"Your greatest strength... your listening abilities. well, there might not actually be anything going on in your head, but you SEEM like you're listening," this is a direct quote from a performance review, sent to me by Reflektive, a people management company.

It's performance review season--many companies do an annual review in December, so October is when people start thinking about writing them. If you're a manager, you want the reviews to be helpful for your employees. Additionally, never write anything you're not willing to stand behind in a lawsuit. 

Whatever you do, don't use the following examples from people's true experiences. Reflektive shared the following three with me as well:

  • Higher level position years ago - boss spent 70% of PR talking about her husband, 30% was in-the-weeds process recommendations like: "If a team member removed paperclips from incoming documents that's a big process improvement. Useless info! 
  • In one of the organizations that I worked in, we were asked to fill out pages of answers to open-ended subjective questions. We did. Only to find out later that our manager had already filled in his ratings before he left for a vacation a week before we started writing the reviews. Our painstakingly written answers and response had absolutely no purpose apart from making us feel like we were writing something up.
  •  I went in for my 30-day review all excited about all I'd been able to do in a newly created position. I was told that I hadn't done anything they had wanted me to do even after he admitted that they hadn't actually decided what they wanted to measure the position on; they just knew I hadn't done it. I had been meeting with my supervisor for a 1-on-1 every week and he'd never said anything! I upped my documentation, reporting, project management, asked for more feedback and clearer expectations only to sit down at my 6-month review and get told a similar story - My work was exemplary, but it wasn't what they wanted. I left that company and the person after me lasted 6 months too.

I wish I could say that performance appraisals like these are rare, but they aren't. I asked on LinkedIn and Facebook for stories about bad appraisals and within a couple of hours had more than I could publish. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • I was dinged on a Performance Review for "causing too much drama." The drama? Reporting and investigating Discrimination and Harassment Claims by employees who had a legitimate reason to say something.
  •  I got written up for making a typo. Fair enough but it was a fax, and I had put a period instead of a comma. There's not a fax machine in the world clear enough for someone receiving it to catch that kind of error. My boss was gearing up to fire me for political reasons but sadly for her, I quit before her plan could come to fruition.
  •  I got lower than average rating for initiative, with the criticism that I take initiative Micromanaging boss thought it was a negative quality. Same person who, hand to God this is LITERALLY true, corrected my thumbtack positioning on a piece of paper hung on a bulletin board and DREW ME A DIAGRAM of optimal thumbtack placement.
  • Involved in a car accident while driving to a scheduled evening meeting, called from the ER to let the team know I wasn't going to make it. The next week, I was called into the main office and written up for "allowing personal drama to interfere with my responsibilities."
  • I once was written up years and years ago for organizing my stockroom horizontally and not vertically. Mind you all my staff were under 5ft tall and we had a completely empty room except cleaning supplies and shopping bags.
  • I was told in one job that I was "too direct" in my communications. To this day I still have no idea what that meant. When I asked for clarification as to what I was supposed to do differently in communicating with people -- was I supposed to be more indirect? -- they couldn't tell me specifics. I got the feeling asking directly for clear, unambiguous feedback rubbed them the wrong way.
  • I was once told that I was too friendly with our law firm's admins and that they wouldn't respect me.
  • I was told that "someone" at "a meeting" "somewhere, sometime" didn't like my facial expressions, and that I needed to make sure my facial expressions were nicer. She could not define which meeting, who said it, where it was or when.
  • A performance review stated that my number of "corrective actions" (mistakes) had increased for the year. Well, it had...from 1 to 2. Very low when you consider tens of thousands of opportunities to make an error in the course of a year. I complained and my supervisor added a note that the total remained very low. (At least the review didn't say my number of errors doubled!)
  • My performance review was taken down because of attendance. I had influenza and missed 5 days of work. Why have sick days and get docked for using them?!
  • When I was student teaching I think my supervising teacher was looking for ways to criticize me because the students liked me better. He told me that I needed to walk backward in front of the line of fifth-grade students when we moved down the hallway. My typical place to walk was near the front of the line but to the side of the line so I could see all of the fifth graders in the line at once. I am 4'10" tall, and backward in front of the line allows me to see one or maybe two kids at the most. I failed to understand how that would be effectively managing them. Also, nothing about my instructional practices or lesson planning, just how I walked down the hall. Also, no complaints about my management of said students or them being loud or unruly in the hallway, just physically where I stood.
  • I didn't smile enough and my "brand" was being damaged.  Mind you my manager wrote "manor" instead of manner.  She should have put eye rolling after that meeting.  When I asked for specific input to improve she said it would really hard for her to write that down.  She said she had a very hard time writing the first one.  There was never a question about my work product.
  • After 6.5 years, and 5 strong/positive reviews my company made some changes and hired a new person as my manager, while my former manager had another role. After 4 months he gave me my review which what not even close to my historical reviews. I asked if they had consulted my former manager and was told: "After a few months I'm comfortable I know you well enough to not have to consult anyone".
  • I had a manager complain about how slow I was catching on to a task for which I was never trained on and the only one who knew how to do the task was her.