Performance management meetings are a great opportunity for managers to reflect back on employee achievements, discuss and clarify goals for the next year, and provide feedback vital to growth and development. When executed correctly, performance conversations provide motivation, clear direction, and help managers form stronger bonds with employees.

Unfortunately, there's a downside too. If not managed appropriately, performance management meetings can cause confusion, frustration, and create tension between managers and employees. For this reason, many managers would prefer to skip this time of year altogether.

Although there are numerous ways performance management meetings can fly off the rails, these are the ten most common manager mistakes I see:

1. Openly comparing employees against their peers.

Comparing employees against their peers through confidential calibration sessions is a great way to differentiate performance and provide objective development examples. However, it should stop there. Comparing employees publicly will divide the team and create a competitive environment that could result in cutthroat, unethical behavior.

Too much competition can limit employee risk-taking, creativity, and teamwork -- no one wants to be identified as the "weak link."

2. Critiquing personality traits. 

Keeping your conversation focused on employee goals and performance outcomes is the best way to ensure the discussion is objective. Once you start critiquing personality, things can get subjective quickly.

Subjectivity leads to bias which leads to unfair evaluations. Inconsistent assessments of performance garner mistrust, lower employee engagement and productivity, and higher attrition.

3. Harping on past mistakes. 

Focusing on past mistakes is counter-productive. Instead, managers should provide solution driven, future-focused feedback. In other words, help employees understand what they can do in the future to improve their performance.

Harping on mistakes comes across as judgmental and halts momentum. 

4. Dwelling on isolated incidents.

Although important to address and learn from, isolated incidents should be treated as such -- isolated and outlying. Using the example to generalize employee performance will taint the conversation and put employees on the defensive. And, no one is open to feedback when they feel like they've been unfairly characterized. 

5. Providing overly positive feedback for fear of confrontation.

Don't go over-the-top with the compliment sandwich technique. I once had a manager that only provided positive feedback during our face-to-face meeting, and then blindsided me with criticism on my formal review. It was upsetting and demotivating.

When delivered appropriately, feedback (even developmental) can strengthen the bond between manager and employee.

6. Not listening or interrupting the employee.

If employees feel like you're not paying attention, or if you constantly interject your opinion without listening first, then they'll shut down. I get it, you have a lot of experience and you want to share it. However, when coaching others, it's more about listening than incessantly talking.

Instead, ask great questions and listen. In the process, employees will lead you to appropriately solutions, and they'll feel heard at the same time.

7. Using leading questions. 

When you start questions like, "Don't you think...?" employees know what you're doing. It's an attempt to lead them to an answer that the manager desires, and it feels like manipulation. At that point, employees become indifferent, or they go along with it and provide false or slanted information.

To the best of your ability, make sure your questions aren't biased and leave room for the employee to provide their opinion.

8. Using feelings, opinions, or impressions.

This goes without saying, but if you base reviews on feelings, personal opinions, or impressions, employees will feel like you have a personal vendetta against them. Keep performance meetings fair by remaining objective. 

Although it helps, you don't have to like someone to manage them. Differing work styles and approaches can be good for the team's dynamics.

9. Solving the employee's problem for them.

For time sake, many managers solve employees' problems for them. They teach them what to think. This approach might work if the employee is faced with the same issue in the future, but that's typically not the case. 

Rather than doing all the work for them, managers should focus on helping employees problem solve on their own. They should teach them how to think. Through the process of leading them to mutually agreed upon solutions, managers will develop independent thinkers who can act autonomously.

10. Having shallow conversations. 

Having superficial conversations comes across as patronizing and causes the employee to doubt their manager's sincerity.  Whenever possible, and especially during performance management meetings, be thoughtful, mature, and genuine.

To ensure you stay on track on don't miss the opportunity to coach employees during performance meetings, guard yourself against making these ten mistakes.

Published on: Dec 7, 2018