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How to Handle a Negative Performance Review

Last week’s post was the Do-It-Yourself Performance Review. Some of you responded (thanks!) and wanted to know what to do when you have to give a negative performance review. I asked my favorite clients in HR to weigh in.

Q. I’d like to give an honest appraisal of my supervisor/colleague/direct report but not everything I have to say is positive. How should I convey criticism?

A. Ideally, if something isn’t working out, you should broach the topic long before a formal performance appraisal. Since these annual reviews are documented, shared with others and kept on file, employees should be given the opportunity to address issues before they are committed to permanent record.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of “everything is fine until it’s not fine and you’re fired.” But consider the consequences of being non-confrontational. It’s possible your comments will impact decisions about promotions and raises, which can quickly lead to mistrust and resentment.

Instead, keep a running file for each person you’re asked to review. Record concrete examples of their accomplishments and shortcomings, and make a point to have routine discussions. Nobody likes to be reprimanded in front of an audience. Performance reviews, as well as terminations, shouldn’t contain any surprises. In addition, they should reflect a pattern of performance over time, rather than what you’re feeling or can remember when you sit down to write the review.

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