HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

How to Get a Performance Review Back on Track

Performance reviews can help direct and motivate your employees. They can also help you make informed decisions regarding promotions, training needs, pay increases, and disciplinary actions. Unfortunately, these meetings can go off track even when the most seasoned manager is conducting them.

Here are tips for managing some common challenges during the performance review:

Problem: 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.

Problem: 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.

Problem: 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.

Problem: The employee seems distracted.

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. In addition, 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 the 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.

Problem: The employee is 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.

Problem: The employee focuses on the negative.

Even though an employee may receive a positive review overall, he or she may get wrapped up in the negative. To 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.

Problem: The employee refuses to sign the performance evaluation.

At the end of each performance review, you should 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 he or she necessarily agrees 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.


At the end of the performance review, confirm that the employee has fully understood the performance evaluation along with the agreed upon goals for the next review period. Check in with the employee regularly to discuss their progress and offer assistance as needed.

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