Avoid These Phrases When Doing a Performance Review

Joe Weinlick
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Performance reviews are a source of anxiety for most employees, and hearing a flood of negative feedback from company leaders can make workers too demoralized to improve. As an authority, you have to find ways to motivate employees to give their best and adjust behaviors holding them back. If you want to set clear expectations for employees, avoid using these discouraging phrases in performance reviews.

You Always or Never Do This

Avoid generalizing an employee's character or behavior, which accomplishes nothing and makes the person feel attacked. Instead of saying, "You never cooperate" or "You always talk over people," offer constructive, actionable advice on how to achieve better results at work. Give examples of the problematic behavior and why it's unproductive. Employees are more likely to grow if you clearly describe appropriate ways to handle challenging situations.

Compared to Your Teammates ...

Making an unfair, irrelevant comparison is one of the easiest ways to crush someone's spirit with mere words. Employee evaluations should focus on a worker's individual accomplishments and potential for growth. Telling employees that everyone else is better at a specific task devalues their strengths and drives them to mimic the behavior of top performers. At face value, pushing struggling employees to emulate the company stars may not seem so bad. In the long run, this method sends the message that only one type of skills and behavior is rewarded, which can kill innovation and create hostile teams that don't function well as a unit.

Let's Discuss Why You're Struggling

Hearing a reproachful statement right from the start is like getting sucker punched, especially when employees have no idea they're struggling. Leading with open-ended questions is a more effective way to conduct performance reviews, helping you determine whether employees understand what's expected of them. Try saying, "Can you tell me how you approach new projects?" or "Let's discuss how you're progressing in this role."
Issues could stem from poor leadership, inconsistent communication, mismatched skills or clashing personalities. Listening to employees gives you direct information about what they value and prioritize, so you can find the source of recurring problems.

I Don't Know How to Help You

Performance reviews should be an information gathering mission, not a blame game. Instead of putting the full burden of responsibility on employees, focus on how managers and their reports can work together to achieve shared goals. If you tell employees everything they're doing wrong without offering suggestions for improvement, they leave performance reviews assuming they're getting axed. Reinforce your expectations for the job, and get the employee's input on possible solutions. Together, you should make a plan to improve the situation and decide on established checkpoints, so there's always transparency about how the employee should move forward.

Employee evaluations put everyone on the defensive, and the most confident workers can feel threatened by criticism. Make it clear to employees that performance reviews are about assessing the health of the entire company, not singling out problem workers. Encourage them to overcome hurdles and learn from feedback by providing compassionate support, showing employees that company leaders care about their success.

Photo courtesy of US Embassy Canada at Flickr.com


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