Last week, I wrote about the “Dos” (best practices) of performance reviews for managers. This week, I have a few suggestions for things to avoid when conducting your reviews. If you can avoid these, you’re sure to find a smoother process at the annual review.

The “Don’ts”


Don’t put information in the performance review that the employee is seeing for the first time.

That information belongs in your weekly one-on-one meetings, not in an annual summary of their performance! This is an easy mistake to make due to the power of recency bias, a cognitive bias in which we are biased toward remembering recent information. If you feel the need to include something new, you could defer it to next year, cover it in a regular one-on-one meeting prior to the review meeting, or give the employee the opportunity to comment before you make the review final. Employees should be aware of how they’re doing all year long, so make sure you’re providing regular, informal feedback on their performance. The annual review should be a summary of these conversations you’ve been having all year.

Don’t skip the in-person conversation. 

Oh, the horror. I know none of us likes this process, but this is one of the worst things you can do. Employees need and deserve to know how they’re doing (the exact frequency of which should discussed between you and them, as it varies by person). Remember, “in the absence of communication, people always assume the worst.” Do you really want them filling in the blanks, making up their own ideas about how things are going, or spending mental energy on that instead of work?

Don’t be vague.

Vague statements like “Great job, keep up the good work” leave the employee unclear about what to do. What was good? What about it was good? What should they repeat or change? How can they do better? This is about the same as not having the review at all, and may make the employee feel demotivated or that you just don’t care. Use specific examples of times when they did something well, or something that could be changed, so that they are clear on next steps and why.

Don’t ignore poor performance.

I know it goes without saying, but when we shy away from dealing with it, it really does only get worse. If your employee has been under-performing and receives a positive review, HR will have no grounds for action if later needed. Even worse, your well-performing employees may feel there is no incentive to perform well (if poor performance receives good ratings), or resent the team and leave.

Don’t criticize them if you are the one who failed to set expectations.

Your employee can’t be held accountable for something they didn’t know they were supposed to do. If the employee wasn’t clear, take the time to refine or set new expectations. It’s never too late to set expectations, and your job as the leader is to drive clarity. In my experience, when the leader takes responsibility for his/her part of any issues that arise, the team bands together and feels more appreciated.

Want to dive deeper into your individual circumstances? Set up a time to chat with me!
I welcome all comments – please join in the discussion, and comment below if you have any additional ideas.

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