10 Mistakes Managers Make in the Performance Review Process

performance reviewPerformance reviews may be the most unloved common work process in America, by managers and their employees. For managers, the process requires many hours of work that often distract from ongoing responsibilities, and for employees, it can be more nerve-wracking than an overdue trip to the dentist. As such an unpopular process, too little thought and preparation is often given to what can be accomplished; strong employees can become superstars, and weak employees can experience remarkable turnarounds. These results are possible if you are able to avoid the following performance review process mistakes:

  1. Being Unprepared/Cramming: Managers often hold performance reviews begrudgingly because it’s a corporate mandate and not because they see it as a key to maximizing their employee’s performance. Effective processes involve frequent note-taking throughout the year so that managers don’t have to cram and wrack their brains to remember what every employee accomplished for the past 12 months. Frequent feedback sessions are the best solution when this all-too-common problem sabotages the project. 
  1. Making it a One-Way, Top-Down Discussion: In a strong economy, talented and conscientious employees have options. Managers should consider this and make the process collaborative. Think of it as a relationship-building activity in which each party needs the other and hopes to contribute and receive more. The process should include the employee’s written self-review and the manager’s appraisal of that, so both parties can focus on improving team performance. Evaluating the gaps between the employee’s perception and the manager’s can be telling, especially since poor employees tend to rate themselves higher than their managers rate them. 
  1. Vague Feedback: The less formal the process, the more likely managers are to be unprepared. The solution is a top-down leadership approach to formalizing performance reviews and providing managers and employees with enough time to prepare. The process should include specific questionnaires to be completed in advance of the face-to-face meeting. Spur-of-the-moment reviews result in vague feedback with lots of “your work is excellent” or “you need to be more collaborative” types of comments. Without specifics, the entire process is fruitless. 
  1. The Reviewer Isn’t the Employee’s Manager: Without day-to-day involvement with an employee, it’s nearly impossible to provide constructive feedback. Yet, this is a common problem in the performance review process. It often occurs because companies want fewer man-hours devoted to reviews, and it results in department heads, rather than managers conducting meaningless, vague sessions. 
  1. Not Enough Recognition: Human beings are hard-wired to need and respond well to recognition, yet most employees feel overworked and under-appreciated. Whether or not the employee is a strong performer, this is an essential component to a productive review. Most strong employees tend to be highly motivated by knowing others are pleased with their work, and weak employees need positive feedback to keep up their spirits as they try to overcome negative perceptions of their work. 
  1. Evaluating Subjective Traits Rather than Objective Results: This process ideally is not designed to discern who are the most talented employees, but rather to extract more productivity and better results. Yet many managers focus on evaluating traits such as leadership, attitude, and work ethic, rather than weighing performance against specific objective measures of success. 
  1. Focusing on Recency: When performance reviews are held once or twice a year, only managers with exceptionally strong memories aren’t hindered by the recency effect. Even worse, an annual process favors employees who perform best approaching that time of year. The solution is a weekly or monthly task of managerial note-taking about an employee’s performance on specific projects and daily work. 
  1. Being Afraid of Providing Negative Feedback: Many managers are simply people-pleasers and have a hard time providing negative feedback. Some are too socially involved with their subordinates and don’t want to risk awkwardness out at lunch. Negative feedback is required, even for the strongest performers. This process is about giving every employee an opportunity to reach his or her potential. 
  1. Combining with Compensation Discussions: These are two entirely different processes, and any effort on the part of either party to tie them together jeopardizes the objectives of both processes. The primary risk for the manager is that employees will become conditioned to position themselves for a raise, rather than to focus on this as an opportunity to be coached. 
  1. No Action Plan: What steps does the employee need to take to meet or exceed the manager’s expectations, or to be considered for a promotion? What does the employee need from the manager to enable stronger productivity? Action steps toward both ends must be defined and issued in writing as the final step in this process. 

Have you had positive or negative experiences with performance reviews as a manager or employee? Share your perspectives on the least and most beneficial aspects of the performance review process with us on Facebook!