Dos and Don’ts of Performance Reviews

Need to write an employee review? Chances are you’re dreading it. These dos and don’ts will help you write a review that will deliver the results you and your employees want.

Simple tips to make your reviews positive and productive

Performance reviews are among the most valuable resources in a manager’s toolbox, yet many managers don’t know how to give a performance review of an employee. Here are 10 dos and don’ts to help you create a positive and productive experience.

1. Avoid surprises

DON’T: Wait until the review to address issues, or surprise the employee at the review with unexpected negative feedback.
Why Not?: This disallows the opportunity for the employee to correct the problem and work toward a positive review.
DO: Provide immediate feedback when issues arise and work with the employee to address issues. Meet with the employee throughout the review period.
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “As we discussed before…”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “I’ve been meaning to tell you… “

2. Preparation

DON’T: Wait until just before the assessment to write an employee review.
Why Not?: It’s easy to forget performance. Your review needs to reflect the entire performance period, and this takes advanced preparation.
DO: Document exemplary and poor performance throughout the year to keep track and be automatically prepared when review time comes using process improvement forms and documentation such as the “Instant Performance Documentation Form.”
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “I’ve reviewed my records from the past year and found…”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “I didn’t have time to…”

3. Proper use of phrases for performance reviews

DON’T: Apply ready to use phrases for employee performance reviews without tailoring them.
Why Not?: Sample  phrases for employee feedback are designed to get a manager started and to be completed with specific examples and personalized comments. 
DO: Adapt phrases such as the ones in How to Say It: Performance Reviews to the individual situation.
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Delivers feedback in a constructive manner. She was able to help tech support understand our needs for change.”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “Delivers feedback in a constructive manner.”

4. Keep it professional

DON’T: Chat about personal topics in the review.
Why Not?: Even a friendly inquiry into childcare issues or about parents who are ill could be interpreted by the employee to be evidence of discrimination.
DO: Stick with issues related to the employee’s performance and conduct in the workplace.
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “‘We’re here today to review the successes and lessons from last year and to make plans for next year.”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “How are the kids?”

5. True balance

DON’T: Provide exclusively negative feedback, even where there are serious performance concerns.
Why Not?: It can be demoralizing and demotivating and a review that only contains negatives makes a supervisor appear unfair, which can work against your company should you need to defend a claim.
DO: Acknowledge the employee’s contributions and positive efforts.
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “There was some improvement in the area of…
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “I can’t find anything to acknowledge you for.”

6. Show respect

DON’T: Raise your voice, make personal attacks, use sarcasm or belittle.
Why Not?: An employee who feels respected is more receptive when told of performance problems. Employment court cases are often about hurt feelings.
DO: Speak with respect.
PowerPhrase / What to say: “I understand you’ve given this your best effort, and you need to know that it’s still not up to standard.”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “If this is what you do when you try, I’d hate to see what would happen if you didn’t.”

7. Be committed to accuracy

DON’T: Make promises you cannot deliver on.
Why Not?: Promises can be regarded as a verbal contract.
DO: Speak accurately. Make sure “possibilities” are presented as such.
PowerPhrase / What to say: “The goals and improvements we set will increase your chances to be in a position to…”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “This time next year, you’ll be in a position to… this time next year.”

8. Your best employees

DON’T: Skip the review for employees who are doing a good job.
Why Not?: Employees need to hear about it when they’re doing well.
DO: Discuss specific strengths and set goals.
PowerPhrase / What to say: “I’m looking forward to your review because it’s been a great year.”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “You’re past needing a review. I don’t have time.”

9. Performance review response from the employee

DON’T: Do all the talking.
Why Not?: When you allow a performance review response from the employee your employee will be more open to accepting your decision, having been heard.
DO: Acknowledge their explanations, even if you do not intend to change your conclusions.
PowerPhrase / What to say: “I invite your input in the review. I want to hear how you see it.”
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “You’re just making excuses.”

10. How to document

DON’T: Document conclusions.
Why Not?: Only facts are relevant in court.
DO: Document facts. Document concrete examples of performance that lead you to your conclusions, without documenting the conclusion.
PowerPhrase / What to say: “Called me a ‘micromanaging witch.’ “
POISON PHRASE/ What not to say: “Doesn’t like working for a woman.”

Take the time to review performance effectively

book4An excellent resource for understanding the TIPS system in greater detail is Janelle Brittian and my book How to Say It Performance Reviews.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *