Benefits and Compensation

Top 10 Mistakes in Documenting Employee Performance

Yesterday’s Advisor showed how to make appraisals work for you (and not your employee’s attorney). Today, Attorney Susan G. Fentin’s Top 10 mistakes in documenting employee performance.

Fentin, a partner at the Springfield, Massachusetts, office of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., offered her tips at BLR’s Advanced Employment Issues Symposium, held recently in Las Vegas.

Fentin’s Top 10 Appraisal Mistakes

10. Forgetting an audience—who will read the document?
9. “Cut and paste”—it’s too easy to make embarrassing mistakes, and it’s not likely to generate meaningful results.
8. Bad timing—stick to the schedule or it appears that appraisals are not important.
7. Dishonest evaluations—a “satisfactory” rating of a poor performer will come back to bite you.
6. Misuse of a Performance Improvement Program—it’s not discipline.
5. Using legalese and jargon—this won’t help in front of a jury, and may be incomprehensible to any outsiders.
4. Confusing directives—Make it abundantly clear what is required for each goal.
3. Numerical rating without commentary—this is hard to explain and justify.
2. Inconsistent application of standards—this will end up supporting a lawsuit.
1. No supporting documentation—claims made on the appraisal should be supported.

Why Else Do Performance Appraisals Fail?

  • Poor preparation by managers.
  • Dropping a “bomb”—the person being appraised was never informed about poor performance or the need to improve.
  • Mixed messages in delivery.
  • Friends vs. supervisor/subordinate—it’s a tricky tightrope.
  • Only just before termination—this looks suspicious.
  • Sugarcoated—“Your performance could be improved” (was it great and could be improved a little? Or terrible and could be improved a lot?
  • Not consistently provided.
  • All employees get the same level of reviews.
  • “Merit” raises for poor performance.
  • Sudden change in rating after long history of good performance.
  • Goals and expectations not clear or realistic.
  • Reviewer concerned about confrontation; downplays problems.
  • Performance measured in abstract terms (attitude, motivation, dependability).

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How else might poor appraisals come back to bite you? Fentin outlines a number of possibilities:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment if a good review is offered in exchange for sexual favors
  • Layoff—when number rankings without anecdotal information are used to select individuals for layoff
  • Discrimination if there is a reference to FMLA leave or ADA accommodation (or anything related to employee’s physical or mental condition) in the review

Is there a danger of defamation charge? Not usually, says Fentin, because the appraisal is a privileged communication and is not published.

The best way to make performance appraisal easier? Hire the right people in the first place.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, a company known for its innovative approach to employee relations, says bad hires have cost his company more than $100 million!

Indeed, bad hiring decisions can be extremely costly. There are those hard costs of turnover and lost productivity, plus you run the risk of damaging company morale and company culture.

Finding, attracting, and hiring the right talent for your organization is no easy feat! Fortunately, there’s timely help in the form of BLR’s new webinar— Interviewing, Hiring & Onboarding: How to Get Great Employees Off to a Great Start in 3 Easy Steps! Find key ways to stack the interviewing, hiring, and onboarding deck in your favor.

Participate in this interactive webinar to learn the secrets to mastering the interviewing, hiring, and onboarding process. In just 90 minutes, on February 26, you’ll learn how to devise a well-planned, comprehensive hiring strategy—one that helps you find top candidates and effectively bring them on board so they’ll stick around for the long haul. This top-to-bottom hiring process can help you attract the best employees, reduce turnover, and save your company thousands of dollars!

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Most important HR action? Hiring, always. Join us Thursday, February 26, for a new interactive webinar, Interviewing, Hiring & Onboarding: How to Get Great Employees Off to a Great Start in 3 Easy Steps! Earn 1.5 hours in HRCI Recertification Credit. Register Now


By participating in this interactive webinar, you’ll learn:

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  • How technology is continuously changing the hiring process and how to keep up
  • The important distinction you need to recognize between talent and skills
  • Interviewing pointers that can help you get a really good sense of how well they’ll fit in with your company culture
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  • Telltale signs an applicant that is trying to snow you
  • Mistakes supervisors and managers make to convince themselves that an applicant is the right fit
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Thursday, February 26, 2015
1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern)
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Approved for Recertification Credit

This program has been approved for 1.5 credit hours toward recertification through the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI).

Join us on February 26—you’ll get the in-depth Interviewing, Hiring & Onboarding: How to Get Great Employees Off to a Great Start in 3 Easy Steps! webinar AND you’ll get all of your particular questions answered by our experts.

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Train Your Entire Staff

As with all BLR®/HR Hero® webinars:

  • Train all the staff you can fit around a conference phone.
  • Get your (and their) specific phoned-in or e-mailed questions answered in Q&A sessions that follow the presentation.

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