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Tell Me Something Good

Performance reviews always make me smile.  All of the preparation put into it by managers and supervisors is overwhelming.  The stress level is high.  The loathing of the review by the preparer sets in deeply.  Resentment over spending a weekend or two to get them done overflows into a negative reaction concerning other components of the job.  And let’s not forget the anxiety of the recipient of the review.  They hope for a good appraisal so that the raise they expect/deserve happens.

Isn’t it a great cycle?  Every year, six months or maybe even quarterly, a manager and a subordinate sit together to review that subordinate’s performance.  The process can be draining.  I was just asked to review a particular company’s performance review plan.  The actual review was six pages to complete (Yikes!).  One manager has 20 employees that report to him.  Wow!  No wonder his response is to hate these reviews.  They take an incredible amount of time.

And what about those reviews, especially if they are annual, that connect directly to compensation.  If you hit a 3.4 average, you get a 3% raise, but if you hit a 3.3 average, you only get a 1.5% raise.  How many managers have to alter scores so that the employee gets the raise?  Is that a real review of performance or just documentation to file so that a raise can be given?

Part of the basis of philosophy on performance reviews has to be considered.  Why are they being done?  To justify a raise? To merely say they are being done?  Why?  If the reason is to actually honestly review the performance of the employee, then we’ve got it right.

So many managers struggle to be honest about performance.  They know that a certain employee will flip his/her lid and make things really difficult moving forward.  Really?  That’s a reason to curtail a review?  It sounds like this person should be encouraged out of the organization.  I mean, who’s in charge?  If performance standards are not being met and the recipient is belligerent about it, then I don’t see why we’d waste time coaching someone who does not feel he/she needs it.  Move on.

The review is not only a time to tell someone what’s wrong, but also what’s been really good.  It’s more than okay to tell them something good.  Be honest about it, though.  Don’t make up stuff.  And don’t try to compare an innocuous “good” thing to a really bad performance reality.  For instance:

“Jim, thanks so much for being great during the holiday food drive.  You brought in more canned goods than anyone else.  Fantastic.  But you know, the financial analysis work you’re doing seems to be missing a few components each time and it has not improved.  We’ve talked about this before and I am not seeing much improvement.”

Are we really going to compare the holiday food drive participation (non-work essential) to a core job function (directly work essential)?  The employees we speak with are not stupid (I know, there are exceptions) and can see that there isn’t much good you have to share if the best you can come up with is that he brought more cans of creamed corn in than anyone else.  Let’s think critically on our part and provide dignity on the part of the employee.  If the best we got is creamed corn, then shouldn’t we try to move this person out of the organization or at least to a different area where his skills would better align?

Reviews are to be just that – reviews.  There should not be anything discussed in the formality of the sit-down that someone hasn’t heard previously.  Using the example above, the supervisor reminds Jim that they had discussed his missteps with financial analysis before – perfect.  Now, the review provides an opportunity to right the ship, if it’s not already happened.  Develop a plan and a range of results expected with the employee.  Use the sit-down to establish parameters.

The busyness of the daily workload can be prohibitive to formal objectives, but the review provides a dedicated time to develop those goals and objectives.  The employee should have a voice in the development of those goals, so use part of that time to do so.  It takes some of the pressure off of the manager if he/she can get participation in success.

I know that in one blog article, we can’t solve the world’s problems with performance reviews, but we can start.  Think through what you and your company are doing.  Is it working?  If not, what has to change?  Are you seeking help, if needed, to restructure?  If it’s working, why?  Keep those core truths close and make decisions that support them.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


The first performance review I received had all 5’s on it and one 3.  The three was for employee communications – how I spoke to other employees.  Two things, even in my early 20’s, struck me with this.  One, I knew I wasn’t a 5 in everything.  No way.  And the second, for me to get a 3 in one area that had never been spoken about to me previously, must mean that I really stink at it.  I was dejected that this was a reality that no one shared with me.  I would have addressed it in myself.  I was a little bitter towards the manager.  I was unhappy with this bomb (in my estimation) being dropped.  Oh, and by the way, I got my raise.  Effective?  Hmmmmmm…

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