Talk About Scary…Here Come Performance Reviews!

by Bill Swift on October 15, 2018

in Performance Management

I Can't Bare to Look

How to take the Dread out of your Performance Review Process.

Workplaces have known for a long time that Performance Reviews are rarely popular, but how deep does this dislike go? We have been finding that lots and lots of managers (even Human Resources professionals) have a great deal of reluctance to participate actively in the Performance Review process. Many are downright frightened of the process.

In a supervisor development workshop earlier this year I had an HR manager confide that, even though she would not admit it to her program director, she hated their Performance Reviews. Hate is a strong word. And this program’s Performance Review system is actually one of the better ones we have seen. Comments like these are not uncommon. We continue to hear of workplaces dumping their review systems or consultants recommending that we do away with reviews altogether, probably a reaction to these sentiments.

And probably not the best idea. Perhaps a baby and bathwater dynamic.

Where does this dislike/fear come from and is there a way out?

One of the things that complicates this thing we call a Performance Review is the fact that we are often trying to accomplish too much at once with a review. This may contribute to the awkwardness that often characterizes the process. Our goals behind the Performance Review may include compliance issues, advancement concerns, discipline, goal setting, engagement, or good old-fashioned documentation. Not all of these goals align well and often require differing skill sets for our supervisors.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to the unpopularity of the Performance Review process is the interaction itself. We continue to see many supervisors who lack the conversation and coaching skills to embrace the Performance Review process. And this uncertainty is communicated without saying a word.

Fear not! There are great solutions, solutions that lead to improved embracing of the Performance Review process.

  • Teach supervisors to start early and build up the frequency of interaction around performance and goals so that the review is, well, just that, a review. Show that quality trumps quantity.
  • To back this up, teach and support relationship-building and coaching skills to all supervisors. Do not assume that they were born with these skills. Show them that these interactions can, with practice, become more pleasant and rewarding.
  • Structure your process so that it is a two-way street and employees know that they are also responsible for improving the conversation around individual and team performance. We unwittingly communicate more of a one-way street in many of the Performance Review and Employee Engagement conversations.
  • Make your review systems as simple and user friendly as possible. Of course, no system is perfect. Accept that supervisors may complain about the Performance Review tool.
  • As these complaints surface, ask supervisors to check their faith in the Performance Review process. When we see leaders shift from “let’s get this over with” to “how can I help my employees stay charged up?” the lights really go on!

After all, with good performance and positive goal-setting conversations comes improved engagement, more connection to the group and the job. This is stuff we all want, stuff that makes the difference for retention and productivity and, perhaps most important, makes the work more enjoyable.

We would love to hear your stories of the good, bad and ugly of the performance review process. Please check in at

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