People & Human Resources

The five biggest mistakes made in performance reviews

Kirsten Robb /

There are two words that ignite dread in the hearts of employees and managers like nothing else: performance review.

To no one’s surprise, recent research has revealed that both employees and managers alike loathe performance reviews. In fact, managers list the performance review as one of their least liked management processes, second only to firing someone.

But while it’s obvious as to why most of us don’t necessarily enjoy the performance review, why have businesses reached a state of such deep-seated fear and loathing towards what appears to be an outwardly logical process?

Whether a small startup, multinational or anywhere in-between, the following five mistakes collectively define why the ever-disliked tool that is the performance review is truly flailing:

1. Using the performance review as a method of punishment

Make no mistake, punishment as a behaviour modification process can be very successful, but not when it comes to performance reviews.

This is because effectual punishment should be conveyed as close as possible to the incident itself.

If someone messes up at work, waiting for weeks or months to address the issue will see the person attach implication to the performance review, rather than the behaviour in question.

2. Talking about the past

One of the most rampant issues with performance reviews subsists in the name itself. A mid-year or end-of-year exchange that focuses principally on the past is intrinsically flawed.

Why? You can’t modify what has been, but you can shape what is to be. Whilst reflecting on the past, the bulk of the discussion should actually be focusing on the future.

3. Limiting the feedback process to once or twice per year

Another huge mistake that so many managers make when pioneering formal performance reviews is to believe that that the review itself is all that is necessary.

Good feedback cultures should happen instinctively and when required – not only when scheduled.

Sure, while performance reviews make for good scaffolding, they do not and will not replace day-to-day conversation with staff. Regularity trumps procedure in every way.

4. Being unprepared

It might seem like common sense, but one of the most common areas for managers, especially in SMEs, is that they show up to performance reviews entirely unprepared.

Consider for a minute how that may be perceived by the employee? Another crucial mistake bosses tend to make is not giving the employee the opportunity to prepare. What do they need to think about in the lead up? Never spring surprises on them.

5. Harbouring a less than favourable attitude

Attitude trumps policy, every single time. Your attitude towards the process is a barometer of the effectiveness of the procedure.

If you hate doing performance reviews, you can bet they’ll be a total waste of your time, and of the employee’s time.

If you treat them as a necessary evil, then guess what? You can rest assured they’ll underperform.

Bosses who turn up excited and eager to jump into the conversation consistently get far better results than those who suffer throughout the process. Work on your energetic state; you would be surprised what a difference it makes.

So there are five of the biggest mistakes bosses are making in performance reviews today.

The good news is that these mistakes can be easily modified. Handled well, performance reviews can be an extraordinary staff management practice; one that both staff and management actually look forward to.

Handled poorly, they become an encumbrance to invaluable workplace relationships – the relationships between an employer and an employee.

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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