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:

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