Five mistakes managers should avoid in annual reviews

James Perkins

Annual appraisals exist for a reason. They ensure staff have clear and achievable goals and that barriers to performance are removed. Do them right and you have a happy and productive team, but get them wrong, and they become a stressful and laborious waste of time that only lead to resentment within the business.

Nicholas Vayenas, Director of Sydney-based Liquid HR, and HR professional, Grace McAuliffe, explain some of the biggest mistakes to avoid come appraisal time.

Taking your staff by surprise

A fear of the unknown can add stress to the situation, which is why there should be no surprises. McAuliffe said. “That’s the number one reason why both employees and managers are scared of difficult conversations like performance appraisals – because they have no idea what is going to happen in the conversation.” Regular one-to-one meetings with a manager can ensure both parties know what to expect come appraisal time and that any barriers to performance are removed before they become a problem.

Feeding them a ‘sandwich’

“When an employee isn’t performing highly, it can be hard to give constructive feedback - particularly on issues that aren’t major. However, failing to speak the truth can be misguiding and cause issues later on,” says Vayenas.

Burying negative feedback between the good is a temptation, but it is one to resist. “The employee either won’t remember the feedback at all or will think it is trivial." 

But don’t give them too much praise. "Nobody is perfect, so make sure you give them some constructive feedback to improve, or ask where they see themselves in the future,” says McAuliffe

If a staff member who has only received glowing appraisals receives a formal warning, it can come as a shock and prove unproductive. “For any issue that affects an employee’s performance, be honest,” says Vayenas. “Your staff will thank you for it – the majority genuinely do want to excel in their roles and learn how to get better.”

Failing to set measurable goals

“By making measureable goals you can ensure they are on track to being achieved,” says McAuliffe, “and if they aren’t, barriers to progress should be removed.” SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals are almost a cliché today, but they work, so use them. If you want to set meaningful goals, you will have to avoid the next mistake.

Being unprepared

Managers can be tempted to approach interviews and appraisals on the fly, and Vayenas believes that it happens regularly. 

“Managers are typically so overwhelmed, or dare I say engrossed, in their own tasks and numbers, they don’t take any time to prepare for arguably two of the most important types of meetings they have in their job.”

Checking that budgets and rosters comply with your plans for a staff member to deliver on any promises is a good place to start, says McAuliffe. Also, “make sure you have specific examples prepared for every point you are making. Write down ideas for the next review period linked to the departmental and organisational goals.”

Lack of a follow-up plan

If an appraisal isn’t used, it is a waste of time, says Vayenas.

“Put a follow-up plan into place to ensure that each employee [and your business] is benefitting from the process as much as possible, whether it focuses on performance improvements, or career development.”

James Perkins

James Perkins is a freelance journalist based on a Gold Coast with experience writing across a variety of areas including business, science and technology, sport and news.

Image: David Wall, Flickr Creative Commons License