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Performance Review Process Horror Stories

I know I can’t be the only one who has seen a performance review process go horribly wrong. Sometimes it’s laughable, yet other times it is frustrating to be caught in the midst of a broken system. Check out the video below to hear about the time I had a “secret” review as a wrestling referee.

(Subscribers may need to click through to view.)

Video Notes

A few years ago I spent my winter months as a part time referee for high school wrestling. One day I got an email from our district manager, so I pulled it up expecting to see a schedule. Instead I found a performance review that one of the officials had done without my knowledge! “Secret” reviews are a bad plan for several reasons.

  • No accountability of reviewer
  • No opportunity for reviewed to comment/clarify
  • No opportunity to grow from critical feedback

All in all, it’s a bad plan! Do you have any stories of a performance review process gone wrong? I’d love to hear about it!

performance appraisal procedureAt 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.

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.

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!

Benefits of Performance Appraisals

The benefits of performance appraisals are tough to argue with. Conducting performance appraisals helps to decrease uncertainty about job requirements and manager expectations, opens the door for training and development opportunities, and offers a chance to reinforce positive behavior. Yet even with all those benefits, annual performance reviews are still despised by many. Let’s see how they can help your organization.

Other posts in the Performance Review Series

Let’s get on the same page. Sometimes I get managers and employees coming to me, saying they just can’t understand why their employee/manager doesn’t communicate with them. My first question is always, “Have you talked with them?” And (surprisingly or not) the response is “no” 99% of the time! Now I’m not saying a performance review is going to fix that poor communication. However, if you can work with managers and employees to use the opportunity presented by a formal appraisal meeting, then it can help to break through those barriers that exist. Employees really want to know what criteria they are being rated on. And managers really want employees to do well in their work. I have yet to meet a manager who hopes his/her people will fail miserably.

How do I get from here to there? One of the best ways to engage your employees to offer professional development opportunities. Not everyone wants to work to make themselves better at their job, but many people do. During the review process, find out where employees want to be in two years and work with them to get there. Maybe they want to take some classes in project management to contribute more on a team level. Maybe they are interested in developing some managerial skills and can supervise an intern. Maybe they want to be in a radically different position and you have some expertise to lend in the transition. Whatever the case, when the employee knows that you have their own long-term goals in mind, it gives them a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in their work.

Good job. Can you do it again? An often overlooked aspect of performance reviews is spending time on what went right. Sure, managers might say, “Way to go on Project X.” However, they do not always say exactly what they liked and what they would like to see again. If the person handled a touchy customer with finesse, tell them you appreciate their tact and cool head. When they know the specific behaviors that get noticed and/or rewarded, they can repeat them. Just hearing a generic “good job” is nice in the short run, but you need to provide more detail to help it become a repeated activity.

The icky one. Nobody likes having to document poor performance, but it has to be done. In the next post in the series I’ll be looking at comments for performance reviews to help managers check the blocks while staying inside the legal boundaries. Documenting poor performance (whether in an annual review process or outside of it) is key for protecting the organization if the situation ends up resulting in a disciplinary action or termination. Managers prefer not to put things like this in writing, but that needs to be there as protection in case the employee (or former employee, if they are terminated) decides to pursue legal action.

Next time you are conducting performance appraisals, don’t lose sight of the benefits they provide throughout your organization. They can help foster communication, engage employees, and develop strong performers while still protecting from costly litigation.

sonar6 cakeAt 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!

Annual Performance Reviews

Annual performance reviews are an interesting phenomenon. In general, each party involved is less than thrilled to participate in the process. Managers feel like it’s a waste of time. Employees are wondering if they are going to get rated poorly. And HR, we feel like we’re herding cats by pushing both parties together. I have a few tips for annual performance reviews to help everyone get the most from them.

It’s not a time for surprises. If managers are holding the bad news to let it all out at once, it will not have the intended effect of improving performance. It’s going to make the employee feel hurt and betrayed because it was kept from them for so long.

Take out the “annual” part. It might surprise you, but managers need to be talking to their people more than once a year about their performance. They should be getting feedback on a daily basis on how their work is going. If the “daily” part sounds like a lot of work, you’re overthinking it. Take thirty seconds to tell someone thanks for finishing the report. Give them a pat on the back for finding that software bug. Send them an email telling them about one specific thing they do well that you are thankful for.

Offer (gentle) critical feedback. Everyone screws up at some point. At that juncture it’s the manager’s role to offer critical feedback (if necessary) to correct the issue. It doesn’t have to be (and should not be) confrontational, dishonest, or mean-spirited. It should be timely, to the point, and related to the specific performance issue.

A true story

Educators have a performance review system that is about as jacked up as you could possibly imagine. In some schools, the teacher gets a note on the last day of school telling them they are fired and will not have a job in the coming school year. Can you imagine working for ten months straight, thinking you are doing a great job, and suddenly finding out that your boss disliked your performance all along but never notified you until it was too late to fix the problem? I have a teacher friend who told me that their principal once said to them “Do better, or else” without offering a single piece of feedback on performance or a suggestion for improvement.

This disconnect certainly doesn’t apply only to schools (as you will see in later posts in this series), but it makes my blood boil to know that good teachers aren’t getting recognized for solid performance any more than mediocre teachers are being counseled for poor performance. Reviews are a tool to help bring people together and to facilitate communication.

sonar 6 angry birdsAt 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!

Performance Review Series

In the coming weeks I’m going to be running a series of posts on performance management. I have had a few ideas rattling around my brain recently, and as I’ve been gearing up for our midyear reviews at work, I felt like it was the right time to get it all together. We’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to managing performance at work.

The series

I hope you can join the fun as we explore these concepts and processes.

sonar6 logoI’m also excited to note that these posts will be sponsored by our good friends at Sonar6, lovers of performance reviews and the creators of an amazing performance appraisal tool. I encourage you to check them out as a “thank you” for supporting this blog!