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The time for employee performance appraisals is a stressful time for both employees and management. Conducting an employee review that is objective yet personal, critical yet empathetic is no easy task. In fact, most would just as soon get them over with so they don’t have to think about them again for another year. 

But this isn’t the right attitude to have, especially for a manager. Employee appraisals should provide a comprehensive view of employee performance, including recognition for past achievements, future goal setting, and coaching for improvement. If managers aren’t enthusiastic about them, then their teams won’t be either. 

Changing your perspective and approach towards employee performance reviews is the first step to developing a sound review process that both you and your team can actually look forward to.

Discover some common mistakes when conducting employee evaluations, how to avoid them, and how tools to track your employees’ performance throughout the year can help!

Common Employee Appraisal Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

To ensure your performance review process has a firm foundation which you can use time and again, you need to first evaluate your own review process and make sure you aren’t making mistakes that can jeopardize the integrity of your evaluation. 

Mistake #1: Only Evaluating Performance Once a Year

Traditionally, performance appraisals have been a yearly occurrence. The issue here is that managers will sometimes save performance feedback and talking points for the formal review. Especially in our more hybrid, modern way of working - withholding feedback until the formal review is a critical mistake. 

Don’t: Save valuable performance feedback only for yearly reviews.

Do: Employ a continuous feedback model with regular check-ins and feedback sessions so your employees always know what is expected of them. This way, employees can monitor their own performance, self-correct throughout the year, and won’t have any surprises during their formal review. 

Especially in remote and hybrid work environments where employees tend to work more autonomously, it's essential to provide feedback as soon as an issue arises. Otherwise, you risk the problem getting out of control. It’s also important to recognize achievements promptly to maintain momentum and drive morale. 

Keep an eye on your team’s performance and know when to provide feedback by utilizing the real-time data insights offered by your organization’s work computer tracking software. 

Mistake #2: Using a Competitive Evaluation Model

In the past, the competitive evaluation model, also affectionately known as the “rank and yank,” scored employees against their colleagues with the intention of dismissing those who scored the lowest. Though this more aggressive model is still used in some industries, it’s rapidly becoming an artifact of the Industrial Age – a time when employees had little intrinsic value and were considered easily replaceable. 

Even a decade ago, most companies still used this approach. But in recent years, we have seen a radical shift away from it, particularly during and after COVID. Now, HR and management are more focused on strategically growing and developing their labor force.

Don’t: Treat employees as if they are disposable. 

Do: Embrace an evaluation model rooted in coaching and development that provides proper guidance for the individuals on your team to strengthen their skillsets and advance professionally. Seek to recognize and develop the individual intellectual value your employees bring to the organization. 

Mistake # 3: Evaluating Based Only on Recent Performance

It’s easy to focus only on recent performance and forget all about past performance and achievements, especially if reviews are concentrated into one annual evaluation. If an employee has recently performed exceptionally well, or perhaps uncharacteristically poor,  those performance points will likely stand out more and can cloud your judgment. When feedback is based only on recent work, this is known as “recency bias.” 

Don’t: Only focus on recent performance.

Do: Consistently log employee performance and do background research on employees new to your team to ensure you are evaluating them fairly. By monitoring work performance throughout the year with team tracker apps, you will understand the full scope of your employee’s performance thanks to historical data and real-time performance insights. Present this data in charts, graphs, or timelines for easy visualization. 

Mistake # 4: Making Generalizations

There are many unconscious biases that can affect a performance appraiser's ability to deliver an objective and fair evaluation. While it’s normal for humans to have unconscious prejudices against groups of people, managers need to go the extra mile to uncover theirs and set them aside so that bias doesn’t jeopardize the performance review. 

It’s important to note also that not all biases are negative either, but they still need to be avoided. One of these biases is known as the “halo effect”, a very common error when evaluating performance. The halo effect occurs when an appraiser generalizes one of an employee’s characteristics as positive and extends it to all other aspects of the review. 

Similarly, “similarity bias” is when you tend to evaluate more positively because you perceive an employee to be similar to yourself. As a manager, it’s critical to take precautions to become aware of all potential biases to ensure that they don’t sway your performance evaluations. 

Don’t: Allow generalizations and inclinations to dictate a performance review. 

Do: Try to be self-aware and transparent with yourself and your evaluation. Double-check that your appraisal is based on real data and that you assess each aspect of the review individually and objectively. Use concrete data provided by your company’s work computer tracking software to keep your evaluation data-based. Evaluations need to be based on established performance standards and real achievements. Ask about training your company may offer to help leadership manage unconscious bias.

Mistake # 5: Comparing Employees

Every individual employee has their own unique strengths and weaknesses; not all professionals are created equal. Bias can occur when a manager measures an employee against the strengths of another. For example, if another employee ranks the highest in a particular skill, an employee who ranks slightly lower (but still good) may seem even weaker in comparison. 

Don’t: Compare employees or evaluate new or struggling employees by the same criteria as top performers. 

Do: Focus on encouraging growth; not everyone is going to be on the same level. Your job as a coach and a mentor is to help employees get there over time by focusing on their individual needs, providing learning resources, and adjusting your expectations accordingly. 

Consider not just where an employee ranks in a particular skill but how they have grown since their last evaluation. By monitoring employee performance over time, you can clearly see in what areas your employees have grown.

Mistake # 6: Judging Too Leniently, Too Harshly, or Too Neutrally

Another common mistake in performance evaluation is what is known as “distribution error.” When performance assessors observe the work of the same group of people, their evaluations often contradict one another. The reason for this is that people often have a tendency to judge either too harshly, too leniently, or too neutrally.

Proximity error is another common mistake that assessors can make when elements of the evaluation follow one another. A positive rating can sometimes influence the assessor to give a positive rating on the proceeding element. Or, in some cases, an assessor may do the opposite and give a lower rating to compensate for the previous high rating. 

Don’t: Evaluate performance measures based on the ratings given to other measures. Be aware of any inclination to “compensate” for high or low ratings. 

Do: It’s not always easy to be objective. In fact, aside from attempting to be as aware as possible of your unconscious biases and inclinations, they are unconscious for a reason. Perhaps the best way to be as objective as possible in evaluations is to conduct a 360-degree performance appraisal, using a range of feedback from additional appraisers or from the employee's colleagues and clients. Asking employees to assess their own performance can also provide a lot of additional value. 

Mistake #7: Neglecting Past Data

As you can probably see by now, while the human element is essential for evaluating performance, it can have issues with objectivity. For this reason, performance evaluations should be backed up with as much data as possible. This data can help managers (and employees) to track trends in their performance, which will offer more insight into how to effectively coach employees for the future. 

Don’t: Ignore previously collected performance data. 

Do: Keep track of your employees’ performance data and implement it into future evaluations for comparison. Historical data can shed light on an employee’s long-term performance record and reflect trends within teams. Thanks to tools like laptop monitoring software, employee performance, and productivity data are tracked and conveniently stored online for easy access. 

Mistake #8: Evaluating Based on Attitude

Remember that performance evaluation should be based solely on performance. Factors like attitude, engagement, or enthusiasm should not be factored into the evaluations. Beware also of attribution errors, which can lead you to make assumptions about the reasons behind an employee’s attitude or behavior. For example, if an employee reacts to a question negatively, it does not necessarily mean they have a negative attitude towards their work in general and it should not influence the review process. 

Don’t: Factor in an employee’s attitude, whether negative or positive, into measuring performance. Don’t make assumptions!

Do: If an employee is performing poorly but is enthusiastic, they still need to be measured based solely on their performance. Similarly, if someone appears to be disengaged and has a poor attitude regarding their job, this too should remain separate from measuring their performance. Stick to the facts, come prepared with data that clearly reflects performance trends, and measure according to actions, not attitude.

Mistake #9: Implementing Pointless Reviews

The process of conducting performance reviews can be exhausting for everyone, so you need to ensure it counts for something. If your evaluations aren’t yielding any measurable results, then what’s the point? Performance evaluations need to answer specific questions that employees can take away from the review and use to improve their performance. Employees need to walk away knowing what their strengths and weaknesses are, where they need to improve and how, and how their role adds value to the company. 

Don’t: Do performance reviews just for the sake of doing them. Vapid reviews are a waste of time for all parties involved. 

Do: Ensure your review process is meaningful and provides measurable results that can be leveraged towards future improvement. Make sure that your employees understand their importance and value to the company and how their performance benefits the entire organization and vice versa. Rewarding employees when objectives are met can help drive home that company objectives and personal objectives are one and the same. Communicate this to your employees before and during evaluations so they understand the larger purpose. 

Mistake #10: Neglecting Measurable Goals and Following Through

Meaningful evaluations require outlining measurable goals for the future. This is one of the primary purposes of the performance assessment. But remember, measurable goals are irrelevant if their progress is not followed up on after the review. 

Don’t: Focus on only past performance and neglect laying out and following up on measurable goals. Don’t forget to deliver on rewards promised for meeting objectives. 

Do: During assessments, set SMART goals for the future. Make sure that the goals are specific and measurable so that progress can be easily tracked - this will be essential for future evaluations. Goals should be both achievable and relevant for the employee. Lastly, be sure to specify a flexible timeline for when goals should be progressed and completed. 

In line with the continuous feedback model, be sure to follow up on the goals set and routinely check progress. This is essential for maintaining the enthusiasm and motivation that drives productivity. Utilize your team tracker apps to keep your finger on the pulse of performance progress in real-time. 

Mistake #11: Neglecting Action Plans

Plans for long-term career development are equally as important as developing future goals for current roles. This is an essential part of a manager’s role as a mentor and coach. Growth and development may extend beyond the employee’s current position. 

Don’t: Neglect your employee’s long-term career trajectory. 

Do: Discuss with employees their long-term career goals within the company and co-create an action plan that will help them get there. 

Mistake #12: Lacking Empathy

Performance evaluations can be nerve-wracking for everyone, especially employees. The ability to express empathy even when delivering negative feedback is important for conducting a professional and effective performance review. 

Don’t: Be too heavily critical of employees without offering actionable suggestions for improvement.

Do: Approach your evaluations with flexibility, empathy, and compassion and deliver criticism constructively. Delivering or receiving criticism isn’t easy, so balance it with actionable advice for future improvement. Delivering negative feedback empathetically will prevent employees from being discouraged and demotivated. This will help prevent the risk of distribution error by ensuring reviews are not too severe. However, don’t be too lenient or neutral and avoid negative feedback either; it is essential for correcting performance issues. 

Mistake #13: Using Limited Data

A well-rounded performance assessment needs to be backed up with ample performance criteria gathered over a sufficient period of time. Using limited data can jeopardize the objectivity of the review and fail to provide a full scope of the employee’s performance. 

Don’t: Rely on performance data from only one source. 

Do: Use a range of data gathered from different sources. Identify what data needs to be collected to provide effective performance measurement and plan accordingly. Performance data can range from productivity insights gathered from productivity monitoring software, the initiative taken at work, cooperation and agility, engagement with colleagues, and other tangible and intangible KPIs. Diversifying data insights helps prevent biases that can unknowingly affect evaluations. 

Furthermore, many common performance appraisal mistakes can be avoided by utilizing the right tools and technology to ensure your reviews are supported by sufficient data and delivered effectively. For example, an employee monitoring system is a great asset to your digital toolkit and can help you perfect your employee performance evaluations. 

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