Performance Review Comments-What to Say and What to Avoid

Performance Review Comments

What sort of information should make up performance review comments? First time managers (and some long time veterans) have a tough time figuring out just what to say when it comes time to talk about someone’s work. There are four main criteria I look at when reviewing comments on a performance appraisal.

Other posts in the Performance Review Series

Tips for performance review comments

  • Is it legal? Just like other areas of employment actions (hiring, discipline, termination, etc.), performance has to be measured on criteria that is not discriminatory. Don’t talk about a woman missing deadlines because she is pregnant. Don’t say anything about the guy who misses work for religious reasons. And for goodness sake, please don’t mention that an employee is too old to understand the new computer software. Bottom line: keep the protected classes out of the picture.
  • Is it specific? I mentioned this before as one of the benefits of performance appraisals. Giving specifics on performance, whether good or bad, helps to assure that the good is repeated and the bad is corrected. I’ve seen supervisors comment, “doesn’t do a good job” on an appraisal. When pressed, they provided valuable specifics, but without that additional attention it would have never been revealed. If you’re wondering if it is specific enough, imagine that you are an outside party viewing the process. Does it give you adequate information to formulate an objective opinion of the person?
  • Is it actionable? The point of this is to provide critical feedback. However, that doesn’t mean you should exclusively use this time for browbeating or berating the employee (even if they deserve it!). If you do not provide an avenue for improvement, the employee will become frustrated and join the ranks of the disengaged employees. If they are messing up a process, show or tell them how to fix the mistake. If they are not providing friendly service that is up to the high standards of the organization, give them some ideas on how to hit the mark on the next review. Making an observation, such as “doesn’t interact well with coworkers,” is only half of your job. The other half is to provide them with the tools to be successful next time.
  • Is it job-related? This one can be comical at times, but it needs to be addressed. I worked with an engineer once whose job required virtually zero interaction with anyone face-to-face. His manager commented on his review that he was not friendly enough to his peers. The problem with that statement? The engineer was the only one in his role in the entire department. In his mind, he had no peers, and nobody was clamoring to take on that role. Make sure the comments truly reflect the reality of the workplace and job responsibilities.

And one more thing.

For a long time, the top books sold by the Society for Human Resources Management bookstore were related to performance review phrases and comments. Managers don’t need a book to tell them how to feel. They need to get a clue. They need to realize that their feedback is critical to the employee’s success (or failure). And with that knowledge, they need to have an open, honest conversation about how the person is performing. “But I don’t wanna do it” won’t cut it. And the employee will see straight through the facade and will develop the same type of attitude.

A true story about performance review comments

In this case my story doesn’t have to do with inappropriate or improper comments as much as it has to do with a lack of performance review comments. At one of my previous employers the supervisors would turn in the annual performance reviews with no comments and “meets expectations” checked off for each area. And then a month later when they wanted the employee to be terminated, they would play dumb when the review was put in front of their face. Sigh. It never failed. 99% of the people had a neutral or positive review just prior to being terminated, and most of them didn’t have a single clarifying comment present.

That’s the general behavior for most managers. Provide no feedback or clarification and still expect your employees to read your mind. Hint: it doesn’t work that way!

performance review commentsAt Sonar6, we love performance reviews (obviously) and we love any sort of discussion on the topic. So we’re proud to help bring you this series of posts from upstartHR. They’re very nearly as cool as our award winning color paper series.

Want more? Check out the free employee performance management guide!


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    Places that have linked here

    1. Welcome to the Carnival of HR
    2. Running Logs and Your Performance | upstartHR
    3. Performance Review Process Horror Stories | upstartHR
    4. Benefits of Performance Appraisals | upstartHR
    5. Annual Performance Reviews | upstartHR
    6. Job Feedback-You’re Doing it Wrong | upstartHR


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