Performance appraisal is a tool to give employees formal feedback about job performance. Whether you’ve been on the giving or the receiving end, you’ve probably had your share of frustration with the entire experience. Let’s take a look at the common mistakes that can turn the appraisal process into a management nightmare:

Don’t give one!

People need and deserve to get feedback about how they are perceived by their bosses. But without a performance appraisal system in place, managers tend to put off this important task for several reasons. Other job demands may seem to be a higher priority — there doesn’t seem to be time available in an already time-stressed work environment. Or the manager may see the employee as doing a great job and assumes she already knows it. Or the manager may know the employee is not doing so well but doesn’t want to confront the unpleasant reality.

When employees don’t get formal evaluations at least on a yearly basis, whatever assumptions they might be making about how they and their work are perceived can be off the mark. Whether they’re correct or not, they need to know the reality.

Don’t have senior management’s support for the process.

Management at all levels needs to believe in the value of the appraisal process and commit to making it happen. So why don’t they? Managers might be in a work culture that is intolerant of mistakes; they don’t want to “look bad” themselves, and so they are motivated to hide employee problems.

They may dislike the confrontation that comes with having to give an employee negative feedback. They may fear that they can’t back up their perceptions because they’ve failed to do the necessary documentation. They may have neglected to be straight with their employees and now dread the backlash that can come with the “Well, why didn’t you tell me this before now?”

It is the senior managers who need to model the process, making it clear that everyone in the company gets an evaluation — not just middle management.

Don’t prepare — wing it!

A good evaluation requires some planning. The manager must be able to back up her impressions by citing instances of observed behavior, not just subjective impressions. Even when the result is “You’re doing an outstanding job,” some specifics need to be cited.

Don’t get employee feedback prior to the evaluation.

Employees feel valued when they are asked to fill out their own performance evaluations prior to their managers’ doing so. This gives them the opportunity to mention accomplishments throughout the year — some of which their managers may not have known about or may have forgotten, and allows the managers to see how employees perceive their own performances.

The bigger the discrepancy in the managers’ perceptions versus the employees’, the more time managers will need to allow for the actual evaluation meetings. Hopefully there is good agreement, making the managers’ jobs much easier and cutting the actual meeting times.

Don’t tell the truth.

Many managers dread giving employees negative feedback. They want to be kind and not be labeled “bad guys.” However, not being straight with an employee really does her a disservice as it denies her the opportunity to correct behaviors/perceptions of which she may be totally unaware and which may cause career derailment in the future.

Don’t create a clear action plan.

An important part of any performance evaluation is to set some clear behavior goals for the future. This is particularly important if an employee has some weak areas to correct. Goals must be specific and measurable. Rather than “You need to improve your attitude,” something like “Eliminate sarcasm about company policies” or “Address your complaint directly to the person with whom you have a problem.”

Don’t make judgmental remarks.

When giving negative feedback, stick to behaviors rather than making judgments. “You’re having difficulty getting to work on time” is matter-of-fact but delivers the message; “You’re irresponsible” is a judgment. Likewise, “Your production is not meeting the assigned goal” is much better than “You’re getting lazy.”

Don’t make the evaluation a dead end.

Some managers heave a sigh of relief when a performance appraisal is over and think “Thank goodness this is over for another year!” But the appraisal is part of a process, not an end it itself. Although formal appraisals may be given only once a year, there should be no surprises to the employees. This means that throughout the year employees are given informal feedback on how they are doing, especially if there is an area in which they are asked to improve.

By avoiding these common mistakes, both managers and employees can look forward to their performance appraisals. Employees almost always want to do well, and they respect managers who acknowledge them for their strengths and are clear with them about what can be improved.

Author: Judi Craig