Writing a poor performance review

Supervisors write performance reviews to indicate how well or poorly employees are doing their jobs. An employee should receive clear feedback on his strengths and weaknesses, and that can be passed to supervisors responsible for raises and hiring and firing. The writer of a negative review should follow the principles of fairness and accuracy. Because the review might be read by an employee’s lawyers, fairness and objectivity are essential.

  • Collect data on the employee as frequently as possible well before the review is due. As the Personnel Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology points out, know what the employee’s specific responsibilities are and measure how well she achieves them. Setting measurable goals for the employee and monitoring her progress is important because it gives you the information you will use in the review. Send memos to the employee, consistently evaluating her performance, during the course of the year. A below-par performance review will not be a surprise to the employee if you do that.
  • Write the review using real data. Stay away from personal feelings about the individual. If sales are important, indicate how many the employee made. If timeliness is vital, list tardiness and absences. If accuracy is a key, note the frequency of errors. If completed projects are valued, list the number finished or not finished. If the employee is failing to perform certain responsibilities, showing the data avoids arguments.
  • Use a neutral, objective tone. You do not know how many people will read the report, or in what context. A fair, honest tone is essential, helping to show that there was no prejudice by the writer or in the findings.
  • Measure and evaluate all employees with similar jobs the same way, using the same criteria. Negative reviews make more sense when you can show that others with the same responsibilities are doing a better job. Part of the review should, therefore, compare the employee to the average employee. Avoid direct comparisons, using names, because this can stir conflict.
  • Compare the employee’s work to his performance last year, using the previous review as a starting point. This gives you a fair standard by which to evaluate. A negative review is much easier to support and write if you have clear standards. One section of the review should summarize last year’s findings and compare them with this year’s.

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