Performance Reviews

How to deal with a bad performance review?

By on December 15, 2022

The annual performance review is one of the most awaited processes of the year. Because of how these performance reviews are designed, they have become synonymous with annual increments, promotions, and other similar rewards and benefits. 

For the most part, performance appraisals are predictable, and both appraisers and appraisees know what to expect. 

Some performance review examples that encourage frequent feedback and better communication are: 

360 degree feedback – This performance review process is conducted by various colleagues – peers, juniors, and managers, and is therefore thought to be a well-rounded appraisal of an employee’s performance

Outcome-based performance reviews are conducted with a specific result in mind. For example, they can be used to determine progress towards a pre-defined goal or can be undertaken to offer a promotion. 

If the performance management system is implemented effectively, there should be few surprises. That said, there are times when the employee performance review can go entirely sideways and leave the employee bewildered, disappointed, and dejected! 

Reasons for an unexpectedly poor performance review:

An annual performance appraisal culminates a year’s effort and hard work. Employees put their best foot forward to ensure they complete projects on time, meet their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and contribute to the group/department/division. As a result, there is an expectation of a reward or benefit, or at the very least – an acknowledgment of the work they have put in. One in four employees are of the opinion that being inaccurately or unfairly reviewed on their performance caused them to lose out on promotions they deserved according to Businessnewsdaily.

An effective performance management system sets clearly defined objectives, identifies areas for improvement, indicates training needs, and motivates and boosts employee morale. So, in most cases, unsatisfactory or bad performance should be highlighted before the end of the year. Corrective action can, therefore, also be taken accordingly. 

However, the annual performance review may bring up unexpected and unpleasant results in a few instances. Some of the reasons for this are:

Reasons for unexpected annual performance review

Poor communication:

Effective communication yields effective results. When everyone is on the same page about what’s expected and how those expectations will be met, each individual can play their part well. Performance suffers when communication between teams, within teams, and between managers, supervisors, and other team members is inadequate. When people need to figure out what to do, they can’t be expected to do it right.

Ineffective feedback:

When the feedback mechanism is broken or inadequate, employees are still determining whether their jobs are helping to achieve the company’s overall objectives. A proper performance management system should include feedback at regular intervals. This helps corrective action to be taken sooner. Employees are aware of what they are doing right – so they can continue and do better. This gives them the support they need to do their jobs better. Areas of improvement and training needs are also highlighted. 

Feedback given more regularly, instead of waiting till the end of the year also helps employee performance. A study by Gallup has shown that by receiving weekly feedback from their managers, employees are about 3 times more likely to be engaged at work, 5.5 times more likely to strongly agree to receiving meaningful feedback and about 3.5 times more likely to strongly agree they are motivated to do perform with excellence. 

Lack of skill, ability, or motivation:

Irrespective of what’s detailed in the CV or what education a person has, there are times when they need to have what it takes to put theory into practice. They may need to gain the skill or ability for the job they’ve been recruited for. They may need to be more excited about what they are doing. Whatever the reason, the result is that their performance doesn’t match expectations. A vigilant manager would be able to spot this early on. Through counseling and matching skills and abilities with positions, employees can be transferred to different jobs within the same team or even to other divisions. This would help improve employee morale and ensure better work productivity.

Unrealistic expectations:

It is essential to understand what an employee is capable of and their levels of commitment before assigning a task or a project to them. Some employees selected by company management for supervisory or managerial roles may need more time to be ready for that level of commitment. Others are happier working in a group than being singled out to take on an important task. The best work happens when expectations closely match reality. Managers with their pulse on the working habits, abilities, and skill sets of their team members will be able to manage people more effectively.

Lack of clarity about the ‘big picture:

As part of an organization, it’s essential to understand the organizational goals and how each contribution is helping the organization succeed. This understanding gives employees a sense of purpose and makes them feel part of the organization’s achievements. However, in a recent survey by Pew Research, about 60% of employees surveyed didn’t understand or were unaware of their company’s mission, vision or values. When this happens and without clear communication, employees may feel futile regarding their roles. This leads to lower contributions at work, poor confidence, and unsatisfactory work performance.

Whatever the reasons, it’s difficult to accept criticism of your work and hear that your performance has not met the expectations. It’s worse when such a review is unanticipated! In situations like this, an employee has the following options:

1. C’est la vie!

Translation: that’s life! While the performance appraisal may not have gone as expected, the employee may choose to take the feedback on board and objectively assess what was discussed during the annual performance review. This feedback can be used as the basis for improvement over the next year.

2. You’re wrong, and let me tell you why!

The employee may, after evaluating the feedback, choose to disagree with the employee performance review. They may appeal to the review and bring evidence to support their arguments.

3. Thank you, and goodbye!

The employee may decide that the annual performance review was so inaccurate that the only option they have is to call it quits. This may happen after a discussion about their performance appraisal or may just be done with no attention being called to their disappointment or disapproval. And this is no small number – close to 90% of employees would consider leaving their jobs after what they deemed an unfair performance evaluation.  

Whichever of the three choices the employee decides on, it is best to proceed with caution and discretion. It is never wise to burn bridges, less so in a professional environment!

What next??

Here are a few suggestions of what to do after a less-than-stellar (and unexpected!) performance appraisal:

Things to do after unexpected performance appraisal

1. Retreat, review and reflect:

No good decisions are made with an upset mind! It’s best to leave some time and space to evaluate the feedback objectively and think about the best learnings that can be taken from it. 

How much of the feedback was accurate, for example, and what can be done to incorporate the given suggestions to improve? An unbiased examination of the parameters on which performance was gauged is also essential. This allows for a better understanding of how future performance can be improved. 

Another factor to take into consideration is the feedback process. What can be done to ensure that feedback is more regular? Or, how can communication be improved so that performance aligns with expectations?

2. Request a follow-up discussion:

While an employee performance review that’s unexpectedly poor may bring up an immediate fight or flight response, everyone is better served with a follow-up discussion. Even better if this discussion is conducted calmly and after some deliberation. 

Employees are well within their rights to request clarification or re-discussion of any parts of their assessment they need help understanding or expecting. They can also come prepared to explain their performance, especially with evidence of their achievements, contributions, and good performance at work. 

What’s important during this follow-up meeting is that the employee is open to the management’s point of view. It’s not only to establish or highlight their good performance but to understand the gaps that exist and how they can be bridged to ensure a better annual performance review the next time around.

3. Seek other perspectives:

Failure is a hard pill to swallow! Whether it’s because expectations were not clearly understood, objectives were not clearly defined, or for any other reason, the result is that employee performance was impacted.

Setting this right is to see failure as a chance for strategy revision. Talk to colleagues or co-workers – people who’ve been part of the working team. Getting their opinions or perspectives may help better understand how performance can be tweaked. They may also be able to offer an opinion or example to support the employee’s side. 

Here, it’s essential to seek the opinions of those that are unbiased and fair in their views and assessments.

4. Learn and plan:

Growth and change come from learning from past mistakes. Discussions with the manager and colleagues should lead to understanding of how performance can be improved. It should also allow employees to prepare a game plan for the next performance appraisal. 

Employees should better understand the parameters of the performance review and should prepare themselves accordingly. Work performance should be altered, and expectations clarified, and they should keep records of good feedback, excellent contributions to the team, project deadlines achieved, etc. 

The employee can also make a more concentrated effort to have more regular meetings and seek targeted feedback. Discussing specifics based on concrete examples is always more productive than dealing with hypotheticals and what-ifs. The discussions and the input received must be used to improve performance consistently. 

5. Appeal:

Employees that feel that their performance appraisals are grossly unfair or unexpectedly poor usually have recourse. They can appeal to a manager with greater authority or to the HR department. 

These channels help the situation by getting a more objective and considered opinion on the employee performance review. If the review was unfair to the employee, appealing helps the organization because it highlights an area of concern. 

6. Explore options:

Employees must examine all available options before making decisions affecting their futures and careers. They could accept the challenge and improve their performance for a better performance appraisal in the next cycle. 

It could also be that the employee decides that the relationship with the immediate manager or with the organization is so irrevocably damaged that they need to look for work elsewhere. 

Whatever the decision, it should be an informed one, carefully weighing the pros and cons and taking the proper steps to back up the decision. 

A bad performance review is never easy to deal with. But the true strength of an employee lies in how they choose to move ahead! The objective must always be to improve personal abilities and enhance professional skills. Taking the best of the performance review and using that to improve work performance, irrespective of the organization will only benefit the employee. It will also undoubtedly lead to better performance appraisals in the future.

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