Shocking Performance Reviews

If you do enough of them, performance appraisals will one day lead to an employee disagreeing with some aspect of their review. Even when you give periodic feedback, live by the “no surprises” philosophy and provide the proper level of communication, you will have disagreements. People take performance reviews personally, as a badge of honor or an insult to their character. It is a reflection of their worth as a person. This is especially when there is high anxiety, tough economic times, merger mania, heavier workloads and greater expectations. When a supervisor’s rating of their performance differs from their own feelings, it can feel like a crushing blow. The shocked look on their face should prepare you for a roller coaster conversation

What do you say to employees, who do not agree with their performance appraisal? Sometimes the disapproval is mild. At other times the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife. How you handle this situation is very important to the life and health of your organization and your relationship with the bruised employee. You must;

  • Explain how you arrived at the rating. Their initial input should have been considered and incorporated into the appraisal document.
  • Give them time to state why they see things differently and ask for specific examples to corroborate their position
  • Stay with your ratings, if you feel the rating is still correct. After a discussion, state this in a manner that values their contributions and maintains their dignity
  • Allow time for them to calm down and empathize with their position
  • Reschedule to allow more time for discussion if more time is needed

You should always let the employee know that you value their contributions and show evidence of this in their evaluation and pay statements. In many cultures people are offered an opportunity to speak to Human Resources to initiate an appeals process.

Additionally, there are two key points, which need to be clearly stated in commenting on the employee’s performance:

  • Fatigue is not necessarily equivalent to excellence
  • The appraisal is not an indictment or validation of them as a person

The fatigue factor

Some people feel they deserve to be rated excellent because of the number of hours worked, activities, assignments and extra projects performed. They believe they should get an “E” for effort. They worked hard and not necessarily smart. They were physically and emotionally worn out at the end of each week.

Companies are asking more of employees. I know I am not telling you anything new. Many assignments require longer hours, large commitments and huge sacrifices. Teamwork and cooperation take time, tremendous amounts of energy and may take their toll on the individuals. Even the most physically fit, may complain of being totally exhausted.  But bear in mind, the market will ask the question; the Company will ask the question; did you hit your target? Did we reach our financial objectives? The goal was not to get tired. Fatigue was not the endpoint. The goal was to achieve positive results against your objectives. A healthy bottom line is still the finish line.

The world is competitive and everyone is trying to get the upper hand. Healthy financial results lead to survival and maximum performance. Security is tied into financial results. If we do everything else well, but don’t reach the financial targets, Wall Street will not be pleased. The Company will not be satisfied.

Validation vs Indictment

Performance management systems are not designed to ask the question, Are they a good or excellent employee? They are answering the question; did they have a good or excellent month, quarter or year? It is not a validation or a personal assault on the individual as a person, but an assessment of their individual and team success against stated objectives. The rating should not be taken personally, which is easier said than done.

It is important to be careful with personal references such as, “I am disappointed in you,” “I expected more from you”, or “How could you perform so badly?” Link your words to your thoughts about their performance against a goal.

More to consider

  • Results are not unfair, unless the goals were unfair. Work to ensure that goals are appropriate and realistic.
  • The focus of the discussion is not what can be done to change the current rating, but to ensure that plans are in place to work a higher rating next time
  • The definition of excellence is devalued, if it can be attained without meeting the financial objectives
  • Great performance should not need a handicap. The results are what they are. Excellent ratings should not have qualifiers, such as, “due to factors beyond their control,” or “ through no fault of their own they were negatively impacted by certain situations, therefore we gave them the excellent rating. They shouldn’t be penalized for adverse conditions nor should they be rewarded.
  • They should always have an idea of what excellence looks like
  • Some managers mail the performance write-up before the conversation, which I’m sure presents its own challenges

The performance appraisal process is an arduous task and takes a lot of time to do it right. Employees deserve the expenditure of time. They must however, understand expectations and have a clear idea where they stand and what they have to do to move to a higher level of achievement.

Delivering a fair assessment, managing the conference of a disappointed employee and the days after are important, to develop and retain quality employees. How these events are handled will have a profound affect on the individual involved, their team and the entire organization.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

2 thoughts on “Shocking Performance Reviews

  1. Always a wise man, and so compassionate! Thanks for all the wisdom you have shared with me along the way.


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