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Performance Appraisals -- The 5 Biggest Mistakes Managers Make And How To Avoid Them

Aug 17, 2007
Performance appraisal.

Or, if you prefer, performance review.

Whichever term you use, mention it to a dozen of your friends -- whether they typically give or receive performance appraisals -- and notice the responses you get.

A grimace?

A roll of the eyes?

Tension?

A satisfied smile?

Let's face it, mentioning "performance appraisal" gets such mixed responses because people have such mixed experiences.

Which is only to be expected... except I bet most of the responses you get are negative.

If your respondents aren't hostile, or scornful, then they're clearly unimpressed.

Why?

Why are performance appraisals seen to be negative experiences?

I mean, isn't a performance appraisal simply a meeting between a manager and a member of his or her staff, where together they appraise the staff member's performance during the year (or other time period) and agree on goals for the coming year?

Well, that's the theory.

But in reality, many managers handle performance appraisals quite poorly. And the result is not only an unpleasant meeting, but one where the manager and his or her staff member never quite understand each other, never quite appreciate the other's point of view, and never quite settle on appropriate goals for the coming year.

It's almost inevitable that the staff member will end up less happy and less productive than he or she was before!

In fact, there are five (5) big mistakes that managers often make in conducting performance appraisals. Fortunately, these mistakes are easily avoided once you make a conscious effort to avoid them.

Let's discuss each in turn.

Mistake #1: Waiting For The Performance Appraisal To Give Feedback

This is the biggie, and all too common. It's where a manager fails to give someone adequate feedback on their performance during the year, and then dumps it on them in the performance appraisal meeting.

Unfortunately, the feedback is almost always negative, so the employee ends up sitting there in shock -- at best, wondering why his or her manager didn't say something sooner; at worst, feeling unjustly victimized.

And you have to wonder -- how can a manager expect an employee to do the right things, the right way, if the manager hasn't provided any guidance or feedback all year?

The solution: make it a habit to tell your employees if they've done a good or poor job, and if it's a poor job, explain how they can do things better in the future.

There should be no surprises in the performance appraisal!

Mistake #2: Overemphasizing Recent Performances

It's all too human to remember, and give greater weight, to recent events rather than earlier events. However, this can lead to an inaccurate and unfair assessment when it comes to reviewing an employee's performance.

To avoid overemphasizing an employee's recent work, take note -- and ideally take notes -- of the employee's work throughout the year.

Mistake #3: Being Too Positive Or Negative

Some managers feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback and consequently, can omit to give employees the constructive criticism they need to improve. And then there are other managers who are instinctively too negative, leaving the employee wondering if they can do anything right!

While, as a manager appraising someone's performance you should give your honest opinion... you also want your employee to understand and appreciate what you're saying.

So instead of being too positive or negative -- which can result in the employee not believing what you say -- think about the impact on the employee you want, and communicate your feedback accordingly.

Mistake #4: Being Critical Without Being Constructive

Following on from Mistake #3... some managers can be too critical and neglect to provide any constructive advice on how an employee can improve.

This doesn't help the employee or the manager. Even if your criticisms all have merit, if you don't explain how the employee can improve, he or she is likely to miss the validity of what's being said and simply think he or she is being victimized. Not to mention the fact that his or her performance won't actually improve.

So if you need to be critical, be constructive too!

Mistake #5: Talking Not Listening

The final big mistake that managers make in performance appraisals is doing too much talking and not enough listening.

These meetings are supposed to be interactive -- where the manager doesn't simply relay his or her own appraisal of the employee's performance during the year, but also listens to the employee's viewpoint.

If, for example, you have criticized the individual's performance -- it's not only fair, but important, to get the employee's response as to why he or she may have underperformed.

Moreover, a key objective of the performance appraisal is to agree on goals for the following year. How can there be true agreement and commitment to such goals, if you don't learn the employee's point of view?

As you've probably gathered, you can avoid these five mistakes -- it just takes a little effort. It's certainly worth it -- if you think employee satisfaction, productivity and performance are important!
About the Author
Anna Johnson is the author of the How To Manage People System, including her book, How To Manage People (Even If You're A Control Freak!). Get Anna's FREE 12-page report How To Be An Outstanding Manager - The 8 Vital Keys To Managing People Effectively
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