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Seven Stupid Things EMPLOYEES Do To Screw Up Performance Appraisal By Robert Bacal

Summary: When performance appraisals and employee reviews end up as a total waste of time, or worse, actually reducing performance, how does that happen? Well, the answer lies with the dumb things that managers do, the dumb things that human resources departments do, and the stupid things employees do to sabotage the process.

In previous articles on the topic of performance management and appraisal, (click here to access these articles) we covered the ten stupid things managers do to screw up performance appraisal, and a similar article on ways human resource departments screw up the process. Now it's time to turn our attention to employees!

Managers, feel free to share this with employees, and employees, feel free to share this with managers and/or colleagues. Please ensure proper credit is given and that the website address is included.

Generally, when performance appraisal goes awry, the primary cause has little to do with employees. For the most part, employees take their cues from management and human resources. However, when individual employees perceive the process in negative ways, they can create or damage even the best of appraisal processes.

Stupid Thing #1: Focusing On The Appraisal Forms

Performance appraisal isn't about the forms (although, often managers and HR treat it as such). The ultimate purpose of performance appraisal is to allow employees and managers to improve continuously and to remove barriers to job success. In other words, to make everyone better. Forms don't make people better, and are simply a way or recording basic information for later reference. If the focus is getting the forms "done", without thought and effort, the whole process becomes at best a waste of time, and at worst, insulting.

Stupid Thing #2: Not Preparing Beforehand

Preparing for performance appraisal helps the employee focus on the key issue - performance improvement, and to examine his or her performance in a more objective way (see defensiveness below). Unfortunately, many employees walk into the appraisal meeting not having thought about the review period, and so are unprepared to present their points of view. Being unprepared means being a reactive participant, or being a passive participant. Neither are going to help manager or employee. Employees can prepare by reviewing their work beforehand, identifying any barriers they faced in doing their jobs, and refamiliarizing themselves with their job descriptions, job responsibilities, and any job performance expectations set with the manager.

Stupid Thing #3: Defensiveness

We tend to take our jobs seriously and personally, making it more difficult to hear others' comments about our work, particularly when they are critical. Even constructive criticism is often hard to hear. If employees enter into the discussion with an attitude of "defending", then it's almost impossible to create the dialogue necessary for performance improvement. That doesn't mean employees can't present their own opinions and perceptions, but it does mean that they should be presented in a calm, factual manner, rather than a defensive, emotional way. Of course, if managers are inept in the appraisal process, it makes it very difficult to avoid this defensiveness.

Stupid Thing #4: Not Communicating During The Year

Employees need to know how they are doing all year round, not just at appraisal time. Generally it is primarily management's responsibility to ensure that there are no surprises at appraisal time. Often managers discuss both positives and negatives of employee performance throughout the year, but this is unfortunately, not a universal practice. It's in the employees interests to open up discussion about performance during the year, even if the manager does not initiate it. The sooner employees know where they are at, and what they need to change (or keep doing), the sooner problems can be fixed. In fact many problems can be prevented if they are caught early enough. Even if managers aren't creating that communication, employees can and should. It's a shared responsibility.

Stupid Thing #5: Not Clarifying Enough

Life would be much easier if managers were perfect, but they aren't. Some communicate and explain well. Some don't. Some are aggravating and some not. At times employees won't be clear about their managers' reasoning or comments, or what a manager is suggesting. That could be because the manager isn't clear him/herself, or simply isn't good at explaining. However, unless employees clarify when they aren't sure about the reasoning or explanations, they won't know what they need to do to improve their future job performance. It's important to leave the appraisal meeting having a good understanding of what's been said. If that's not possible clarification can occur after the meeting, or down the road, if that's more appropriate.

Stupid Thing #6: Allowing One-Sidedness

Performance appraisals work best when both participants are active, and expressing their positions and ideas. Some employees are uncomfortable doing that, and while managers should be creating a climate where employees are comfortable, some managers aren't good at it. Performance appraisal time is an excellent time for employees to make suggestions about things that could be changed to improve performance, about how to remove barriers to job success, and ways to increase productivity. Remember also that managers can't read minds. The better managers will work with employees to help them do their jobs more effectively, but they can't know how they can help unless employees provide them with good, factual information, or, even better, concrete ideas.

Stupid Thing #7: Focusing On Appraisal As A Way Of Getting More Money

Unfortunately, many organizations tie employee pay to appraisal results, which puts employee and manager on opposite sides. Employees in such systems tend to focus too much on the money component, although that focus is certainly understandable. It's also understandable when employees in such systems become hesitant to reveal shortcomings or mistakes. But it's still dumb. If employees main purpose is to squeeze as much of an increase out of the company, and the managers try to keep increases as small as possible, it becomes totally impossible to focus on what ultimately matters over the long term, which is continuous performance improvement and success for everyone.

Pay IS important, but it is not the only issue related to the appraisal focus. If employees enter into the process willing to defend their own positions in factual and fair ways, and to work with managers, the process can become much more pleasant. If not, it can become a war.


The major responsibilities for setting performance appraisal tone and climate rest with managers and the human resources department. However, even when managers and human resources do their jobs well, employees who come at the process with a negative or defensive approach are not likely to gain from the process or to prosper over the long term. The constant key is for employees to participate actively and assertively, but to keep a problem-solving mindset, and keep focused on how things can be improved in the future. No matter who initiates it, performance appraisal is about positive open communication between employee and manager.


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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