The 5 Things That Guarantee Dreadful Performance Reviews

November 9, 2017

These are signs that your performance reviews at your organization will be absolutely dreadful.

Todd Dewett, leadership guru and LinkedIn Learning instructor, said it best: "To be honest, performance reviews are sometimes the most feared and despised aspects of the modern workplace."


Performance reviews do not need to be something employees and managers dread. These conversations can used to strengthen the employee-manager relationship and foster employee growth, all while driving real outcomes.

You just need to handle them the right way. And avoid some common pitfalls.

So how do you know when your organization’s performance reviews need work? Here are five signs:

1. The annual performance review is the first time an employee has received feedback.

The golden rule of performance reviews: avoid the shock factor. Employees should have a good idea of what will be discussed prior to a formal review.

The worst-case scenario is an employee consistently underperforms, underdelivers or is struggling in business conduct (think: late to meetings, slow to respond to emails, etc.) and doesn't know it until an annual or quarterly review. Yikes. With a regular feedback system, a manager is setup to offer feedback on these kinds of issues often, so they can be addressed much quicker.

To avoid this, consider a combination of weekly one-on-one meetings and quarterly written reviews – along with the annual review.

2. Employees feel like their manager and the organization only care about outcomes.

An organization with the sole focus on outcomes leads to burnout and turnover.

Yes, key performance indicators (KPIs) are important. But the modern employee will not stay with an organization that lacks interested in their growth – 94 percent of people said they would stay their company longer if they invested in their development. The performance review is a great opportunity to show that while you value outcomes, you're also interested in developing your employees.

 “The bottom-line question is this: How can organizations build career models that encourage continuous learning, improve individual mobility and foster a growth mind-set in every employee, year after year?” Bersin Founder Josh Bersin said. “This is the opportunity for today; companies that figure this out will outperform, out-innovate and out-execute their peers.”

3. Managers don't have the resources they need to be successful.

It's not easy to give a thoughtful, productive performance review. And managers need to balance all of that with their usual work, which can lead to them becoming overwhelmed.

So make it easy on them. Give your managers templates to follow, clear performance guidelines and training on how to give an employee constructive feedback. The more structure you provide managers, the more consistency you’ll see across your performance reviews.

4. Your employees aren’t clear on when your performance reviews are or what they are intended to do.

Have you ever had an experience like this:

You: "Hey Joe, are you ready for the performance review next week?"

Joe:  "I totally forgot about that. When is that happening, and what exactly are we supposed to be doing?"

This is not good. Just like managers need structure for their performance reviews, so do employees. And that means marketing both their existence and the point of them, via whatever internal channels are available.

Think about the messaging – here’s where you can tell your story. Do you really want people to dread performance reviews, or instead see them as developing opportunities? Do you want the focus to be the raise employees get, or the opportunities available to them if they develop in certain areas?

You can influence all of that by nailing the messaging in your internal marketing.

5.  Your employees don't set regular SMART goals.

Without clear goals, employees and managers could have very different opinions on their performance – and both be right.

Setting clear goals ahead of time helps to centralize the conversation on a few core objectives that the employee and manager agree that the employee will meet. It also makes performance much easier to review: did they meet those goals or not?

Goals also help employees prioritize work and ultimately make for a more strategic organization. Here’s some advice on best practices for setting goals.

*Image from Vivid Image, Flickr

For a tactical guide to tackling these five obstacles and more, check out our new toolkit, Shifting Focus: How to Put People at the Center of Performance Reviews.