How a Boss Should Act in a Performance Review

January 17, 2017

Five tactics bosses should use in performance reviews to ensure they don't demotivate employees, but also make their point.

Performance reviews are invariably stressful events. Employees’ salaries and career development are greatly affected by their outcome, and how you act as a manager during a review goes a long way to defining how your people will view you.

Hence, there’s arguably no more important meeting than a performance review for managers to act the right way. Come across as too harsh, and employees will feel put off and likely start looking for a new job. Come across as too weak, and employees won’t take the review as seriously as they should and ultimately won’t improve.

So how do you, as a manager, balance all that? Obviously, the key is to act as professionally as possible. But beyond that, in his course Performance Review Fundamentals, Leadership Coach Todd Dewett gave these five tips managers should follow during their performance reviews:

1. Don’t pass the buck.

A common mistake managers make is that they pass the buck in performance reviews, meaning they don’t fully own their evaluation. They blame some policy or a mandate from up above.

Don’t do that. Instead, show respect and maturity by standing by your performance review, Dewett said.

2. Any surprises are your fault.

If the employee you’re reviewing is surprised by a performance review, it isn’t their fault – it’s yours, Dewett said. Because the reality is you should be communicating issues throughout the year, not just during performance reviews.

To avoid that, give your employees feedback throughout the year so reviews don’t come as a surprise. If you are holding things for a performance review, all you're doing is delaying the employee’s development.

3. Limited self-depreciation can be your friend.

It’s tough pointing out someone’s weaknesses, and that can cause tension. You can relieve that tension by talking about similar struggles you’ve had in that area, Dewett said.

For example, say you tell an employee they are too abrupt to their colleagues. If you’ve had a similar experience, let them know about it and how you’ve managed to overcome it. That’ll make you seem more like a colleague, instead of a boss, and cause them to listen more effectively, Dewett said.

4. Don’t respond to emotion, unless it becomes extreme.

If any employee gets emotional in a performance review, don’t respond with emotion – that’ll just make it worse. Instead, stay calm and professional, Dewett said.

Obviously, if the emotion gets out-of-control, you’ll have to respond in some way (of course, hopefully while still staying calm). But, by staying calm and not responding to their emotion, often you’ll avoid the situation getting out-of-control in the first place.

5. When excuses come, listen but stand your ground.

Often when you give negative feedback, people will make excuses on why that’s so. When they do, listen – although don’t take notes, as that’s a sign you accept the excuse.

After they’re done, acknowledge their excuse with either “I considered that fact” or “I wasn’t aware of that, but I don’t think that changes my evaluation.” Again, this goes back to the first point, as you should stand by your review.

What if someone has an excuse that is shocking to you and would change your evaluation? That goes to point two, as if you are just finding about it in the performance review, you’ve done a bad job of keeping open lines of communication with your employees throughout the year.

At that point, it’s time to look at yourself to see how you can improve that communication.

The takeaway

As a manager, you might not like giving performance reviews. But as much as you don’t like giving them, your employees dislike them even more, particularly if they’re negative.

So you should do them right.

After all, performance reviews are high-stakes conversations and you want to deliver actionable feedback without demotivating your employees. These five tips will help you accomplish that and make your performance reviews more effective.

Want to learn more about performance review best practices? Watch Dewett’s full course, Performance Review Fundamentals, today!

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