Let’s be honest, the prospect of annual performance reviews doesn’t fill the average manager’s heart with joy. It’s often approached with trepidation by employees too—many of whom don’t relish the idea of being pulled up on all the things they could have done better in the year gone by.

Performance reviews don’t fill the average manager’s heart with joy, either. It’s often approached with trepidation by employees too—many of whom don’t relish the idea of being pulled up on all the things they could have done better in the year gone by.

Of course, it really shouldn’t be a conversation to be dreaded by either party. The annual appraisal is a great opportunity for managers to sit down with their people and celebrate their successes, set challenging but achievable objectives for the year ahead and agree on the training and development needed to take the employee to the next level.

performance review pitfalls

So, what are the pitfalls you need to avoid if you want to run a performance review that leaves employees fired up and feeling good about themselves?

1. Giving feedback based on personality, not performance

The reality is that as a manager, you’re not necessarily going to like all of your team. There will always be people who you don’t gel with, find irritating or who know exactly which buttons to press to push you over the edge. However maddening some of your employees may be, you can’t let it cloud the feedback you give them during an appraisal.

Sometimes unconscious biases can get in the way of an effective conversation. We all of them to some degree, so it’s important to take a step back and make sure you are focusing on the real issues. Focus your feedback on how well they are meeting their targets and doing their job and try to see past any personal niggles or personality clashes.

2. Making it a one-way conversation

The best performance reviews are a two-way street. Yes, it’s an opportunity for the manager to give their feedback on how well—or otherwise—they feel their direct report is doing and to set, or review, objectives and priorities. But there should also be a chance for the employee to give their perspective.

Use the appraisal as an opportunity to have a constructive dialogue about challenges and opportunities, skill strengths and needs and to get a real handle on the employee’s aspirations for the future.

3. Taking a glass half-empty approach

Performance reviews should be as much about what an employee is doing well as about what they may be doing badly. Of course, you can’t sweep poor performance under the carpet, and if you have serious concerns about how someone is approaching their role, these have to be openly addressed. But focusing on what people are doing well and finding ways for them to do more of it, is a much more effective approach.

Use the appraisal as an opportunity to get a real understanding of your employee’s strengths and how you can capitalise on them, rather than trying to ‘fix’ areas they are probably always going to struggle with.

4. Giving wooly criticism

It’s not uncommon for employees to come out of appraisals knowing they aren’t doing quite what their manager wants, but feeling unclear about exactly what it is they need to do differently. Make sure the feedback you give is clear and specific.

Instead of telling someone their client relations are not up to scratch, give an example of when they handled a situation poorly and be specific about how they should approach things differently next time. If you don’t tell people what they are doing wrong, they are likely to continue to repeat the same mistakes.

5. Failing to agree on a plan of action

Ideally, employees should leave their performance review energised, excited and clear about what they are going to do next. Close the review by agreeing on an action plan with the employee, set clear measurable objectives, agree on timescales and identify any training and development that’s needed. Schedule an informal follow-up so you can review how things are going.

Use your HR software system to make sure everything is recorded. Most performance review systems will provide a central place where actions can be noted and easily accessed at any time by both manager and employee – a great way to make sure everything keeps on track and actions that have been agreed actually happen.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.