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Leaders & Manager

What you should absolutely, positively NOT say in a performance review

Say one of your employees is Kevin, a 55-year-old whose productivity drops over the year. Instead of citing specific, measurable examples of this decline in his performance review, you note that “Kevin doesn’t seem to have the energy level anymore to truly succeed in this department.” Still, you rate Kevin’s work as “average,” the same as last year.

What’s the worst part of your job? The part that requires you to be tough, sometimes even heartless? That can trigger multimillion-dollar legal nightmares? That never goes away? It’s the performance review.

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That example highlights two of the more common—and legally dangerous—pitfalls in writing performance reviews:

  1. Evaluating attitude, not performance.Vague statements that attack an employee’s demeanor could be interpreted as some kind of illegal age, race, gender or disability discrimination. Instead, supervisors should use concrete, job-based examples to illustrate any criticism.

In the example above, referring to Kevin’s “energy level” could give him reason to complain about age discrimination. Instead, the review should have cited examples such as, “Kevin has completed three of the five major projects late this quarter and has not contributed one new product idea in six months.”

For this reason, the word “attitude” should never appear in a review. Employment lawyers and courts often see that as a code word for discrimination.

2. Evaluation inflation.Supervisors too often rate mediocre employees as competent, competent employees as above average and above-average employees as superior. The problem comes when an employee is fired for poor performance yet his history of reviews tells a different story. The employee, then, has supposed proof that the realreason for the firing was something else, maybe something illegal.

The hard truth is, performance reviews are just … difficult. In the hands of a softie, they lead to keeping deadwood on staff, while in the hands of a SOB, they can darn well get everyone sued — your organization, the people who work for you … and you yourself. It would be so great to get this headache under control … ease your management burden … free yourself to concentrate on things that really matter. Now you can.

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Here are the main causes of evaluation inflation. Do any sound familiar to you?

  • Misinterpreting a rating scale or instructions.Example: Using a review with a 0-4 rating scale, a supervisor gives an employee a “2” in attendance and fires her. She sues, arguing that a “2” is average and acceptable, and wins. The supervisor wrongly believed that anything less than a “4” rating was unacceptable.
  • Fear of confronting employees. Example: A worker has acceptable work quality but hurts morale because of poor teamwork and pushiness. To avoid an angry confrontation, the boss rates the employee as average in soft skills.
  • Giving positive areas too much weight over negative ones. Example: A manager rates a factory worker on quality, quantity, dependability, teamwork and safety. Quality is poor, but she rates it average because of the “glow” from the other categories, all rated above average.

Final tip: To determine if you inflate reviews, ask yourself the following questions: Who are my worst performers? Knowing what I know about them, would I hire them again? Do their reviews reflect their true performance?

Become a Better HR Professional (And One Who Doesn’t Get Sued)

Arm yourself with the forms and audits you would spend hours searching for in filing cabinets or on the web … get tips and advice that have helped other HR professionals deal with the stickiest situations … and get the support you need with legal backup that could save your organization tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention avert legal disasters that can cost in the millions.

Performance Reviews: A Complete How-To Guide features 26 can’t-do-without-’em forms, plus 14 audits covering every facet of performance reviews. Modify them however you see fit. The amount of time and effort these forms and audits will save — by themselves — will repay the cost of this resource many, many times over.

Performance Reviews: A Complete How-To Guide also features up-to-the-minute guidance — tips and tricks, help and hints, so you can do the job right:

  • Documenting Performance: 3 ImportantLessons from the Courts
  • 12 Performance Evaluation Traps to Avoid
  • How to Write Performance Goals: 10 Sample Phrases
  • Motivating Employees: 10-Step Model to Help Them Grow
  • 5 Tips for Getting Maximum Benefit from Annual Evaluations
  • And much more!

Performance Reviews: A Complete How-To Guide will help you maximize your time … and simplify your life in the bargain.

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