The One Mistake That Causes Managers to Fail at Performance Reviews

Obviously none of us want to fail at giving performance reviews.  But most of us do.

In fact, almost all managers hate giving performance reviews, and almost all employees hate receiving performance reviews.  Much of this is for one simple reason.

But before we get into the big reason, let’s explore why they don’t work.

The good intent behind performance reviews

Most managers have great intentions when they review team members.  They’re excited to help the person grow, get better and move up.  Leadership teams place high priority on getting them done.  Even though that’s not what actually happens on the ground when they’re giving them.

But that doesn’t change the fact that leaders are trying to make everything better.  They’re hoping to achieve these results:

  • Greater employee engagement
  • Acknowledgement of employee contribution
  • Attention to employee failings

These are good things!

Of course, not all leaders have good intentions towards the employee!

The evil intent behind some performance reviews

Some employers have used the performance review for one simple reason:  to chart and document employee failings so they can be fired with cause.  That means with legal cause; in other words, without having to pay severance to the employee who is released.

Obviously this doesn’t have a powerful impact on the employee in terms of bettering their performance.  More often it makes them terrified, and makes their performance actually worse.  In other words, they will perform better without the threatening review!

The biggest mistake managers make

So, here’s the main reason managers fail at performance reviews.  They fail to understand the whole point of doing them.  And the point is simply to:

Make an employee feel encouraged about their company, their job, and their role in its success.

That’s right.  You want them to leave the review feeling valued and encouraged.  They will feel challenged too, but with a sense of hope and encouragement.

Of course if the employee is on a discipline track, that’s a topic for a different article.

But you want to make sure that the employee leaves feeling:

  • Heard: their manager listens to them carefully
  • Understood: not only does the manager listen, but the manager really understands the situation too
  • Encouraged: they leave with a stronger sense of how they contribute, what their strengths are, and what the organization is missing when they’re not there

Intention versus impact

All too often we confuse the difference between intention and impact.

As we know, most leaders want to make things better.  But an employee can only hear one or two negative things about their performance before they feel overwhelmed and discouraged.

We all have an ego-based reluctance to hear negative things about ourselves.  Our first thought when we hear criticism is, “That’s not true!”

The reason we fail at performance reviews is that we forget to make sure that the employee leaves feeling encouraged about their performance.

Identifying each person’s unique genius

An amazing performance review ends with the employee hearing about their unique genius and how they can maximize what they’re already great at.  What are they great at? Is it:

  • Building strong customer relationships
  • Coordinating and organizing things
  • Helping others reach their goals
  • Understanding numbers and spreadsheets
  • Closing sales
  • Prospecting

The list is long.  Make sure you know what their genius is, and encourage them to get better at it.  They will leave feeling encouraged, believe me!

To find out exactly what their unique genius is, ask them to fill out this free online DISC Personalities profile, complete with a free downloadable booklet detailing their ‘unique genius:’

The Professional Leadership Institute provides training on conducting performance reviews  and offers a free preview.

In summary:

Managers fail at performance reviews because they forget the point of them.  And the point is to make the employee feel encouraged about their role in the organization.

  1. Most managers have good intentions
  2. Some managers have evil intentions
  3. The biggest mistake managers make is forgetting to encourage the employee
  4. There’s a difference between intent and impact
  5. Identify each person’s unique genius

The One Mistake That Causes Managers to Fail at Performance

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here:

Recommended Resources:

Uncover your strengths and weaknesses with our complimentary assessment. Boost your effectiveness at work and with your team.

Free Resource Library: Access our extensive collection of valuable resources for instant support in your personal and professional growth.

Explore Our Course Library:

Enhance your leadership skills with our diverse selection of courses. Take your abilities to the next level and become a more effective leader and team player.


Our Clients Love the Professional Leadership Institute

Your team will, too! Check out some reviews from our students.
The PLI program was invaluable to our network.
The range of topics delivered, the open dialogue, experience, and examples that PLI brought to each session were outstanding and provided a path for our Franchisees and Managers to look at leadership, coaching, and connecting with their teams in a new light. Many have implemented these strategies in their bakeries and have seen immediate results.
Michelle C.
COBS Bread
Highly recommend to help your team move forward
We have locations around BC and Alberta, so getting people on the same page can be very difficult... Until now. Our entire management team and location managers take the same great courses and then meet monthly online with our coach to apply it to our situation. People are engaged, the courses are excellent, we love our coach, and we are all learning together!
Jason Fawcett
President, Kelson Group
The result has been a transformation of our culture. 
We decided to implement PLI's strategies across the country in over 150 locations and over 3500 employees.  The result has been a transformation of our culture.  People's lives have been positively impacted - professionally and personally.  Morale is high and sales and profits are up as a result.
Daryl Verbeek
Daryl Verbeek
We’ve learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all
The roadmap laid out set our business up to quintuple in sales.  We've learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all, attract top talent, and spend our time focused on results, not internal staffing problems.  I highly recommend PLI to you - it's worked for us!
John DeJong
Satisfied Client
I had no idea that running a business could be this fun!
In less than 18 months of working with Trevor, he has transformed my business from being average to exceptional, where mediocrity is not acceptable, where being great is standard.  Working with PLI has allowed me to realize my dream of not simply owning a job, but owning a business.
Justin Bontkes
Principal, Caliber Projects
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year with Trevor’s help.  He is funny, relatable, and his tools are very very practical and have helped us focus and upgrade our teams throughout our retail network. Trevor recently spoke to an employee group, and one person remarked, “I could listen to Trevor all day.”   We would highly recommend Trevor.
Stan Pridham
Founder, KMS Tools
The results have been remarkable
At first, we resisted, “This just won’t work with a law firm.” But we persisted and the results have been remarkable: our client base and profits have steadily improved, and staff engagement and morale is the healthiest its ever been.
Doug Lester
Partner, RDM Lawyers
Helped our fast-growing business become what it is today
I've experienced PLI's approach first hand and it's been crucial to sustaining our growth.  I can't imagine a business that wouldn't benefit greatly from his help.
Brian Antenbring
Founder, TEEMA
Provided practical ways to make positive changes
Trevor was incredibly well-received by the entire organization. He was able to articulate people issues that many of our franchisees were experiencing and provided them with practical ways to make positive changes. We have implemented the Star Chart tool across the organization and see it as vital to building happy, effective teams.
Aaron Gillespie
President, COBS Bread
Scroll to Top

Start Learning Today

For Individuals

Unlock your potential and accelerate your career with sought-after management and leadership skills.


Transform Your Organization

For Teams

Book a consultation to discuss your challenges and discover how we can help you build a winning team.


Sign Up For Weekly Tips!

Get Weekly Coaching Tips Straight To Your Inbox Every Monday.