Performance reviews aren’t exactly popular. Employees don’t like them, and neither do managers who are in charge of the review process. Often even human resources professionals don’t think they’re done well.
It’s likely that the people in China during the Wei Dynasty didn’t appreciate them either, when there was an Imperial Rater measuring everyone against 9 performance points. So it could be worse.
But are we blaming the medium instead of the message? If you’re a manager, there’s a good chance you’re doing performance reviews wrong. And since it’s mid-year appraisal time, it’s a perfect time to review how you’re doing your reviews.
If you’re guilty of any of the mistakes listed below, you’d be better off not doing performance reviews at all. These common missteps are so counterproductive that you’ll almost certainly end up with a bunch of miffed employees on your hands.
1, You focus on the negative
People often say they appreciate constructive criticism, but in practice? Not so much. A study developed to discover how differently oriented employees responded to criticism found that, well, basically nobody likes it.
2. You focus on numbers instead of goals
Managers don’t want to give very low ratings on performance reviews for fear of discouraging employees. But they don’t want to give the highest score either, because that suggests there’s no room for improvement. (Or maybe they ascribe to the theory espoused by that annoying college professor who wouldn’t give out A’s because “nobody’s perfect.” But I digress.) So most cluster in the mid-range. Also, employees tend to think they do a better job than their colleagues.
3. You’re not training performance reviewers in effective feedback skills
Managers don’t like doing reviews because they can be capital-A Awkward. Giving good feedback is difficult. In fact, says consultant and author Sheila Heen in this New York Times piece, most of us mix up appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. But good feedback skills can be learned.
4. You’re not creating an environment of consistent communication
An annual performance review, or even a bi-annual review, isn’t enough communication. A recent study found that “informational, continuous feedback that occurs on a day-to-day basis…is more likely to create real-time alterations in employees’ job performance behaviors than are intermittent formal feedback sessions.” Communication right after the employee does something great (or not-so-great) has the biggest impact.
5. You’re not thinking of the future.
A performance review that focuses on the past isn’t as useful as one that focuses on the future and helps employees figure out how to channel their efforts.
Samuel A. Culbert really doesn’t like performance reviews — so much so that the UCLA Anderson School of Management professor wrote a book titled Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on the Results That Really Matter. He advocates “performance previewing:”
“Previews are problem-solving, setting their sights on the future and what needs to happen, not on the past and who’s to blame. And they don’t happen only annually; they take place whenever either the boss or the subordinate believe something isn’t working well.”
It’s not that these manager-employee discussions aren’t useful, but they need to be done well. A basic takeaway is that reviews are a one size does not fit all activity–a beneficial review program is customized for a company’s needs and culture.
Is it time to rethink your approach?
For more HR best practices, see HR and the emerging employee relationship management cycle.