It’s performance review season – here are the top 5 things that can go wrong & how to avoid them

For many of us, it’s that time of year – performance review season!

For HR and people managers alike, this period can feel overwhelming and draining. There is a lot to write, calibrate on, and discuss all while maintaining day-to-day operations.

Well-executed performance reviews can be a gift that keeps on giving. Star performers feel recognized and motivated to succeed within the company. High potential employees are given important feedback and pushed to meet new achievements.

Bad performance review seasons can be like a cold that won’t go away. The reality is that bad performance reviews can happen to good companies – and often do. And the impact isn’t just limited to the review meeting. Bad performance reviews can lead to lowered morale, employee attrition… the list goes on. 

So, we’ve put together our top 5 list of things that can go wrong during performance reviews with proactive pointers for HR and People teams on how to avoid these common pitfalls. Good luck! 

1. "We don't have time to train our managers on performance reviews"

Rolling out the performance review process can feel like rolling out a military operation. Your managers are already busy as you close out the calendar year. You might also be conducting annual planning or focusing on a big growth or operations quarter too.

By the time you nail down your process, documentation, and timeline…the thought of training managers on how to deliver reviews can seem like a pipe dream.

We’ve been there. That’s why we made this webinar that your managers can watch any time on the fundamental soft skills and practices for effective reviews. Share the video below with your team today!

2. "The team isn’t clear about compensation changes”

Are you getting weird questions about compensation? Or perhaps you’ve gotten wind of remuneration rumors?

Yep, this tends to happen around performance review season and as the calendar year comes to a close. Team members can make assumptions based on previous employers or what they picked up on TikTok.

We recommend getting out ahead with clear, proactive communications to the whole team.

Determine your approach to and answer these questions:

  • Will compensation be discussed during performance reviews? If not, when will compensation be addressed?
  • What factors are considered when making compensation decisions?
  • Who makes these decisions and how?
  • Do we tie compensation increases to performance reviews – yes/no? If yes, how?

You can present answers at an All Hands, host Office Hours sessions, and make the information publicly available in a Wiki.

3. “I’m not confident our managers know how to have hard conversations”

When managers are not trained to have hard conversations, it can lead to avoidance of them. This can translate to a pile-up of hard conversations during review season.

It’s never too late for soft skill training and support on difficult conversations. But you may need to be selective with your time. One approach is to ask managers if they anticipate hard conversations during reviews.

You can schedule 30 min sessions to review the feedback and give the manager space to practice. If many managers anticipate hard conversations, you can try to squeeze in a workshop on feedback or find a partner (like The Mintable) to train managers before reviews.

4. “Reviews might not land well with members of the team”

After investing time and energy in review season, it’s a letdown when they don’t land well with employees. The most common culprit is: when people are surprised.

This is different from receiving difficult feedback. Surprises can happen when an employee expects a salary increase, promotion, or different review rating than what is delivered.

While managers can’t anticipate 100% of misalignment, they usually have a good sense. Do a surprise round-up with managers today. A quick and easy way is to email managers and ask:

  • How would you rate each team member – meets, exceeds, or does not meet expectations?
  • Do you want to promote anyone?
  • Do you anticipate that anyone would be surprised by their rating or promotion status (good or bad surprises)?

If any managers anticipate surprises, meet with them and/or their manager asap. Create a game plan to get ahead of expectations with the employee before the review conversation since performance reviews come with heightened emotions and higher stakes.

It’s also important to make sure the whole team fully understands the review process. That way, there are no surprises on process or what ratings mean and how performance is assessed.

5. “We don’t have a great way to assess our managers’ performance!”

Often, our leaders can get forgotten as we focus on the extended team. It’s important for your managers to understand how they’re performing in their role as a manager. After all, they amplify everyone else.

What do you need? An objective way to assess manager capability across the company.

You might call it a performance matrix, leadership attributes, competencies, or something else. And it might be hanging out on your to-do list.

Fear not! We’ve got you covered. You can use our 5 Dimensions of Great Management directly or as a framework to get you started with your own. Download your copy now. 

Good luck out there! We’re confident you will make the most out of this performance review season. If we can help, give a shout.