HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

8 Performance Review Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Performance reviews can help improve productivity and motivate your employees. They can also help you make informed decisions regarding promotions, training needs, pay increases, and disciplinary actions. Here are common mistakes even some seasoned managers make when giving performance feedback and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: The conversation is one sided.

The performance review should be an interactive discussion between you and the employee. To help promote a dialogue, ask the employee to evaluate their own performance prior to the meeting. Additionally, to put the employee at ease, start the meeting off by explaining that the purpose of the review is to improve performance and foster professional growth. Focus on the exchange of feedback and collaborate on action plans for the future.

Mistake #2: The employee is surprised by the feedback.

The performance review shouldn't be the first time the employee has heard about a problem. Performance issues should be addressed at the time they occur and reiterated during the review. If you have communicated performance concerns in the past, such as in a written or verbal warning, remind the employee of past discussions and provide documentation if applicable.

Mistake #3: The employee thinks the goals are/were unrealistic.

The performance review should address the employee's progress in meeting current goals and establish goals for the next review period. To the extent possible, include the employee in the goal-setting process. Goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. If an employee was unable to meet their goals or believes new goals are unattainable, discuss the specific reasons why. Be flexible and adjust goals impacted by resource constraints or other circumstances beyond the employee's control.

Mistake #4: Failing to take steps to reduce distractions.

Minimize distractions during the performance review by scheduling the meeting for a mutually convenient time. Think about the employee's workload and try to schedule the meeting after a major project or deadline.  Also, when merit increases are coupled with performance reviews, employees may focus solely on the pay increases. To avoid this, some employers have two separate discussions, one dedicated to performance and one to communicate any merit increase. Regardless of how you handle the situation, encourage the employee to focus on the performance evaluation so that they can understand their ratings, learn what they need to do during the next review period, and ask any questions they have.

Mistake #5: The conversation becomes argumentative.

The performance review should be a constructive conversation, not a debate. If the employee presents new information that is relevant to the performance review (e.g. claims to have made more sales than indicated in the review), let the employee know that you will look into the new information following the meeting. Avoid making any promises that you will change the performance rating and schedule a follow-up meeting if necessary.

Mistake #6: Leading with the negative.

Even though an employee may receive a positive review overall, they may get wrapped up in the negative. To help minimize this, start the conversation with positive feedback before delving into areas where the employee needs to improve. While you should acknowledge the positive aspects of every employee's performance, don't avoid or dance around negative feedback—be clear and straight forward and provide examples of performance issues. Additionally, provide strategies and suggestions for ways to improve performance.

Mistake #7:  Faulting employees for taking protected leave or for engaging in other protected activity.

Many federal, state, and local laws give employees the right to job-protected leave and prohibit retaliation against employees who exercise their rights to take leave. If an employee takes protected leave, you may not count this time against the employee when assessing their attendance or performance. There are a number of other laws that protect employees for engaging in other types of conduct, such as lawful off-duty activities. Check your applicable law to ensure compliance.

Mistake #8: Failing to ask an employee to acknowledge that they received the review.

At the end of each performance review, ask the employee to sign the written review. If the employee refuses to sign, explain that the purpose of the signature is to confirm that the employee received the information, not that they necessarily agree with it. If the employee disagrees with the performance review, give the employee an opportunity to provide a written statement explaining why they disagree with the review. If the employee still refuses to sign, note that on the performance record and then date it.


To ensure that your performance reviews stay on track consider the above guidelines and:

  • Make assessing and improving performance a priority.
  • Provide regular feedback to all employees.
  • Address performance concerns promptly and in private.
  • Make sure the criteria you use for performance assessments are valid, job-related, and applied consistently.
  • Ensure that the feedback and ratings are accurate and don't reflect conscious or unconscious biases.
  • Train managers and others on providing feedback and complying with applicable laws.
  • Hold managers accountable for providing regular performance feedback to employees.
  • Check in with the employee regularly to discuss their progress and offer assistance as needed.

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