The annual performance review is a dreaded time of year for most managers. Not only is there a substantial amount of administrative work, but also the added stress of having to deliver job performance feedback to employees.

A Harris Poll, on behalf of Interact, found that 69 percent of managers feel uncomfortable communicating with employees -- especially when considering the likelihood of a negative response to feedback.

In my experience, after helping administer and prepare managers for the annual review process for years, the likelihood that something goes horribly wrong is slim. Well, as long as you avoid these three mistakes: 

1. Blindsiding employees at the end of the year.

Managers shouldn't wait until the end of the year to have performance discussions. They should have regular meetings with employees to provide performance feedback throughout the year. Doing so ensures employees are in a position to influence their performance, course-correct, or pivot long before their annual review. 

I had a manager do this. They waited until my formal review to disclose multiple areas for performance improvement. Not only were the majority a complete shock to me, but they also impacted my performance ratings, which in turn affected my merit and bonus potential. As you could imagine, I was upset, demotivated, and had issues trusting my manager from that point on. 

2. Harping on past mistakes. 

During performance reviews, it's easy to fall into the trap of relaying feedback as constructive criticism. "You messed this up." "You should have done this."

Although it's important to provide employees with specifics during these conversations, harping on past mistakes makes employees feel personally attacked. Constructive criticism often comes across as shaming, and when employees feel humiliated, they get defensive and shut down. To ensure that momentum isn't hindered and employees stay engage, deliver future-focused feedback. 

We can't change the past, but we can influence the future. Future-focused feedback emphasizes the importance of improving future performance as opposed to exclusively looking at what went wrong in the past. 

Instead of the lead-ins above, try starting your conversations with, "What can we work on to ensure this can be improved in the future?" Then, be willing to hear employees out and be supportive. 

3. Not going through a formalized goal-setting process to begin with. 

As inconvenient as performance management procedures may be, they do ensure a fair and consistent process.

Without goals, clearly defined competencies, and rating scales, managers have to lean on subjective means to evaluate employees. Subjective means open to interpretation. To prevent situations like easy/hard rating, favoritism, and biased assessments, employees need to be held and evaluated against set goals and competencies. It's hard to ensure you're being fair and objective if employees are never giving targets to hit in the first place. 

Although stressful, the annual review can be a great time to celebrate wins, chat about development opportunities, and strengthen manager to employee relationships. Don't self-sabotage by breaking the cardinal-performance-management-sins above. 

Published on: Nov 26, 2019
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