or extended breaks
  • Disciplinary discussions and actions taken
  • Employee responses to problems and questions
  • Positive contributions to the work effort
  • Details of significant personal interactions with the employee

Don’t Include:

  • Rumors or speculation about the employee’s personal life
  • Theories about why the employee behaves a certain way
  • Information about the employee’s family, ethnic background, beliefs or medical history
  • Your opinions about the employee’s career prospects
  • Unsubstantiated complaints against the employee

6 Tips for Recording Performance

To begin the process, create a file for each employee you supervise. Include in each file a copy of the employee’s job description, job application and résumé. Then follow these steps for recording performance:

  1. Include positive and negative behaviors. Recording only negative incidents will unfairly bias your evaluation. Make a point also to note instances of satisfactory or outstanding performance. One way to ensure a balanced reporting is to update employee performance logs on a regular basis, instead of waiting for a specific incident to occur.
  2. Date each entry. Details such as time, date and day of the week help identify patterns that may indicate an underlying problem before it becomes more serious.
  3. Write observations, not assumptions. In all log entries, be careful about the language you use. Performance logs can end up as evidence in a grievance or lawsuit. Your log comments should focus only on behavior that you directly observe. Don’t make assumptions about the reasons for the behavior or make judgments about an employee’s character. Keep out any comments that border on personal comment or that show personal prejudice. Many grievances/lawsuits can be quickly dismissed if performance logs can clearly demonstrate a history of performance problems.
  4. Keep out biased language. A good rule of thumb: Any statement that would be inappropriate in conversation is also inappropriate in an employer log. That includes references to an employee’s age, sex, race, disability, marital status, religion or sexual orientation. Don’t suggest reasons for employee actions or make connections between events without direct evidence. For example, you may know that Employee A’s wife recently filed for divorce, but don’t suggest in the log that his personal problems are the reason his work performance has slipped.
  5. Be brief, but complete. Log entries should use specific examples rather than general comments. Instead of saying, “Minnie’s work was excellent,” say “Minnie has reduced the number of data entry errors to less than one per 450 records.”
  6. Track trends. If you begin to see patterns, make notes in the log or flag prior incidents of the same behavior. You don’t need to discuss every entry with your staff member. Bring your observations to the employee’s attention only after you have defined a specific problem.

The key to recording performance is to establish a system that you will use regularly for every employee, and no matter how you take your notes, make sure to keep them confidential.

“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises,
but only performance is reality.”
~ Harold S Geneen, former president of ITT Corporation