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Seven Common Performance Review Mistakes – and How to Avoid Them
by Joan Lloyd

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A performance review discussion can leave the employee feeling motivated and appreciated, but if it is poorly handled, it will do just the opposite, and, it will damage the relationship. Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Only focusing on the last few months or on a specific incident.

Solution: Keep a file (or a three-ring binder) for each employee, and throughout the year add notes and samples of the employee's work. Some people like to use Post It Notes, because they are easy to insert and less likely to dislodge.

Mistake #2: Over-emphasizing the negatives and skipping over the positive performance.

Solution: In addition to the above suggestion, ask the employee to do a self-assessment. The employee will be sure to include examples of things he or she is proud of.  This will be a welcome reminder as you reflect on the past year. Also, during the discussion, make sure you give ample time and detail to all of the positive contributions the employee made.

Mistake #3: Using subjective words that judge the person, rather than behavioral descriptions of the person's performance and actions.

Solution: You will cause defensiveness and resistance if you guess your employee's motives or judge him/her as a person. For example, "You were very inconsiderate
because you..." judges the person. A better example is, "When you didn't invite me to the meetings on the Baker project, it kept me out of the decision-making process. That caused problems for the project later on, when you needed my help in the eleventh hour." The trick is to describe behavior specifically (rather than judging it) and tell the person why that hurt them.

Mistake #4: The words and the written review don't match.
If you only tell the person they need to improve and then you gloss over it in writing, the employee doesn't know if it's really important to fix. On the other hand, if you write it but don't mention it, the employee feels like they've been blindsided.

Solution: Be consistent and only write what you say, with the same kinds of descriptions and examples.

Mistake #5: Softening or sugar-coating the review because you don't want to hurt the employee or make the person angry.

Solution: Employees deserve to know the truth, so they have an opportunity to improve. In addition, if an employee has poor performance and applies for another job in the company, and their performance review is glowing, the next supervisor gets stuck with a turkey. That artificially inflated review will make you look weak and ineffective. In addition, it isn't fair to the good employees, who really earned a good rating.

Mistake #6: Retrofitting the rating so the person gets a raise.
This often happens when there is a numeric formula for determining ratings and salary.  Instead of rating the person where they belong, the supervisor wants everyone to be happy, so works backwards from the salary number to determine the rating. This isn't fair to anyone.

Solution: The purpose of the performance review and salary increase are to let people know where they stand and to reward their contribution. And if they don't meet expectations, they should get a clear message that they need to step it up. If you aren't comfortable delivering this message, you probably shouldn't be a manager.

Mistake #7: Not allowing enough time for the review.
If you rush through the review, simply hand the review to the person and ask them to sign it, or answer the phone during the review, you will be telling the person they really don't matter very much to you.

Solution: Allow at least an hour for each person. Turn your phone and PDA off and give your employee the undivided attention he or she deserves.

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Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results.  Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding.  This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, team assessment/teambuilding and retreat facilitation. Her line of management, career and job hunting tools (booklets, audios, CD & video) are available on her website. E-mail Joan if you have a question you would like considered for publication.  Visit her website,, to search her archive of more than 1100 articles, by keyword or category.

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