3 Things You Should Never Say in a Performance Review

Let me start by saying I think annual performance reviews are a waste of time, create more challenges for leaders and companies than the effort put into them, and they should be taken out back and shot.

I’ll explain more, so don’t leave yet, and I will give you some ideas of how to do them better since you may not be able to make the executive decision to kill them. However, do make sure you send this message up to the CEO and HR department.

Why do I make the inflammatory statements above? In my experience with receiving, and giving the annual performance review, as well as working with hundreds of companies and thousands of leaders, the process for improving performance does not work with the annual review.

In many experiences I have witnessed the annual review is the only time an employee hears about their performance, how they are doing great, or what they can do to improve, and then maybe they are given a cost-of-living adjustment based on said performance.

So, one major challenge here; are we giving a cost-of-living adjustment or a performance bump? Things that make you go, hmmm!

Another challenge is creating a culture of improvement in the individual’s performance or competition with teammates for a bump in pay.

One more challenge created is the fear, or defensiveness to justify actions and behaviors by the employee if this is the only time they are hearing about the performance throughout the year.

I believe managers should be equipped to coach their employees to peak performance rather than managing them to minimum expectations!

Now that I set the stage for ridding our companies of the annual review, let me help you give good ones while they are still part of your responsibility.

Toxic praise can destroy confidence and sabotage your high performers.  

An example is a comparative praise. Shawn Achor shared in Big Potential any praise that says “you were the best ___ of ___” or says “you were better than ____” reduces positive risk-taking and makes employees insecure.

When using this type of praise, we are creating a competitive environment within our team, and we also create tension for this person the next time they must present or perform because now they are wondering how they will be judged or compared to their peers.

Comparison praise boosts “cover your bases” excuse-making and amplifies blaming when things go wrong. It also creates resentment and negative vulnerability among colleagues.

Another praise that will hurt your leadership is vague praise. As has been seen in companies who engage in a “just say thank you” campaign dictated by upper management, empty words of vague appreciation tend to backfire. Saying “thanks for all you do here,” sounds like you can’t be bothered to notice what specific contributions the employee is making. And “way to bring the win, keep up the good work,” sounds like a self-serving wish for the team to keep paying the bills, not gratitude for the efforts each person put into bringing the success. 

The third kind of praise that can stifle high performance is praise that acknowledges only the outcome or accomplishment and ignores the action or attitude that the team member was actually in control of, and we must be aware that focusing solely on outcomes when giving praise can demotivate your teams.  

Again, this creates competitiveness because not every employee will have the same results but potentially carry a better attitude while doing the work. 

Feedback can be a landmine for CEOs and frontline supervisors alike. But without solving that puzzle of praise, we risk losing our best people in greater numbers than ever before. So, what do we do? 

Great leaders realize that when workers experience performance feedback that is empowering, they have higher levels of work engagement. To get maximum performance from your workforce, you must foster a culture of consistency around behaviors & offer coaching & mentoring.

You can learn more about how to do these things in our book, Quit Losing Talent

As a leader, meet one-on-one with those you lead. 

You must believe in people as a leader and start from the place “the person wants to do well.” An example is, “Mike, I know you want to do a great job, and as your leader, I really appreciate this attitude. A key part of my role is to invest time in developing and equipping you for an even better future. 

Most feedback should be positive; however, there may be times when the feedback will involve some course correcting and coaching. How do you like me to provide that coaching to you?” The goal of the feedback is to help the person perform better. 

The only way to improve performance is to be a leader who is always improving your coaching skills, your communication skills, and your consistency.

Coaching and performance improvement conversations must happen consistently at least monthly and not only during the annual review. The annual review is just that, a review, and should never be a surprise.

Remember, people are fearful of getting in trouble, so they feel a safe way is to not act, do as little as possible outside of what they’ve been told, or nothing at all. Discuss with the individuals what information and skills they feel they need to move forward on their own. Cover what actions they should and should not take on their own. 

Your job as the leader is:

  1. Hire talented people
  2. Onboard, Orient/Train them
  3. Provide the tools/resources needed
  4. Talk to them. Listen to them
  5. Empower/Encourage them
  6. Remove their roadblocks
  7. Set realistic expectations, measure performance
  8. Get out of their way
  9. Check-In on them consistently

On every team:





If you create a culture of fear and dread, you will get dreadful behavior producing dreadful results

Learn more at QuitLosingTalent.com

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