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Conduct a Performance Appraisal with Minimal Risk

Every employer, every manager, understands their employees don’t necessarily like performance reviews. What the team isn’t always aware of, however, is this: managers don’t like them either.

Shocking, right? Well, when you have to give an employee some criticism that hits home, you have to do so with tact, and that can be hard to do. At least through the eyes of your employees. Issues stemming from a poor performance appraisal often come from poor delivery. If you don’t want to risk your employee taking the performance appraisal to HR – or another step further to litigation – follow these tips.

A Negative Before the Positive?

The last round of performance reviews, your employee’s performance was exceptional. You made it a clear point to tell them how their outstanding performance aided the success of the organization. The marketing mistake they made beforehand seemed minuscule, so it seemed irrelevant to mention. This round of performance reviews, you noticed their performance didn’t quite par up to the last one… and you remember that marketing mistake from last year.

It’s not a good idea to bring poor performance events that pre-date a positive review.

This is indicative of poor management, and can look like retaliation or bias if your employee takes this to your HR department. If 3M is at risk for performance related litigation, you are as well. 3M faced a lawsuit in 2011 primarily because of their faulty forced ranking system. Despite actual performance, the subjectivity of meeting quotas allowed a (whether intentional or not) reliance on bias during employee performance reviews. This resulted in legal proceedings revolving around the disproportionate number of older workers classified in the 10% of “below average” employees.

Review Personnel Files

Preparation before each individual performance appraisal is key for any manager. However, it is difficult when these personnel files aren’t updated on a regular basis or have faulty / bias information. The Critical HR Record keeping Special Report from BLR.com notes:

“It is important to include both positive and negative information in the personnel file so that it is a balanced file – this helps employers fend off charges that the employer only keeps negative information in the personnel file in case of litigation.”

The report explains many of the key points that need to be included in personnel files. While these points do help ward off potential legal battles, they are obligatory in compiling necessary performance appraisal information in order to maintain a well-rounded and complete view of the employee’s work between performance reviews. These points include:Commendations and awards

  • Commendations and awards
  • Written warnings and documentation of verbal warnings
  • Past performance appraisals
  • Absence records (if your organization keeps attendance)
  • Paperwork of employee acknowledgement of company policies
  • Training records (especially those required by law)

Lackadaisical, haphazard and inconsistent documentation of employee performance won’t result in litigation alone; but without this documentation, if an employee files a lawsuit, your organization will find it difficult to protect itself and managers against EEOC and OFCCP audits.

Above All Else, Back it Up

A performance appraisal is based on factual performance, right? The information, criticism and praises you give your employees during their performance reviews have to be substantiated on facts. Employers noted some of the common issues among evaluators;

37.4% said the evaluators don’t tell employees specific details as to why they were graded well or rated poorly. Perhaps more worrisome is that 12.3% of employers say that their evaluators have a tendency to undervalue overall performance because of one negative act. If an employee feels their performance review is unfair, they have a right to take the performance appraisal to HR for further review. By not backing up the criticisms (and praises) in performance reviews, supervisors conducting the performance review set themselves up for possible litigation.

While it can be an uncomfortable aspect of performance management, it’s important to take as much care and attention with performance appraisals as any other part of your job. Understanding how to evaluate your team’s performance can ease the stress of possible litigation. By staying current with employee performance – not evaluating prior to their last performance appraisal – and backing up information with solid factual points, you are less likely to face an employee-instigated lawsuit. Maintain proper documentation of your employee’s performance so your team won’t take the performance appraisal they weren’t so happy about to HR for further investigation.

How To Skip The Negative Feedback "Sandwich"

I’ve never fully understood the logic behind the “sandwich” method of delivering performance feedback. (I’m sure you’re familiar with this concept: Open a discussion on a positive note, then insert a negative piece of news, followed by another positive.) We like to think that we’re softening the blow by offering several of bits of positive feedback around a central negative message. However, we’re doing no such thing.

Actually, this approach may be a disservice to both categories of information — each of which plays a unique and highly valuable role in shaping performance. Overall, we need to pay close attention to the “cascade” of emotions and behavior that we initiate when delivering feedback, but also be careful to retain the value of the message.

Performance Feedback: Open Dialogue

Processing negative performance feedback is quite challenging for most of us — even though on a very basic level, we realize that accepting “where to improve” is critical to our careers. While positive feedback serves to motivate and energize our work lives (we all need this on a regular basis), the “negatives” can also provide useful information about where we should direct our attention. To remain competitive, we certainly require both categories of information — and I am not debating the value of either. Rather, I’d like to open a discussion about how negative information can be presented and approached, to afford the most progress possible.

When considering negative feedback, we must acknowledge core human characteristics; including self-efficacy (the belief that individuals can actually impact their situation) and goal orientation (some individuals focus on learning, others focus on demonstrating competence, and others focus upon avoiding negative judgement). To properly deliver negative feedback, we should carefully consider and frame the delivery, so potential damage to an individual’s psyche is minimized and progress is emphasized.

Developing A Constructive Approach

There’s truly an art to presenting information about performance deficits of any kind. When managers practice the sandwich method, I fear that once the “meat” of the sandwich is delivered — the “downside” of performance — we really don’t remember much of anything that follows. (Attempting to “hide” the information doesn’t address the issues.) We can certainly do a better job of moving the conversation to more neutral ground, where performance improvement can follow. But how? Here are some ideas:

3 Behavioral Considerations

1) How humans are “wired” to perceive bad news. We are likely predisposed to pay more attention to negative information, possibly a leftover evolutionary survival mechanism. As a result, we’re likely to become hyper-focused on the negatives. This clouds our “lens.”
2) We sorely need the positives. We should all be allowed to absorb what we are doing well at work. That’s not possible when information about our successes is delivered in conjunction with information about shortcomings.
3) We “digest” slowly. It takes time to process negative information properly. Initially, when you hear information you might not not want to hear, negative thoughts can spiral, leading to responses such as panic and denial. There are stages in this process that cannot be skipped.

5 Ways To Avoid “The Sandwich”

1) Build resiliency. Performance management should never be a once a year, “live or die” event. Ultimately, it’s a continuous process. Provide positive feedback concerning small successes along the way to provide balance. This helps difficult information become easier to absorb.
2) Address self-efficacy. Some individuals have the tendency to believe they cannot impact their performance or build a needed skill set. Explore this predisposition, to encourage a more hopeful perspective.
3) Focus on learning. Research has shown that in contrast to performance goals, learning goals can increase problem solving in relation to performance problems, possibly limiting the “sting” of negative feedback. Setting the tone to “learn from failure” can prove more effective in motivating and directing behavior.
4) Never “drop a bomb.” It’s wise to address negative feedback when it is delivered. Allow enough time to help control anxiety, and at least begin to discuss a plan for improvement.
5) Support the digestion process. After sharing negative feedback, be sure to provide plenty of support. Be highly accessible as an employee works through the information and begins to take logical steps forward.

How do you present negative performance feedback? What are your “best practice” strategies? How have these strategies helped you develop others in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn Influencer post. It is republished with permission.)

Image Credit: Kitsa Sakurako/Flickr

How To Skip The Negative Feedback “Sandwich”

I’ve never fully understood the logic behind the “sandwich” method of delivering performance feedback. (I’m sure you’re familiar with this concept: Open a discussion on a positive note, then insert a negative piece of news, followed by another positive.) We like to think that we’re softening the blow by offering several of bits of positive feedback around a central negative message. However, we’re doing no such thing.

Actually, this approach may be a disservice to both categories of information — each of which plays a unique and highly valuable role in shaping performance. Overall, we need to pay close attention to the “cascade” of emotions and behavior that we initiate when delivering feedback, but also be careful to retain the value of the message.

Performance Feedback: Open Dialogue

Processing negative performance feedback is quite challenging for most of us — even though on a very basic level, we realize that accepting “where to improve” is critical to our careers. While positive feedback serves to motivate and energize our work lives (we all need this on a regular basis), the “negatives” can also provide useful information about where we should direct our attention. To remain competitive, we certainly require both categories of information — and I am not debating the value of either. Rather, I’d like to open a discussion about how negative information can be presented and approached, to afford the most progress possible.

When considering negative feedback, we must acknowledge core human characteristics; including self-efficacy (the belief that individuals can actually impact their situation) and goal orientation (some individuals focus on learning, others focus on demonstrating competence, and others focus upon avoiding negative judgement). To properly deliver negative feedback, we should carefully consider and frame the delivery, so potential damage to an individual’s psyche is minimized and progress is emphasized.

Developing A Constructive Approach

There’s truly an art to presenting information about performance deficits of any kind. When managers practice the sandwich method, I fear that once the “meat” of the sandwich is delivered — the “downside” of performance — we really don’t remember much of anything that follows. (Attempting to “hide” the information doesn’t address the issues.) We can certainly do a better job of moving the conversation to more neutral ground, where performance improvement can follow. But how? Here are some ideas:

3 Behavioral Considerations

1) How humans are “wired” to perceive bad news. We are likely predisposed to pay more attention to negative information, possibly a leftover evolutionary survival mechanism. As a result, we’re likely to become hyper-focused on the negatives. This clouds our “lens.”
2) We sorely need the positives. We should all be allowed to absorb what we are doing well at work. That’s not possible when information about our successes is delivered in conjunction with information about shortcomings.
3) We “digest” slowly. It takes time to process negative information properly. Initially, when you hear information you might not not want to hear, negative thoughts can spiral, leading to responses such as panic and denial. There are stages in this process that cannot be skipped.

5 Ways To Avoid “The Sandwich”

1) Build resiliency. Performance management should never be a once a year, “live or die” event. Ultimately, it’s a continuous process. Provide positive feedback concerning small successes along the way to provide balance. This helps difficult information become easier to absorb.
2) Address self-efficacy. Some individuals have the tendency to believe they cannot impact their performance or build a needed skill set. Explore this predisposition, to encourage a more hopeful perspective.
3) Focus on learning. Research has shown that in contrast to performance goals, learning goals can increase problem solving in relation to performance problems, possibly limiting the “sting” of negative feedback. Setting the tone to “learn from failure” can prove more effective in motivating and directing behavior.
4) Never “drop a bomb.” It’s wise to address negative feedback when it is delivered. Allow enough time to help control anxiety, and at least begin to discuss a plan for improvement.
5) Support the digestion process. After sharing negative feedback, be sure to provide plenty of support. Be highly accessible as an employee works through the information and begins to take logical steps forward.

How do you present negative performance feedback? What are your “best practice” strategies? How have these strategies helped you develop others in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn Influencer post. It is republished with permission.)

Image Credit: Kitsa Sakurako/Flickr