Performance reviews are viewed by many as a necessary evil; while managers may understand that they offer the potential for significant individual, department and company-wide gains, they fear the process. One of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of a performance appraisal is the review meeting itself.
Managers often want to avoid confrontation and dislike having to share negative feedback. Many are also afraid they may say something that could get them into legal trouble later, and with today’s litigious society, they are right to consider their words carefully. But there are steps managers can take to mitigate the risks while still getting the necessary message across. By knowing what to say and what not to say, managers can feel more confident in their presentation skills, and rather than dreading the meeting, look forward to it as an opportunity to help their staff succeed.
- Be clear and concise. If you must give negative feedback, don’t try to soften the blow so much that the message doesn’t get through. If the review is to be effective, you must make it clear exactly what needs to change in the future.
- Focus on how the employee’s performance compared to the established job standards. Using these standards as a guide will help ensure consistency and objectivity.
- Stick to the facts and avoid making judgments about why the behavior occurred or didn’t occur. Rather than saying an employee is lazy, you might say that he lost an account because he failed to follow up on the customer’s complaint.
- Use concrete documented facts, like number of absences, percentage of defective product, and efficiency numbers to back up your ratings. Certainly, some evaluation points are more easily quantified than others. But whenever possible, use objective measures rather than relying on subjective values.
- Be specific and give examples of what you have observed. Don’t just say the employee is rude; say that she received five complaints from customers about her brusque phone manner. Employees don’t like to hear that their performance was deficient but it is easier for them to accept the criticism if you can cite specific instances when the unsatisfactory behavior occurred.
- Use examples from the entire review period, not just the last few weeks or months. Although an employee may have had some noteworthy accomplishments, or failures, in the recent past, the review should encompass the totality of his or her performance over the review period.
- Whenever possible, demonstrate how the employee’s actions impacted the department or company. It resonates more with employees to hear that the sales strategy they implemented resulted in 30% increase in profit in just six months, rather than simply telling them they did a good job.
- Stay in control of the conversation. While you should welcome feedback, you do not want to turn the meeting into a complaint session. If the employee goes off on a tangent, it is up to you to bring the discussion back to the issue at hand.
- Offer constructive feedback. The purpose of the meeting is not to rehash the past and leave it at that. The true reason behind the review is to provide an assessment of where the employee is and where you would like him to go. If you have identified an area that needs work, you should also be able to articulate the specific steps the employee needs to take to improve.
- Be prepared. Review the appraisal, know what you are going to say, and don’t deviate from the script, especially when confronting poor performance, when you may be nervous.
- Don’t forget the purpose of the review – to identify both strengths and weaknesses. If you fail to point out where the employee can improve, the key benefit will be lost. Be respectful, but direct.
- Don’t bring up issues that you cannot substantiate with examples. If you tell an employee she has not met the quality standards, be prepared to tell her the occasions on which she performed substandard work.
- Don’t try to obscure difficult messages through the use of ambiguous statements and jargon. Rather than saying she is not a team player, tell her precisely what this statement means to you. Did she consistently refuse to assist new hires? Point this out.
- Don’t delve into personal topics, but instead stay professional. Even though you may know the employee well, now is not the time to ask about the wife and kids. Keep the discussion on topic and do not stray into any subjects that are not job-related.
- Don’t use the “feedback sandwich” method, where a negative comment is preceded and followed by positive comments. Your good employees will hear only the negative and the poor performers will concentrate instead on the positives and miss the real meaning of the message. If there is a performance issue, confront it deal with it and move on.
- Never make promises you can’t keep. Do not assure an employee he will be promoted if he keeps up the good work if you do not know this to be a fact. If you don’t have to power to make it so, don’t imply that you do.
- Don’t overrate an employee just because you think she deserves a raise. If compensation needs to be adjusted, talk to HR. But don’t tell her that her performance has been exceptional if it hasn’t.
- But also don’t focus entirely on the negative, even if there are serious performance issues. This type of review serves only to demoralize and is ineffective in bringing about positive change. Acknowledge and thank the employee for the contributions he has made.
- Don’t use simplistic phrases like “does a good job”, but instead describe the actions you have observed that lead you to this conclusion. If the employee surpassed his sales goals by 75%, say so. This type of feedback is helpful, because it describes the behavior you want repeated in the future.
- Avoid evaluating personality traits, demeanor, and attitude as these types of comments can easily be interpreted as discriminatory. Remarks about age, race, gender, and disability have no place in a performance review as they are irrelevant to an individual’s job performance.
- Don’t be sarcastic or rude, even if the feedback you have to share is negative. Stay professional and honest, but respectful.