5 Reasons Why Employee Reviews Suck and How to Fix Them

5 Reasons Why Employee Reviews Suck & How to Change Them

In the English language there are certain words that tend to strike fear in people at the mere mention. Words such as:
  • clowns
  • catheters
  • employee performance reviews
  • Pitbull (yes I’m talking about the “artist”)

I’ll save my confusion as to why Pitbull seems to be so popular for another day, but let’s focus on employee performance reviews for now.

Dreading Performance Reviews  

For many, employee reviews are the business world’s equivalent to going to the dentist. We go in knowing we have to do it, but forever dread the days leading up to it. To try to soften the blow (and guilt), we’ll start brushing and flossing our teeth regularly a week before our appointment. Reactions to employee reviews are similar as many employees will just start to be nicer to their manager, start trying to accomplish goals they set 11 months prior and preparing counter-arguments against any perceived weaknesses that might be brought up.
employee performance review funny

So what is the purpose of an employee performance review? Here are a few basic answers.

  1.  To set expectations with the employee about their role, responsibilities and company/store standards.
  2.  To provide an opportunity to review the employee’s performance, update goals, and recognize areas of improvement and praise.
  3.  To provide the opportunity for the manager to improve relations with the employee, show they care about the employee and their contribution.
  4.  A chance to talk about future goals.
Now, if these are the purposes behind employee reviews….then why do they make us do this:

We’ll give you five reasons why…and possible solutions.

 1. Managers/Employees Don’t Care

Dilbert why employee reviews suck

Typically managers are tasked by HR, to participate in “The Annual Meeting of Uncomfortable Conversations” and look at employee performance reviews as something they have to do to maintain employee relations, to keep a paper trail in case of employee issues, or to assign some sort of grade for promotions. Pacifying HR to conduct an annual employee review is akin to your Mom telling you to eat your vegetables–you know it’s good for you but the process leaves a bad taste in your mouth. When this happens, managers are typically more concerned with getting the task done, so they can go back to “more important” tasks – like making money, getting sales or running a store. When a manager approaches the review like this, employees can sense it as an act of really not caring about them, their goals or situation.

Solution ideas: 
Managers need to treat employee performance reviews as a tool and employees as an extension of themselves. The employee review doesn’t have to be a painstaking process, but can be a simple one that focuses on what the employee is doing well, and what they can improve on and a plan to work with them on specific items in the future. Managers can also use the time to personally get to know the employee more, and find out what their aspirations and interests are. When employees know you care about them (and not just about sales and the store), they tend to perform better and stay longer. And yes, that means more sales and cost savings!! 

2. Goals and tasks aren’t tied to financial results.

For sales people, an employee performance review can be pretty easy. You either met your sales goal or you didn’t. For other employees it really isn’t so cut and dry. Managers typically provide tasks and responsibilities for their employees as a part of just running the business. But do employees really know why they’re doing specific tasks? Do the employees and better yet, does the manager know what the value of those tasks are? When employees know that the tasks they’re being asked to do actually contribute to the success of the business, there can be a powerful understanding that what they’re doing is important. When managers can know the value of each task, they too can prioritize tasks for each individual, and they then care about making sure the employee can do them and do them well. Right now, managers are just happy when an employee shows up…we can do much better.

Solution ideas:
The employee review is a time to review performance and managers need to connect their performance with business/store goals and results. For example, smiling and greeting the customer has proven to improve sales. When the employee knows this, it’s not just a task “to do” but it’s actually one that provides value to the store. Managers need to be sure to praise and incentivize performance in a way that has value to the business goals and store. Likewise, when pointing out areas that need to be worked on, let employees know that improvement in those areas will help the store/business.

3. Treating Employee Reviews Like an “Annual” Physical

No one wants to get ‘their annual” of anything, we get it. Unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons reviews suck is precisely because they are annual. Think about what happens within one year. If you’re an employee, and you’re improving your skills, helping more customers, and just doing an overall good job, wouldn’t it be great to be recognized and get feedback on what you’re actually doing more than once a year? And if you’re not doing something well, wouldn’t it be great to identify those things early and work towards correcting them, or possibly get training? (Nod your head “Yes”)

If you’re a manager, how will you score each employee on their performance over the entire year? How will you remember all the good things they did and those areas where they really need improvement? If you don’t have a process in place to capture employee achievements and provide regular feedback, annual performance reviews will continue to be painful, somewhat unfair and employees will lose faith in the process. If there are problems or issues that are hurting your store, why would you wait a year to provide feedback to an employee?

Solution ideas:
Change can be hard, especially if managers are working within a specific type of system to administer employee reviews. What I’m about to mention may cause severe brain cramping and distress…so make sure you’re sitting down.

Instead of eliminating the annual performance review, managers can simply add additional reviews on a quarterly (or more) basis. (Breathe, breathe….in…out…) These can be 15 minute meetings that quickly address goals and performance. I know what you’re thinking…you need less employee reviews not more. Wrong, you and your employees need the right kind of reviews. The benefits are many. Better communication, more measured performance, more accountability, better employee morale, and increased retention. Not to mention increased sales! If there is improvement, you can encourage and promote sooner, and help perpetuate that behavior. If there are issues, you can address them immediately or offer training. In addition, if managers are still performing the traditional performance review, both the employee and the manager will go into it with a better understanding of where they both stand. Win win!

4. We can’t handle the truth.  

Employees expect the worst, because managers aren’t giving their best, or aren’t seen as being fair or consistent in how they score each employee. There are two things at play here, you have employees who really don’t want to hear anything negative about their performance and you have managers that don’t want to provide honest feedback in fear of the employee quitting or that they won’t “like” them. If managers are afraid of confronting poor performing employees, they’ll continue to see poor performance. If employees are afraid of taking constructive feedback, they will continue to perform poorly. Store sales and customers will feel the brunt of this behavior and when multiplied by the number of store employees, the result is a culture of poor performance. There has to be a way to hold managers and employees accountable for results, and the truth isn’t about criticism or blame, it’s about identifying problem areas and how the manager and employee can work together to solve them.

Solution ideas:
Managers, not just corporate, can set the expectations and the purpose of an employee performance review. If both managers and employees know exactly what to expect, anxiety and fear shouldn’t be a factor. Managers can take the lead and let each employee know the criteria in which they will be judging their performance. If managers are going to be conducting more results based meetings with their employees, as mentioned in #3, then those conversations will be easier to have.

5. Managers give reviews from a parent/child perspective. 

When we look at how managers typically provide direction, it’s often in a task driven checklist. Stock the shelves, greet customers, sweep the floors, etc. It’s really not unlike parents giving their children a chore list. As a kid, my Mom’s “to do list” inspired me to get into my bedroom and fix my bed in a way that would make Martha Stewart beam with pride. Just kidding, it did the opposite and I still don’t make my bed! If managers are intent on treating employees like children, they shouldn’t be too surprised when employees fail to be inspired in their work, fail to go the extra-mile to make a customer happy and continue to do the bare minimum that is asked.

Solution ideas:
Managers should use the employee performance review as a way to get to really know their employees, and communicate on a level that is conversational, authentic and empathetic. Praise them and point out areas where they excel. Ask them their opinion on areas where the store could do better and how you could be a better manager. Getting the conversation on a peer-to-peer level shows that whether you’re a manager or an employee, you are all on the same team and trying to work towards a common goal.
Employee reviews done effectively have the power to transform your company through:
  • improved performance and profitability of your store and employees
  • happier and more engaged employees vested in the results of the store/company
  • allowing managers to encourage positive performance and discover issues
  • higher employee retention (cost savings!)

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We’ve analyzed the data of thousands of employee reviews and created a basic Employee Review template with some of the best questions to measure. Download it for free and “un-suck” things.

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Mike Jensen
Mike Jensen is the Director of Content Marketing and Social Media for Cambeo. He's previously worked on Blendtec's famous "Will it Blend?" YouTube channel and successfully marketed products such as New York Times Best-seller, "The Romney Family Table" by Ann Romney, NBA Hall-of-Famer John Stockton's autobiography, and Gladys Knight albums. In his spare time he enjoys eating cold cereal late at night, terrorizing his wife and 5 children with 80s music, and a nice cold Vanilla Coke.