6 Common Pain Points in Performance Reviews, and How to Address Them

Juil 25, 2019 | Performance Management

Many employees and managers alike feel stressed at the thought of an upcoming performance review. However, when performance reviews are done right, they can provide a welcome opportunity for candid conversation, active listening, and real growth. After you address these key pain points that might be affecting your process, your employees will look forward to their next performance review.


Today, many organizations still hold performance reviews only once or twice a year. However, employees want—and often demand—real-time feedback. Millennials and Gen Z’ers expect continuous input on their performance; not a yearly or bi-yearly evaluation. As organizations grow more agile, performance reviews need to catch up.

What to do: Give employees the support they need to grow by holding performance reviews on an ongoing basis—say, once every two months or once per quarter. In between, give plenty of advice and encouragement as well. Giving them real-time feedback will help them to understand exactly what they need to improve in the moment, along with the specific things they’re doing well. Feedback is much easier to understand when you speak to these specifics rather than making more general statements.

One-way feedback

In the traditional performance review, the advice goes one way —manager to employee. This automatically positions employees on the defensive and ignores the value of their insights.

What to do: Make performance reviews a two-way street in order to show how much you value your people’s input. Set aside time in each review for employees to share insights on their own performance. Ask them to describe their own highs and lows, and what would help them improve their performance. Additionally, ask questions to determine the root of any problems employees are facing. That will help you to more fully understand the challenges they’re encountering and how you can help them to grow.

Using a poor rating system

Most managers benefit from training on how to evaluate employees in their reviews. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), common forms of bias often influence how managers rank people:

  • The recency effect: Managers may weight more recent occurrences more heavily than those that happened closer to the beginning of the review period.
  • Reluctance to differentiate: Due to lack of confidence or poor understanding of the rating criteria they should be using, managers may rate everyone similarly—whether good, bad, or in-between. 
  • The “horns and halos” effect: If employees perform extremely well or poorly in one area, the manager may view them as extremely competent or incompetent in all areas.

What to do: Ask HR staff to provide a workshop or one-on-one feedback sessions on how to evaluate employees fairly, so every employee will get an accurate performance review that truly benefits them. Looking at specific examples from recent performance reviews, explain the criteria you used and listen to HR managers’ input on where you could improve your accuracy. Establishing formal criteria that managers can use in their reviews will provide guidance for all supervisors who are learning how to fairly evaluate employees.

Focusing on the negative

Too often, both employers and managers dread performance reviews because they perceive them as focusing on the negative. No one likes delivering bad news—let alone receiving it.

What to do: Focus forward. Be a supportive coach who works with employees to determine the stepping stones that will bring them to the next level of growth. Set clear benchmarks and goals and recognize both the smaller and larger goals they’ve accomplished over the past performance period. Work to discover what will best motivate individual employees, such as new learning resources or a shift in the organizational culture. Taking these steps will help keep employees engaged and committed to improving their own performance, while giving them the tools to do so.

Blindsiding employees 

Managers often blindside employees by providing feedback that they never saw coming instead of speaking more in-depth about issues both sides are well aware of.

What to do: In addition to giving feedback early and often, tell employees the key points you want to discuss in the review. Send an email with a short list of issues you plan to talk about. This will give them time to prepare their own thoughts instead of feeling caught off guard. Ask employees to think about which key aspects of their performance they want to discuss, too. That way, employees will get feedback about how to handle any challenges they are encountering–and you might learn about new strengths they have developed.

Relying on memory

Your memory is not likely to provide accurate details about all the key issues you need to discuss with your people. By relying on their memory, managers do employees a disservice, often providing vague feedback.

What to do: Keep an ongoing log of each employee’s challenges, accomplishments, and efforts toward growth. Jot down the results of projects, examples of how specific skills need improvement, and how they have overcome hurdles. Employees will feel deeply valued when they see how closely you’re paying attention, and you’ll be able to provide them with a much more thorough review.

Once you revamp your process to focus more on motivating employees and providing consistent feedback, you’ll notice newfound value and relevance in the performance review. In turn, employees will recognize that performance reviews don’t center on finding fault with their work but rather on working together to create a plan for their growth. Instead of dreading these reviews, they’ll start looking forward to them and getting proactive about preparing their own talking points!

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