Performance Reviews for Dummies

performance reviewSent: September 5, 9:05 a.m.

From: Ken, VP of Sales

To: Barb, Sales Associate

Subject: Your Performance Review

Hey Barb,

Sorry I’m going to be late to our meeting; I’m desperate for a coffee. Back in about ten. Text me if you want one. If 9:30 doesn’t work for you, let me know; it’s totally no big deal at all. We don’t even really have to meet about your review. You’re doing a good job; keep up the great work.


P.S. We’re not doing pay raises until the end of the second quarter, that I know of. I’ll let you know if I hear differently.

Performance reviews are passé, overrated, and a complete waste of your valuable time. As every good leader knows, if your people don’t know where they stand without you having to take the time to tell them or write it down in plain English, then they probably shouldn’t be working for you. In the event that your HR director insists that you personally administer a performance review—especially for your most valuable senior management team—let’s make sure you start off by setting the record straight: This is not about them. It’s a painful inconvenience for you that you do not enjoy.

The following are some general rules of thumb to ensure that your team will dread performance reviews as much as you do:

  1. Schedule your performance reviews for no more than fifteen minutes. This is all the time it should take to tell your employees that they are underperforming and need to step up or step out. As the appointment approaches, make sure you either (a) do not show up or (b) reschedule at least twice at the last minute. This will send a clear message that this process is not a priority for you, and neither are
  2. If and when the meeting does finally occur, make sure you start with the bad news by informing them that they did not meet the goals you had in Yes, these are different than the goals written in their last performance review, but as the manager, you changed them midstream to better align with your vision, which is your prerogative. Notifying them of the revised goals isn’t necessary. Top people should know when you’ve changed your mind.
  3. Performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to restate your authority, so make sure you do all the talking. Talking over your employees will give them the opportunity to think hard about what they need to do to make you However, do take a moment in between thoughts to check your phone. Important text messages cannot wait, and your employees will understand that you have much more pressing matters than criticizing their idiosyncrasies.
  4. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be open and prepared for emotional outbursts. Crying is a natural reaction to a well-crafted and masterfully delivered performance review, and you should be proud when you achieve this breakthrough with any

By following these four basic rules of thumb, you can be sure the performance review was administered in a way that will foster fear among your staff and become a hallmark of your leadership for years to come. Remember, the more your employees dread their performance reviews, the better. It will ensure that they put on a top-notch performance at least a few weeks out of the year, right before review (bonus) time.


Yes, “traditional” performance reviews are being replaced by 360-degree assessments and daily feedback cycles, and HR professionals are experimenting with all kinds of systems and platforms for constructive feedback. But one thing is for sure: as CEO or a leader, there is no better way to spend your time than having honest, thoughtful, and constructive conversations with your team about your expectations and their performance. Never assume someone knows how they are doing. It’s not up to them to know, it’s up to you to make sure they know.

Generally speaking, managers dread administering performance reviews because (a) they have not been an effective manager in the day-to-day, and the performance review is going to include delivering some sort of unexpected news or (b) the platform or system for the review is too cumbersome or complicated to be effective.

No performance review can take the place of good people-management and communication along the way. Employees should know where they stand at all times and should be communicated with about the progress against their goals daily. Their jobs should be designed so that they align with their goals—if they are doing the job, they are achieving the goals. Lofty goals set once a year that are dissociated from the day-to- day tasks of the job will only be out of sight and out of mind.

Be wary of managers who complain loudly that HR isn’t involved enough in performance management, or that a new performance-management platform or software is needed. Again, performance management is really about how well the job description and tasks are aligned with the goals of the individual and how well those goals are aligned with the company goals. If you don’t have that figured out as a leadership team, no software program will figure it out for you.

Why do employees care about employee reviews, assuming performance and goal achievement have been addressed along the way? The answer: promotions and compensation. Make sure your promotion and compensation philosophies are well crafted, well communicated, and, most of all, consistent throughout the organization. There should be zero exceptions to these policies. If your employees know what their goals are, their jobs are designed to meet those goals, and they understand exactly how they will be rewarded for meeting those goals, the rest is smooth sailing.

Remember, your people are the central nervous system of your business. If they aren’t being managed effectively, or if their satisfaction and happiness aren’t top priorities, then it will wreak havoc in every other aspect of your business.

To purchase a copy of How (NOT) to Build a Great Team click here.