If, like many managers, you’re gearing up for year-end performance reviews (and perhaps dreading them!), you’re probably thinking a lot about what to say. But what not to say is just as important. Here are four common traps to avoid.
1. Don’t say “I haven’t had much time to prepare for this.” Managers notoriously dread writing performance reviews and tend to put them off. But if you think about it, that sends a pretty terrible message to employees. This is the one time of the year when you’re both charged with stepping back and reflecting on how things are going, and when you’re supposed to deliver a formal message about how you see the person’s performance and the path ahead. If you don't prepare – and if you announce you didn’t prepare – you’re signaling you don’t value the employee, their contributions, or their future with your company. For obvious reasons, don’t do that.
2. Don’t compare the person to other employees. Talk about how the employee’s performance measures against the expectations for the role – their goals, how they measured up to those goals, and how well they align with the values that your company wants to see people displaying. That’s what you want your employees measuring themselves against, not each other. If people feel like they’re competing with each other, you can destroy camaraderie and cooperation and spread seeds of resentment.
3. Don’t focus on personality over results. Comments like “you have a bad attitude” or “you need to be less shy” are about personality. Instead, talk in specifics about how those traits manifest – the specifics that are relevant to work. For example, instead of “bad attitude,” you might talk about how the person has snapped at colleagues and rolled her eyes in meetings. And for “shy,” you might talk about how you’d like to see the person contribute more at meetings and build stronger relationships with clients. Not only does that keep the focus on relevant behaviors, but it also gives the person clear feedback that they can act on.
4. Don’t use gender-biased language. Research shows that high-performing women are far more likely than their male colleagues to be called “abrasive” in their performance reviews. In fact, when one study compared evaluations of high-performing men and women, most of the criticism men received was “heavily geared towards suggestions for additional skills to develop,” while women were frequently told to speak up less, be less abrasive, and not be as assertive. So when you’re writing performance evaluations for women, and especially if you’re about to give a woman feedback around these elements, be careful to think about whether a man doing the same thing would trigger the same feedback.
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