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0 How to Remove the Ugh from Performance Reviews

It’s October! And October just might be the most glorious month of the year. Work is good, the outside air is becoming cooler, the leaves are displaying those beautiful autumn colors, and we’re “knee deep” in football season (even if you don’t like football, the snacks are great!!). But there is an ugh in the air, in the hallways, and around the virtual water cooler, because it’s also annual performance review time. Thus, the ugh. For some reason, even in the best of circumstances, nobody seems to like the task of performance reviews.


For the reviewer/manager/supervisor:

  • It often creates uncomfortable conversations.
  • In many cases they are not prepared.
  • They scramble to find equal amounts of “positives” and “needs improvement” points.

For the reviewee:

  • Again… it often creates uncomfortable conversations.
  • Sometimes… they wonder why they didn’t know about these things sooner.
  • It can be difficult to respond to your manager on points where you disagree.

We need to rewrite the script on Annual Performance Reviews! Why can’t we make this a positive experience?

The first thing we need to do is remove the word “annual” from the title, or at least the process. When the “annual” is done, there should be no surprises, that alone could remove a lot of the anxiety and apprehension that comes with this process.

As I did the research for this newsletter, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that many of the managers I interviewed agreed that this shouldn’t be a once-a-year discussion. When the labor market is as tight as it is today (The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the national unemployment rate is 3.8%), good employees are difficult to find, and even harder to keep. Good, and frequent, job performance dialog and coaching are critical to maintaining a happy and productive work environment.

I can tell you as a manager, employee retention has been the biggest challenge in the post pandemic world, and it effects all segments of the global workforce. There are all kinds of reasons people seek new employment. While many of those reasons can be out of our control, communication and feedback are 100% in everyone’s control. This applies to your staff, your manager, and your peers!  

The content or information in an Annual Performance Review should never be a surprise to the reviewee. Let’s look at some ways to take the ugh out!!

Timing is Everything

If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, the closer to the incident you can address it is (almost) always better. We don’t want feedback to be a surprise, so if there is an issue, the person getting feedback or coaching should be expecting it.

In some situations, though, if there is an incident that is highly emotional, it is sometimes better to let everyone take a beat, or a breath. You will most likely deliver a more thoughtful message after emotions settle, and your recipient is more likely to hear what you have to say after they have calmed down.

Make it Part of the Culture

Feedback is a process that requires deliberate and constant attention. If it needs to be said, then say it. Then, your team will know where they stand, they will know what needs to be done to improve. In this culture, problems don’t get out of hand, or become bigger than they should. Consistency is the key.

Be Specific

Tell the person exactly what needs to be done to improve their performance. Mention only the facts, and try to avoid vague, or blanket type statements:

Instead of: “You always forget to log the mileage charts and this creates extra work for everyone.”

It's better stated like this: “Beauregard, you didn’t log the mileage charts yesterday. Now Rebecca will have to go to the motor pool, find the truck and record the mileage. We need to make sure that’s done moving forward. Okay?

Try not to exaggerate to make a point. Avoid words like “never”, “always”, “all” and the like. They water down the point, or make it look bigger than it really is.

Positives Count Too

If feedback is part of the culture, swing that pendulum both ways! (I love the pendulum metaphor! It works in so many examples.) If we only notice, and comment on, the “needs improvement” aspects of the job, and the people we are managing, we’re going to create a lousy culture. If we are only coaching on the negatives, when review time comes, and the reviewee gets a bunch of positive feedback that comes as a surprise, they are likely to think, “Well that would have been nice to know!”

High performance by your staff and your co-workers should be an expectation. When those lofty expectations are met, it should be noted… loudly. The ripple effects of this are amazing to the culture of a workplace. If Beauregard sees Rebecca getting constant praise for the outstanding work she’s doing, it might make him want to step up his game to get some of that kind of attention too.

Always Remember

While public praise is always appreciated, public criticism is not. I’ve written this in so many articles, I should probably make it my tag line: Praise loudly and publicly, criticize quietly, thoughtfully, and privately.


The feedback highway runs both ways. You need to know how to give it effectively, and you need to know how to receive it constructively. If you’re not sure where you stand, or how you are doing, ask.

Avoiding job performance dialog does not change facts, it only creates uncertainty. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep those lines of communication open, active and consistent.

When we avoid constructive critique or sweep issues that need some coaching under the rug, performance and productivity suffer. The issues don’t go away, the facts remain, and now we also have a lumpy rug.

Equally, when we get too busy to deliver positive feedback, we run the risk of creating a joyless atmosphere… and a joyless atmosphere creates employee turnover. (Remember that 3.8% unemployment rate!!)

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