Ten Biggest Mistakes Bosses Make In Performance Reviews

In the world of organisational life, there’s no single discussion that causes so much fear and dread on the boss’s side and so much anger and resentment on the direct report’s side than the performance review.
I had drinks last week with a senior guy who works for a global financial institution, who had just had his year-end performance review a couple of weeks ago.  He exploded in anger to me about the experience. “I’ve had it with those guys.  They don’t give a s— about any of the work I’ve done in the last 3 years.  I’m doing the old jobs of 4 people pre-2008 and they don’t thank me and they just want me to do more.  I’m quitting.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “In this economy? You’re going to quit over this?”
“Damn right. I can find another job in the next month for what I do.  If these guys don’t appreciate me, I’ll go somewhere else.”
Why do almost all performance reviews cause aggravation?  Here are the top ten ways you can ensure your next performance with your reports will be a total bomb:
1. Too vague. I love the bosses who have 10 minute performance reviews with their people, usually in the last week of the year — after being harassed 4 times from HR to get them done.  The meetings are usually called on the spur of the moment: “Hey Sally, could you stop in my office for a sec?”  They’re as brief as possible and give the reports no specific feedback on the work they’ve done in the last year.  There’s usually lots of “you’re doing good work” and “keep it up” sprinkled in to the conversation.  But how does a report take that as feedback and improve their job performance in the next year? Be specific about what you liked and didn’t like in their performance.
2. Everything’s perfect – until it’s not and you’re fired. This reason usually follows #1.  Over the years, I’ve heard lots of complaints from laid off workers who never saw it coming and then are bitter when they are tossed aside because they’re apparently no longer getting the job done.  They point to a series of glowing annual performance reviews and then suddenly being called into the boss’s office to be let go.  People aren’t usually resentful if they’re laid off because the company is suddenly facing a crisis not of their own making (which isn’t usually the case).  However, what drives people up the wall is when it’s clear that the boss has been bothered by some aspect of their performance, but never bothered to mention it to them until the time of their firing.  ”A little heads up would have been nice so I could have tried to improve in that area,” said one person I know who went through this experience.
3. Recency effect. This is a psychology term for when we overly focus on the most recent event as the basis for analyzing the entire past year’s performance.  So, if you have some mistake happen to you very recently and it ends up being the entire topic of your performance review even if you’ve done a great job the rest of the year, you’ve been a victim of the recency effect.  Some bosses seem to have no memory, so they only base their opinions on the most recent events and opinions from others to form their opinion on what’s happening.  Plus, the world we live in today, with always on email and Twitter stream updates, makes us even more susceptible to doing this.
4. No preparation. Some bosses like to do these meetings “on the fly.”  I knew one boss that would drive around with his sales guys and give them feedback from the passenger seat on long roadtrips.  The worst part of this kind of approach is that it typically means the boss hasn’t given any thought to how the report has done in the last year and what they need to do to improve.  Even worse are the bosses who simply cut and paste what was on last year’s performance review form to this year’s with minimal if any changes.  The message sent to the employee is: “I’m very important and busy.  I don’t have time to tell you how I think you’re doing at your job.”
5. They never happen at all or “My people know my door is always open.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chatted with lazy bosses who use that line: “Oh, my people know I have an open-door policy and they can come to me to talk about anything at any time.”  I would say 80% of the time in those cases, if I went to the reports and they answered me honestly, they would say that they typically don’t go to the boss because he or she is always on the phone or looks too busy.  And, by the way, they usually never take the boss up on the offer.  The bosses who don’t plan their performance reviews are typically not great planners in their jobs.  There will typically be other problems down the road for that boss’s work group if they’re showing evidence of being unable to plan the simplest of meetings.
6. No pats on the back. It might seem like a simple thing, but lots of bosses just don’t give recognition to their people when they do a good job.  These days, we’re all busy and most people are over-worked and under-appreciated. But it never ceases to amaze me how much abuse people can take from the worst boss and the worst work environment, as long as they get some random appreciation for their hard work every now and then.  Maybe it’s just inertia, or fears about doing a job search in a bad economy, but I find most people want to stay where they are working at their current jobs.  Maybe they have their kids in a daycare nearby.  Maybe they have a decent commute.  Whatever it is, people can put up with a lot of grief.  They just need an occasional bone to be thrown their way. Say thanks to your people when they do a good job.  It’s the cheapest bonus you’ll ever pay.
7. No recognition for doing the work of 3 people. More than just saying thanks, it’s important to remember that something structural has happened in the job market since the 2008 financial crisis.  Most industries have dramatically cut headcount.  As a result, the remaining folks have been asked to take on the responsibilities of their former colleagues.  We’re now going into the 3rd year since most of these major layoffs have happened.  On the one hand, the remaining employees are happy they continue to have their jobs, but a lot of them are starting to get burned out.  As mentioned in the previous point, a little thanks would go a long way.  Most times though, bosses say nothing. The old employees are gone, the new people pick up the slack, and life rolls on.  Except that there’s a deep undercurrent of resentment among lots of employees out there.
8. Not being truthful with employees about their performance. We all know Mr. Nice Guy bosses, who have a hard time giving one of their reports negative feedback.  We also know bosses who never say anything good.  They only complain.  Steve Jobs at Apple (AAPL) was famous for ripping his people.  In my experience, most people can handle the truth; they just can’t handle inaccurate perceptions. And those who can’t handle the truth should’ve heard it years ago but probably had lazy managers.  If it’s truthful, most people can take negative feedback — even lots or constant negative feedback as was the case with Jobs.  They can take it because the feedback is in service of the mission at the company.  But if the boss is way off-base in his or her perceptions of a report’s performance, it is maddeningly frustrating for the employee.
9. No follow-up. One of the most bureaucratic things about performance review meetings are the forms that get filled out dutifully and sent to HR.  As part of every performance review, there should be goals set for the coming year.  The worst bosses forget about these goals as soon as they’ve been completed.  There’s no quarterly review of them to see if the employee is on track.  There’s no mid-stream feedback on how the report is doing in relation to the goals or tips from the boss on what to do to get back on track.  Then, 12 months later, the old form gets pulled out from the file to be discussed again and new goals are set.  To be effective, the goals have to be top of mind for both the report and the boss throughout the year.
10. No discussion around the report’s career ambitions. Most people don’t think a lot of their career path – whether they’re a boss or a report. Yet, people need to be asked “what do you want to do?” or “where do you want to go?” at every performance review (or at a separate dedicated meeting annually).  This forces the employee to look him or herself in the mirror.  A lot of times, some disgruntled employee – if they’re forced to answer the question of where they want to progress to — will realise they’re not in the right spot in the current job.  Others will use the discussion to soak up tips from the boss like a sponge and end up being much more engaged and motivated in their jobs.
Performance reviews might not ever be fun, but they can be effective and powerful ways of creating more loyalty among team members when they’re done right.

[Source: www.forbes.com]

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