Struggling to Give a Good Employee Performance Review—Maintaining Credibility

The tension during an employee performance review can be so high that even under the best of circumstances (good relationship with the employee, good results), it is difficult to maintain credibility. Under less favorable circumstances, particularly when the news is not good, your credibility and the working relationship can be seriously damaged.

There is a lot of advice from consultants and on the web about how to structure these meetings. It’s not quite enough though. The key to maintaining credibility during these meetings is to have clarity and focus on the details. During the discussion, vague discussion undermines the trust. A few changes can have a big impact. Here are some specific examples:

If you can’t own it, don’t say it.

Example: “I tried for a higher rating for you, but the others did not agree.”

In an organization, individual appraisals are often decided by group consensus. Compromises about individual employees are often made to accommodate the overall requirements of the organization. You may personally disagree with the performance rating given to one of your employees, but once you allow it to be accepted, it is your responsibility. An attempt to deflect the responsibility will not be believed.

Eliminate vague platitudes.

Example: “It was a tough year for the organization

“Others had ‘career years’”

“You can turn this around in the future.”

“You gained in experience.”

Generalities are typically viewed as a filler and cover. Credibility demands some supporting evidence and specificity.

Avoid Inappropriate Requests.

Example: Many organizations prefer to keep their overall ratings results confidential. This corporate preference is often translated into a request that employees not share their personal information with each other. However, the request is viewed by the employee as suggestive of having something to hide. The employees will and should do with it as they choose.

Inappropriate requests are viewed as self-serving and lower the overall credibility.

Don’t issue unsupportable challenges.

There is a time to challenge the employee to develop abilities and improve performance. There is a tendency to issue broad challenges to the employee at the review meeting. If these challenges are general, without a goal, plan, or supporting resources, they are seen as a sure sign of empty words.

Challenges are best issued after consideration at a project review or when setting the employee’s goals.

Avoid Boiler Plate Documentation

The evaluation form given to the employee should reflect some work and thought of the manager. For example each responsibility can be summarized in the context of accomplishment, contribution, and significance.

The pasting method of completing the forms, particularly when the text is taken from the employee’s earlier submission, cuts the employee deep. It shows clearly that no real effort or thought was put into the review.


In summary, performance reviews are a measure of the manager’s credibility. In some cases, it is undermined. However, with some work to strengthen the clarity and focus of the discussion, the on-going working relationship can be developed in a positive direction.


Related posts on performance appraisals:
Managers Performance Appraisals–Assessing Contributions to Subordinate’s Professional Growth suggests an approach evaluating managers in this area or Dealing with a Bad Employee Performance Appraisal


3 Responses to Struggling to Give a Good Employee Performance Review—Maintaining Credibility

  1. […] A link to the next step in the evaluation cycle:   Struggling to Give a Good Employee Performance Review–Maintaining Credibility […]

  2. Joe Kukura says:

    Perfect advice at a perfect time.

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