8 Mistakes Commonly Made with Performance Reviews

It is widely recognised that the extent of engagement and passion of the individual employee will directly and significantly impact on the level of outcomes and success for an organisation. Given we also know that leadership is a significant contributor to this passion and engagement, then it is astounding that one of the most critical leadership tools available to managers is often under-utilized… the performance conversations.

McKergow and Jackson in their book, The Solutions Focus, have found that the vast majority of people leave a performance review meeting feeling very glad it’s over so they can get on with the “real stuff” and worse still… 80% feel less motivated than before the performance review.

So, what are some of the more common mistakes made with performance reviews and how can we avoid them?

Mistake 1

Trust – the lack of it

As Daniel Pink points out in Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, if we ignore the motivation that comes from a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose, we are overlooking the power of intrinsic motivation.

So a high level of trust in the individual is central to any performance review process. This starts with the belief that the person in front of you could be creative, clever, courageous and self directed and if led well, will demonstrate this.

Mistake 2

Goals – Too many and not “real”

Most performance conversations do not result in a manageable number of “real” goals that are inspiring for the person being managed. Many such meetings result in the manager telling the team member of the goals they need to focus on in the coming months or year. Unless there is a feeling of; “I’d want to get up in the morning to have a go at that goal”, there is a low chance that there will be any sustained effort.

What a wasted opportunity!

A solution is to make the performance conversation an integral part of a process, rather than an event. Goal setting is something that is done in a collaborative partnership where trust is high and the “real stuff” can be raised by both the team member and the manager.

Mistake 3

Reality – Focusing on what’s missing

Traditionally as leaders, we want to know what’s missing and what’s not working so that we can fix the “problem”. An alternative is to explore what is working, and to leverage off the strengths that have contributed to that. The most direct route is to find what works and do more of it!

Mistake 4

Options –Those of the manager

Within a coaching approach to managing performance, the person being managed is encouraged to develop a wide range of options themselves. The manager may ask creative questions to open up lateral thinking in the team member, such as; “What would someone else tell you to do here”? The manager would revisit the strengths the team member has had affirmed earlier and ask; “Are there possibilities if you were to use the strengths that have worked for you in the past”?

Mistake 5

Will – Planning “big” steps rather than “small” ones

In our enthusiasm to see goals achieved we can rush to closure and can encourage our team members to choose options that they are not fully committed to. The “will” to turn a selected option into actions is the point here.

Questions such as; “which of these options do you have some energy around” and “what option could you get started on next week”, encourage the team member to focus on the small steps they will commit to and turn into action.

Mistake 6

Tactics – Lack of small steps to ensure we “get started”

It is here that the “how and when” questions are asked. By planning the small steps that have to be taken in the next week or so and recording them, the bigger steps naturally happen as a result of momentum. We find asking questions like; “what would you need to do just prior to that?” brings the coachee to the immediate small steps. This requires trust by the manager that the further actions beyond the small steps written, will in fact be taken.

Mistake 7

Habits – Overlooking what will sustain success

Often our good intentions just don’t transform into results. We spend time forming the goals and possibly even write down some actions only to find that at the next meeting….nothing has happened!

I’d recommend time is spent every 4-5 weeks checking in with the employee. These check ins can be brief, but the key is for the manager to know the team member’s goal(s) and to provide specific, personal and genuine praise and recognition for the effort given and progress made, towards goals. From time to time, new options may be explored, with new actions written for the next period.

Mistake 8

Celebrating Results – Or Not!

Celebrating effort as well as achievement regularly is a critical aspect of managing performance. An MBA is useful…but an MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is critical!


  • This article was recently published in the The West Australian View here

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