A poorly conducted performance review can be worse than no review at all. Here are six common mistakes to avoid.

Five Performance Review Mistakes to Avoid

By Diane Mettler August 17, 2015

The annual performance review is a thing of the past. Employees, especially millennials, crave regular feedback. Without frequent and consistent feedback, employees feel like they are working in a vacuum, unsure if what they're doing it working or not.

Unfortunately, a poorly conducted performance review can be worse than no review at all. Here are five common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1 — Non-Specific

Employees need clear and specific goals. Andrew Jensen, in his article Holding Employees Accountable for Performance says, "By failing to articulate specific performance objectives for your employees, you are failing to provide them with your expectations. You cannot expect employees to meet expectations that have not been clearly explained; nor can you hold them accountable for failing to complete objectives that have never been explicitly outlined. An employee should receive a clear list of your objectives at the very onset of their employment, and from this point forward, they should be held accountable for meeting these expectations."

Mistake #2 — One-Sided Communication

Some supervisors look at the performance review as a time to "tell" the employee what they are doing wrong or right, and they lose the opportunity for an open and honest conversation.

Mistake #3 — Unprepared

Come prepared. Coming to a performance review to just chat sends the wrong message says Jacob Shriar in his article 5 Mistakes Made in Performance Reviews says, "Take the time to prepare a list of questions to ask, feedback, goals you want to see the employee hit, some numbers to back up what you’re saying, etc."

Mistake #4 – Focusing on the Past

Although it's easy to dwell on past mistakes, it's unproductive. Look ahead. Focus on employees' future goals and how you might help them overcome current obstacles that stand in their path.

Mistake #5 – Demeaning

There has been some discussion that the formal performance reviews, where employers are basically handing out reports cards, should be scrapped altogether. These types of review are not only uncomfortable for both parties, they can be downright demeaning. Employees leave the review uninspired and disengaged--the opposite of what the employer was looking to achieve.

An alternative to consider is informal feedback sessions--conversations that take place directly following some disappointment in performance. By having open feedback session, everyone can talk about important issues while there is still time to fix any problems.

Take time to avoid easy performance review pitfalls. Done correctly they should be a value to you and your employees. 


Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.