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Performance Reviews: 8 Things Not to Say

Sometimes it's what you don't say during an evaluation that makes all the difference.
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Dear Jeff,

I started my business a year ago, and I have two employees. I have completed their (and my) first performance evaluations. I think I know what to do. Can you tell me what not to do when I go over their evaluations with them?

--Name withheld by request

Absolutely:

Don't talk about development plans you aren't absolutely positive you can deliver.

You may want to offer training. You may intend to offer training. But if you aren't sure you will be able to, keep quiet. Don't create expectations you can't fulfill. (And if you do feel sure and later realize that you can't because you don't have the funds, the time, etc.--then tell the employee why. Immediately.)

And don't say "hopefully" or "possibly" or "maybe." The employee doesn't hear "possibly." The employee hears "definitely."

Don't talk about personality.

Maybe the employee truly is irritable or moody or a downer. Fine: Talk about how those personality traits manifest themselves. Talk about the behavior. Talk about the times he or she snapped at customers or criticized other employees. Always talk about behavior, not personality.

Don't talk about other employees.

Evaluate each employee's performance in comparison with standards, goals, and targets. Never compare Joe with John.

Don't ask the employee how she feels she performed.

What's the point? If the employee is outstanding, don't expect her to blow her own horn. Tell her she's outstanding.

If she's subpar, don't expect her to say so. Explain why she falls short in key areas, and then focus on helping her improve.

Don't forget examples.

Whatever you talk about you must be able to back up with specific examples. If you don't have an example, don't bring it up. And speaking of examples...

Don't only provide recent examples.

If you're evaluating performance over the past year, make sure you have examples that reflect the entire year. (That's especially important if the employee did great things early in the evaluation term; he'll appreciate that you remember all his contributions.)

Evaluations are designed to inform as well as motivate, so providing "older" examples helps employees focus on performing well year-round instead of just in the few months before their next evaluation.

Don't argue.

You and the employee may disagree. That's natural. So listen. Be professional. Discuss. Provide reasons. Share your perspective. But don't argue.

Don't wing it.

If the employee asks a question you don't know the answer to, say so. If the employee asks a question you can't answer--like about another employee, or a customer, or a vendor--then say so.

Be open and honest about the employee's performance, but maintain confidentiality where other employees, customers, etc., are concerned.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Aug 3, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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