HR Management & Compliance

Train Managers to Avoid the 10 Sins of Performance Appraisers

Most organizations have a performance management program, and most companies admit that their program doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s easy to blame the system, but most of the problem is with the appraisers themselves.

We’ve collected the 10 most common “sins” of appraisers. Guilty?

Sin #1. Failure to Set Meaningful Goals

Well, Sue, I think we did fairly well this year, eh? Although, I was sort of hoping you’d make more progress.
Evaluation is difficult when there are no clear, measurable goals. Many experts recommend the S-M-A-R-T approach to setting goals. That means goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

In addition, good goals:

  • Are tied to company goals. If employee goals are set randomly, individuals may achieve their goals but may not bring the business any closer to achieving its goals.
  • Require stretch. Goals that are set at levels that are easily achievable without any extra effort don’t motivate employees to perform at their best. Goals should be realistic and achievable, but they should require some effort to achieve and maintain—otherwise, the system isn’t helping to motivate positive behaviors.

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Sin #2. Failure to Manage Goals Through the Evaluation Period

So, another year, another appraisal. Let’s see how we did. Goal 1 was abandoned when corporate changed directions,

Goal 2 got taken over by marketing, Goal 3 was unnecessary with the new software, Goal 4 got pushed over into next year, and Goal 5 depended on goal 4.  Hmmm.
Things can change during the evaluation period, and if you don’t address the changes, you may wind up at the end of the period with a set of great goals that are no longer relevant—new equipment makes a job obsolete, the company abandons a project, new priorities are set.
Especially if the evaluation period is a year, it’s important to review the goals and status against them at least every quarter. If most or many of the original goals are no longer relevant, restate or create some new ones.

Sin #3. Failure to Discuss Performance During the Evaluation Period

Manager: Unfortunately, your rating is “unsatisfactory.” Maybe I should have mentioned your poor performance during the year.
A performance ranking shouldn’t be a surprise or a shock to the employee being appraised. Measure progress against goals regularly. If performance is unsatisfactory, give the employee a chance to improve. It’s pretty silly to let an employee underperform for a whole year and then spring the news at the appraisal meeting.

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Sin #4. Failure to Be Honest

Your grade for this performance period is “satisfactory.” (Actually, your performance was worse than poor, but I think giving this rating will encourage you to improve. Also, if I tell you the truth and you leave, I’ll lose the head count.)
Managers and supervisors tend to avoid unpleasant confrontations, and they don’t want to have to tell an employee that he or she is subpar. So they equivocate and give a “satisfactory” rating to a “poor” employee. This sends the wrong message to the employee—who will surely assume that all is well—and can come back with a vengeance in court. Eventually, you’re going to terminate that employee. He or she will claim that the termination was because of discrimination, but you will say, no, no, it was because of poor performance. And then the opposing attorney will pull out that “satisfactory” performance rating and ask you, “Is this your signature?” and then the attorney will ask you to read the definition of “satisfactory.”  You’re done for.
By the way, it’s easier to deliver bad news when there are clear standards; if they are not met, just say so; the facts will speak for themselves.
Finally, don’t think that any employee is going to think that ”OK” means other than ”good” or “excellent.”

Sin #5. Statements Too Vague

Your work could use improvement. Let’s tighten things up, shall we?
I’m making a note here that we “talked about your performance.” Let me spell it out—you’re lazy.
Again, because of the desire to avoid unpleasantness, managers and supervisors will often write something on performance evaluations like “needs improvement.” That’s too vague. Does it mean the employee did a great job, but there’s always room for a little improvement, or does it mean that the employee did a terrible job?
Or how about a note to file: “Talked to Sally about her performance.” (Was that to tell her how exceptional her performance was?)
And then we’ve got judgment words like “lazy.” Again, too vague. Offer documentation and give specific examples of the unacceptable behavior.
We’ll cover the final 5 sins of performance appraisers in tomorrow’s Advisor. See you then!