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Performance Evaluation Pitfalls | 5 Common Mistakes

To an employee, a performance evaluation/review is big deal—after all, it only happens once or twice a year. To the manager responsible for reviewing large groups of direct reports, it can be easy to make mistakes that drastically impact the quality of the conversation and create unfortunate pitfalls in this important employee feedback process.

Here are five common mistakes to avoid when conducting a performance evaluation, and some alternate ways to handle each situation.
  1. Waiting Until the Annual Evaluation. That’s right—you can make a mistake on a performance review before it even takes place. If an employee is surprised by their ratings within an annual performance review, something has gone drastically wrong. Every employee should be receiving consistent, real-time feedback throughout the year so they have a clear understanding of how they’re living up to the expectations of the company and their immediate supervisor. Make it a habit to tell your employees how they performed with each project finished, task completed, to do list item checked off, or as soon as it’s relevant. If they need to improve in an area, provide them with information and tools that make it achievable, and make sure they understand the standards they need to meet to show that improvement has taken place.
  2. Arriving Without Back-Up. You shouldn’t need bodyguards, but you do need facts—and you’ll especially need them if you plan on raising any issues with your employee. If you start with making a general statement about poor performance, almost every employee will naturally ask for some specific examples. Instead of referring in general terms to a performance shortfall or an area in need of improvement, utilize specific examples from the review time period that illustrate the employee’s actions or behaviors to back up your conversation. An easy way to ensure you’re armed with the right information is to create and maintain work logs, customer service ratings or activity dashboards for each employee. With a more continual performance measurement mechanism, you’ll have the information on hand, instead of relying on memory.
  3. Valuing Personality Over Performance. Not every person on your team is someone you would want to sit with on a long trip. However, making comments— especially negative ones—about someone’s personality during a performance review won’t help you address how their attitude is directly related to their overall work output or contributions to the company. If an employee consistently displays a negative vibe in the workplace, ask questions to explore possible underlying causes first and list examples of actual behaviors displayed, instead of personality traits. This combined approach allows you to focus on creating a conversation that can help lead your employee to displaying the work attitude needed for success in their position.
  4. Asking Filler Questions. While performance reviews should be two-way conversations, try to keep things relevant. A little ice breaker to make an employee feel at ease is one thing, but don’t use this time to ask them vague, big-picture or interview-style questions. For many employees, their performance evaluation is one of the few chances they have to not only receive important feedback about themselves, but to give input and/or suggestions about their future direction with the company. If you want to set the stage for a truly open conversation, ask if the employee needs help with anything, if he or she has the proper resources to do their job, and how you can help them succeed. After all, that’s what the evaluation is really about.
  5. Giving Answers You Shouldn’t. As the person conducting the evaluation, you might feel like you should answer any and all questions that come up. This goes for decisions that are made by someone else, or information that shouldn’t be revealed—even if it casually comes up in the conversation. If questions come up that you are not in a position to answer or that are not directly relevant to the employee’s performance, note the inquiry and resist the urge to answer; instead, explain that the topic is outside of today’s conversation and redirect the focus back to the main goal.


It’s important for managers to remember that while you may be conducting dozens of performance evaluations, your employee only receives one (maybe two) reviews a year. If you create an environment that includes continual feedback, take the time to prepare specific examples, separate performance from personality, make the conversation a two-way street, and stay focused on the goal, performance reviews not only become more meaningful for the employee, they also have more long-lasting and positive effects on their performance.