The 4 Pitfalls To Avoid When Conducting Performance Reviews For The First Time

As a manager newly established in your role, one of the most important tasks you’re responsible for is the conducting of performance reviews for your direct reports.

That said, we’re sure it must feel like one of the trickiest things you’ve ever had to handle thus far, not least because it’ll involve a potentially awkward conversation with the people you work with.

And you may be worried about how you can carry out a performance review that’s fair to your direct reports, while still being effective at addressing the shortcomings in their work.

After all, isn’t it true that only 2 in 10 employees think that their companies review and manage their performance in a way that motivates them to do their best work, according to Gallup?

Still, it’s not that your direct reports don’t want feedback on their work. They just want to be sure that their assessments are fair and balanced.

Therefore, it’s critical that a new manager like yourself fully understand the factors that make for an effective performance review.

In this article, we’ll show you some of the pitfalls you should avoid as a new manager, in order to conduct effective performance reviews for your direct reports. But first, let’s look at how achieving this can be beneficial to your team and your organization.

The Benefits of Effective Performance Management

Minimizes Employee Turnover

Performance reviews can instil in your direct reports a sense of purpose, clear goals, and a plan for achieving these goals. Without these, they’re likely to feel a lack of career progress, which is a major cause of turnover.

Therefore, these performance reviews play a key role in keeping the motivation and engagement of your direct reports high, and employee turnover low.

Fosters A Culture Of Transparency And Trust

A strong company culture can only be formed upon a foundation of open communication and transparency. Performance reviews can contribute towards cultivating that culture if they’re performed regularly, and are designed to make praise, feedback and criticism a normal part of the work environment.

This would, in turn, encourage your direct reports to provide open feedback, strive towards progression in their careers, and greater collaboration with their colleagues.

Maintaining High Levels Of Morale

Giving your direct reports fair and constructive performance review can motivate them to improve, and retain a positive attitude towards their work. This can rub off on their colleagues, and contribute to an overall positive work environment overall.

Conversely, an unfair performance review can easily sour the mood of your direct reports. This can in turn set up a cascade effect, bringing down the morale of the entire team simply with their presence.

Encourages Employee And Business Development

With a well-crafted performance review, you can easily identify the individual strengths and weaknesses of your direct reports, seek out training opportunities accordingly, and build rapport with your team more easily.

Not only would this help to improve your direct reports’ performance and increase their engagement level, it could also help you build a highly engaged team, which have been shown to be 21% more profitable than their average counterparts.

Avoid These 4 Pitfalls When Carrying Out Performance Reviews

Now that we’ve seen how beneficial a fair and effective performance review can be to your organization, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes first-time managers like yourself tend to make when conducting performance reviews for the first time.

And if you’ve committed some of these mistakes, take heart in knowing that even more experienced managers do make the same mistakes from time to time.

1. Letting Your Biases Affect Performance Reviews

Unconscious biases is one of the most common mistakes that managers make when conducting performance reviews, even more seasoned ones.

Because of this, it’s important you remain aware of your own possible biases towards your direct reports. If you don’t take the necessary steps to mitigate them, they can compromise the objectivity and fairness of the performance reviews you conduct for them.

For example, you might unconsciously place higher value on the work done by direct reports who come into the office regularly, over those who maintain a work-from-home (WFH) arrangement. This is called proximity bias.

How Do You Avoid This?

To avoid allowing your bias to color your performance reviews of your direct reports, you should make an effort to understand the environment in which they’re doing their work, whether in the office or at home.

Make sure that you give your direct reports a way to provide their own feedback during the performance review process too, without any fear of retaliation. This can give you new insights into the reasons why there’s room for improvement in certain aspects of their work, and helps you provide useful feedback they can act on.

Getting information from other sources of data, such as requesting self-evaluations from your direct report, or 360-degree feedback from their colleagues, could offer more of these useful insights as well.

2. Conducting Performance Reviews Alone

As a first-time manager, you might assume that you have to handle the performance reviews of your direct reports by yourself.

But this is not the case; in fact, it’s the opposite. Your HR department plays a key role in ensuring that the performance review process is effective across the board in your organization.

Thus, they should have a stake in making sure your performance review cycle is successful as well.

How Do You Avoid This?

Talk to the HR department in your organization, and get them to give you help as you tackle your first performance review cycle.

This could come in the form of training and resources to provide you with guidance and support. They might even offer hands-on guidance, such as sitting in on your first few conversations with your direct reports during the performance review process.

Apart from supporting you, your HR department should also help ensure your direct reports have a clear understanding of the process as well. This can help minimize the doubts and stress they are likely to have about the whole process.

3. Focusing On Criticisms Over Constructive Feedback

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of lecturing your direct reports about where they’ve fallen short, and forget that it’s supposed to be a two-way conversation where constructive feedback can be shared both ways.

This is especially important today, when WFH arrangements have become more common than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Your direct reports may be facing new complications with their WFH arrangements.

For example, they could be juggling work and caregiving responsibilities. Or the WFH arrangement may have introduced other factors which have left them feeling burned out or isolated.

Without giving your direct reports a chance to give you their own feedback, you might never learn about this.

How Do You Avoid This?

Exercise empathy when having the conversation with your direct reports, especially when it comes to addressing their concerns and expectations in turbulent times like these.

To do this, make sure your direct reports have the opportunity to drive the agenda, and ask as many questions as they need. It can be as simple as you asking “How can I help you?”, to give them the push they need to actively do so.

Consider how changed circumstances have impacted your direct reports, such as whether they’ve taken up new roles and responsibilities during this time. Has it introduced new difficulties into their role, and how has this affected their performance?

The performance review is an opportunity for both you and your direct reports to reset expectations around work hours, prioritisation of tasks, responsiveness during work hours, and the growth and learning rate of your direct reports.

By addressing their strengths and weaknesses objectively and empathetically, you can build up a rapport with your direct reports while still maintaining a fair and effective performance review process.

4. Failing To Back Up Your Appraisal With Solid Data And Objective Criteria

Above all, make sure any feedback you give your direct reports is backed up by solid data. This keeps your claims fully objective, and helps you align your direct reports’ feedback and goals with your organization’s objectives.

Although performance reviews are typically based on a predetermined set of goals, the post-pandemic period may have changed organizational priorities. This means that goals set at the beginning of the year may no longer be fully applicable.

Also, personal circumstances may have affected your direct reports’ ability to meet their performance expectations.

Still, it’s important that you retain a structured process where they’re assessed on objective criteria, to ensure a fair evaluation of their performance over the past year. You do need to take into account any changes to targets that might’ve happened between then and now, and acknowledge your direct reports’ efforts spent on projects and tasks that were adjusted because of this.

How Do You Avoid This?

Nevertheless, it’s important to rely on a set of strong and quantifiable indicators for your performance review process. This eliminates the possibility of bias, and helps to keep you focused on your direct reports’ objective progress towards pre-determined goals.

Work with your HR department to create clear indicators that are airtight against any manipulation by either yourself or your direct reports. Also, take the latter’s feedback into account, and adjust these indicators as necessary to account for the changes that have affected your team over the past year.

Using software tools such as Omni HR is a highly effective way of keeping track of your direct reports’ progress towards their objectives. This helps you make more informed decisions about the performance review process, and keep on top of your team’s performance and productivity levels.

To Conduct Fair And Effective Performance Reviews, Keep These Pitfalls In Mind

It’s nerve-wracking for a new manager like yourself to conduct your first round of performance reviews, we understand. But, it can be done.

And it’s important that they be done properly, for they benefit not just yourself and your organization, but also the career progression of your direct reports.

To do so, you just have to keep in mind what to avoid. Ensure that your personal biases don’t influence the process, don’t try to do it alone without support from your HR department, and resist the temptation to criticize without providing the opportunity for two-way constructive feedback.

Last but not least, ensure your performance reviews are based on a structured, yet flexible set of performance indicators to take changing conditions into account. Make use of software tools like Omni HR to keep track of these objectives, adjust them as necessary, and track your direct reports’ progress towards achieving them.

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