5 Mistakes Managers Make In Performance Reviews

We’re halfway into the calendar year and for many companies, this is the time to run the annual performance review process.

Now, I know… while they’re actually meant to help you, you likely just had a bit of the chill or a tense stomach just thinking about it.

There are not many other discussions in the workplace that causes so much fear and dread on the manager’s side and so much anger and resentment on the team member’s side than the performance review.

Back when I was a manager, I remember people complaining about the process on a daily basis.

Managers complained about the hours that go into preparing the reviews and then not getting any appreciation, not even a “Thank You”, from their team members.

And team members complained about the inaccurate and unjustified feedback and the lack of appreciation for all the work they’ve done. I heard them say “They don’t appreciate all the hard work I’ve done all year. All they did was pick on the small stuff that doesn’t even matter. No “Great job!”, nothing! I’m so frustrated. I’m done!”

While performance reviews are by nature personal and will touch emotions, here are 5 mistakes managers can avoid turning these conversations into a positive experience.

Mistake #1: Not Enough Recognition

As the saying goes…People have a habit of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be. The purpose of these reviews is as much to encourage your employees as it is to offer constructive criticism.

It might seem like a simple thing, but lots of managers spend the vast majority of the time during a performance review talking about what’s not working well. Instead, find a more balanced way and weave in meaningful appreciation as much as you can.

It never ceases to amaze me how much people can take on and how engaged they remain, as long as they get appreciated for their hard work. The performance review is a great occasion to praise and recognize key accomplishments and positive behaviors.

It’s the cheapest bonus you’ll ever pay. Or as Sam Walton from Wal-Mart would say: “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”

Mistake #2: Being Too Vague

Make sure that the feedback, especially the positive one, you share is meaningful, not vague.

Avoid empty phrases such as these when giving feedback (it’s ok to use them to start or sum up the conversation):

  • Overall, you are doing great.
  • I like the work you did on that project.
  • You are an asset to the team.
  • We appreciate all that you do.

Instead, qualify your statements to give meaningful feedback that really settles in with your team member.

Use specific examples:

  • I really like the way you handled X issue on your last project. By doing Y, you showed great leadership skills.
  • Your idea to add X to the project really helped it take off. You have great creative input.
  • I noticed you’ve been staying extra hours during our production period and I want you to know it’s really appreciated. Mistake

#3: Focus On Recency

When you overly focus on the most recent event as the basis for analyzing the entire past year’s performance, then you’ve fallen victim to the Recency Effect. For example, your team member made some mistakes very recently and it ends up being the main topic of the performance review even they’ve done a great job the rest of the year.

With lots on your plate, it may be really hard for you to remember what she did and how well she did 6-12 months ago. So, you only base your opinions on the most recent events.

The way to prevent this is to either review emails from 6-12 months ago during the preparation process or, even better, start tracking accomplishments and key areas of growth throughout the entire year.

I used to have a OneNote page for each team member and every week, I’d take a few minutes to write down specific examples of what went well and what didn’t. I then used this to give feedback during the weekly 1-on-1 and I went back to all the examples I had written down when it was time to complete their annual performance review.

Mistake #4: No Follow-Up

One of the most bureaucratic things about performance review meetings are the forms that get filled out dutifully and sent to HR.
As part of every performance review, there should be objectives set for the coming year.

One of the biggest mistakes managers can make is to forget about these objectives as soon as the form has been submitted. There’s no quarterly review of them to see if the employee is on track and if not, to talk about what to do to get back on track.

Then, 12 months later, nothing has changed and the feedback is still the same. For this process to be effective, the objectives have to be top of mind for you and the team member throughout the year.

Mistake #5: You Do All The Talking

If you sit down for a performance review with your team member and you do all the talking then you’re not doing it right. It’s their review so they should actively participate.

Ask them questions throughout the entire conversation so they can share their perspective and share what they’re hearing and taking away from it. This is the only way to make sure you’re feedback is actually understood the way you intended it.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How did you perceive this particular situation?
  • What do you think caused this to happen?
  • How can you prevent it in the future?
  • In which areas do you personally feel there is room for you to improve?
  • In which areas do you personally feel you’re doing well?
  • What do you see as your greatest accomplishment this past year? What did you do that made that happen? How can you apply this going forward?
  • What are you taking away from this particular feedback?

Your leadership coach,



Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top