Regular performance reviews are an important part of the HR function for businesses that want to keep track of how their workforce is operating and support employees in their career development.
However, if they're not managed properly, these procedures can become counterproductive, resulting in a negative experience for employees and bosses alike.
To avoid this happening in your organization, make sure you're aware of the most common mistakes and pitfalls managers need to avoid when conducting performance reviews.
1. Not preparing
Like many other business projects and processes, effective performance appraisals rely on preparation. Regardless of how many times managers have had these meetings in the past and how many more they’ll have in the future, they should be diligent in their preparation for each and every one.
When a manager goes into a review with limited knowledge of the employee's current responsibilities or recent experiences in the workplace, their lack of preparation will be instantly obvious.
As well as wasting everyone's time and reducing the likelihood that this activity will generate any value, poor preparation creates the impression that managers view appraisals simply as a box-ticking exercise. This could lead workers to assume that the company isn't really interested in them or their development, which will impact employee engagement and productivity in the long term.
2. Taking a 'one-size-fits-all' approach
Every employee in your organization is an individual, with a unique background and set of goals, priorities and challenges at work, so they should be treated as such.
As tempting as it might be (from a time-saving perspective) to come up with a template or a set workflow that you can use for every appraisal, the reality is that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all system for performance reviews.
Make sure your managers have the time and resources they need to take a fresh approach to every employee meeting and give each one the respect it deserves. One tactic worth considering is placing a cap on team sizes, to ensure managers aren't stretched too thin and can really get to know their staff.
3. Not listening
Performance reviews should be a dialogue between managers and employees - an opportunity for individuals in your workforce to talk about their experiences, share their concerns, set future goals and ask questions.
What they absolutely shouldn't be is a one-way street. Employees who are expected to sit down and be passive while a manager talks at them, showing zero interest in what they have to contribute to the process, are likely to disengage and get very little out of the meeting.
One of the most important things managers can do to make sure there's an element of back-and-forth to every appraisal is to really listen to what the employee has to say. You could consider investing in dedicated training on methods like active listening to help managers improve their communication skills and build stronger relationships with their team members.
4. Being too negative
Another pitfall managers need to be particularly careful to avoid is seeing performance reviews simply as an opportunity to tell employees where they've been going wrong.
While there might be a positive motivation behind this approach, it's vital to ensure that any criticism is delivered in a constructive way. Rather than looking back and highlighting examples of where employee performance has fallen short, take a proactive view and talk about how the individual might be able to tackle this challenge differently in the future. Make it clear that the employee has your support and ask how you can help them in any areas where they might be struggling.
Furthermore, regular appraisals provide an opportunity to deliver positive feedback and to show that you appreciate your workers for the things they do well and the contributions they make to the business. Research by Gallup has shown that more than 50% of employees feel engaged after receiving positive feedback, while 89% feel either not engaged or actively disengaged after getting negative feedback.
5. Succumbing to stereotypes and biases
One of the worst things a manager can do before going into a performance review is making assumptions about the employee based on stereotypical views or biases.
For example, if you assume that working with technology will be one of the biggest challenges for a senior employee who has been with the company for decades, you could create an unfair picture of this individual and their capabilities.
Make it clear to anyone given the responsibility of evaluating and delivering feedback to staff that they’re expected to be impartial and to focus on performance data and evidence, not preconceived notions.
6. The recency effect
Another mistake that will create a skewed picture of employees and their performance is only looking at their most recent conduct and results, rather than the bigger picture.
This is a particularly common problem with annual appraisals, where there’s a risk of managers overlooking data and examples of work from 11 or 12 months ago, in favor of more recent indicators.
One way to address this is by shifting to ongoing performance reviews, which can help you build a more accurate picture of workforce productivity and keep your employees engaged and motivated.