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Performance Appraisal MistakesFor many companies, the end of the year brings holiday hours, a break room full of treats, and the dreaded annual performance review period. Employees are generally anxious to hear whether their performance has earned them a raise (and maybe a bonus) while bosses usually dread the paperwork and awkward conversations that come with appraising employee performance.

Even though performance appraisals are an important part of effectively managing a team and keeping everyone on track toward departmental and company goals, many managers make mistakes when conducting reviews. The issues stem from a number of causes: An inexperienced or unconfident leader who is hesitant to provide constructive criticism, managers who are too far removed from their staff to have any real insight, or a lack of clarity on the evaluating criteria are just a few of the issues that make many performance appraisals either pointless or frustrating.

Because of these issues, many managers make these same mistakes over and over again, making review time a time of anxiety and fear, not reflection, planning — and yes, celebration — as it should be. Not only that, poorly conducted performance evaluations could lead to disputes and even legal problems down the road, especially if an employee is terminated.

Mistake #1: Evaluating Intent, Not Results

When an employee’s performance isn’t up to par, it’s easy to assume that he or she didn’t care or didn’t really try. Unless you have concrete proof that someone had malicious intent though (such as a salesperson regularly spending the afternoon at the salon or movie theater instead of calling on clients), attacking someone’s motivation or intentions is bound to backfire. Even if you honestly believe that someone could be a top performer if he or she simply tried harder, that’s irrelevant.

Focus on the performance itself, and engage the employee in a conversation to determine why the results were poor. It might have nothing to do with intent, but rather outside factors that were out of the employee’s control. By focusing on identifying solutions, the employee feels supported, not attacked, and is more likely to improve performance going forward.

Mistake #2: Doing All the Talking

As a manager, it’s your job to provide feedback to during performance appraisals. However, if the meeting just consists of you sharing a litany of criticisms and complaints, your employee isn’t going to leave feeling very motivated to do better. No one wants to feel as if they are being talked at, so turn employee appraisals into conversations.

While you should certainly share your assessments, ask your employee for feedback as well. Set goals together, discuss your employee’s role within the team, and ideas for the future. Having a conversation takes some of the anxiety out of the review for both sides, and makes it a more productive meeting.

Performance AppraisalsMistake #3: Not Identifying Specific Behaviors

If people don’t know exactly what they are doing wrong, how can they fix it? Telling someone that they aren’t a team player, or that their attitude could use some work, isn’t very constructive because it doesn’t explain exactly what constitutes those behaviors.

Telling your employee that their inability to meet deadlines or unwillingness to fill in for a sick coworker impacts the whole team, is more constructive feedback, and tells the employee exactly what they should or should not do going forward.

Mistake #4: Relying on Your Own Perceptions

While you might be the supervisor, are you the only person who works with an employee? Getting feedback from other employees, clients, even the employee him or herself will provide a better view of their performance.

Otherwise, you may not realize that your employee is polite to you but rude to others, or was actually the mastermind behind a brilliant marketing slogan and deserves recognition.

Mistake #5: Inadequate Documentation

In many cases, performance reviews play a role in employment decisions. If someone is fired or denied a promotion due to a performance review, without proper documentation the company could face significant legal consequences.

Documentation doesn’t only provide protection against disputes, it also helps gauge an employee’s progress toward goals and improvement (or decline) over time. Ideally, you should follow a consistent format and use a defined checklist or questionnaire for every employee to ensure fairness and accuracy across the board.

Mistake #6: Relying on Recent Events

Although best practice recommends holding performance reviews more often, most companies evaluate employees once per year. As a manager, are you able to remember everything that has occurred in the previous 12 months for all of your employees? Probably not. If you only rely on the most recent few weeks or months of performance, though, you could miss some important details that might play a role in compensation or promotion.

Again, asking others for feedback, and documenting performance throughout the year, prevents the “recency” effect and ensures that your employee gets a thorough and complete evaluation.

Mistake #7: Not Giving Positive Feedback

Some managers see performance reviews as an opportunity to express grievances and criticisms freely. However, effective reviews also include some praise. Everyone likes compliments, and wants to know what they do well, so even if the news isn’t all good, look for at least a few positive factors you can praise. It will help keep your employee happy and engaged.

Performance appraisals may be time consuming, and even tedious in some cases, but they are an important part of managing a team. Avoid these mistakes, and your reviews will be well received and keep you out of trouble down the road.

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