Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

How NOT to Conduct a Performance Review

There are a few simple things you need to do and not do.

For better or worse, performance evaluations are a reality in business. But just because they are necessary, it doesn’t mean they are being done in a way that produces productive and constructive results. In fact, at their worst, they can cause employees to recoil, spreading insecurity, self-consciousness and fear.

No matter what type of organization, performance evaluation goals should be fairly consistent across the board. Mainly, they should be used to communicate how well an employee’s performance meets the needs and demands of his or her role within the organization. So, yes, it is a performance management tool, but it is also a vital communication vehicle. If companies would see it as such, the process itself would improve markedly and net much better results.

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At its core, employees need to walk away from their evaluation understanding what effect their past behavior has had on the business and also, what they can do going forward to ensure they continue contributing to their own growth as well as to that of the company’s.

Perhaps the most far reaching cause for problems during any type of performance management in general, and evaluation specifically, is the inherent discomfort and resistance that managers experience in having to deliver what they perceive as “bad news.” So, before further analysis can be devoted to what makes a review succeed or fail, one must first be clear about what organizational results this evaluative process needs to produce.

  • An employee should deliver a net gain to the organization’s bottom line and/or overall growth.
  • A performance review should help employees understand the context of his/her role within the broader organization and its intended effect on the mission.
  • Performance feedback should motivate employees to advance forward in the same direction the organization is headed.
  • Evaluations should help employees manage accurate perceptions of themselves.

Now, despite how well one implements a performance evaluation, there are plenty of “worst practices” that will undoubtedly get in the way of a successful review.

Remember, the idea is to generate dialogue around performance feedback so that it is received constructively and with positive intent, even if the feedback itself is considered “negative.” To avoid running into the various roadblocks that often get in the way, there are a few things you can do.

1. Avoid having negative messages create a negative review. Managers need to reframe their own perceptions that providing less than stellar performance feedback is “bad.” Changing your mindset in of itself helps create a more positive review irrespective of the actual content or message.

2. Do not ever share performance feedback with someone in the company of others, unless public accolades are deserved. The reviewee should feel that he/she is being treated with respect and has been given the privacy necessary to experience his/her feelings.

3. Don’t waste time dwelling on something if it’s time to move onto another subject. Pacing and rhythm is important to orchestrating a well executed review.

4. Don’t download everything the employee has ever done wrong as part of a formal evaluation. It’s important to be concise, deliberate and prepared. A review is the time for a summative appraisal supported by specific and relevant examples.

5. Don’t try to compensate for difficult messages by dancing around them or using jargon and buzzwords to dilute the point. If you don’t take responsibility for your delivery, and give it to the other person "straight," the feedback itself can be misunderstood and will likely lose its impact.

6. Avoid monologues. Two-way conversations that generate interactive dialogue are the most productive. If you find that you are the only one speaking stop and reevaluate.

7. Don’t transgress or jump from topic to topic. Organize and structure your material so that it is linear enough to remain clear and easy for the employee to follow.

8. Avoid arguments at all costs. Often managers will debate the feedback if an employee disagrees, which only sidetracks the conversation and derails the entire objective. The thing to do here is talk about the divergent views and attempt to close the gap, calmly.

9. Never lose your cool. Remain positive, honest and unemotional throughout all performance feedback. This can be difficult if the other party reacts, but if a manager mirrors the emotionality of his or her direct report, the opportunity for a constructive evaluation is lost.

10. Don’t forget about the details of the conversation and fail to revisit them later. Feedback is to performance what links are to a chain, and following up is what maintains the integrity of the process. A review should not be the one and only conversation had with employees about how well they are doing their jobs.  Continue discussing progress on an ongoing basis as it relates to past feedback so that the employee learns what it is going to take to be successful.

If only we could change the way we think about feedback and performance, managers would be teachers, employees students and businesses full of winning teams.

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations.

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