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We all know how valuable regular one-on-one performance discussions are — but if you say the wrong things, you could disengage even the most dedicated employees

You have probably read articles on the benefits of regular performance discussions. If so, you will be aware of the fact that many large companies, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have abandoned their yearly performance appraisal for more frequent check-ins. But what you should always keep in mind is it’s not only the quantity of meetings that is important; it’s the quality and the content, too.

The best managers know what to say in order to inspire and motivate their team. They listen and they encourage, without judging or losing their temper. It’s not an easy job and it needs practice. Being a leader takes a lot of hard work and persistence, but they are ultimately able to unite their teams and achieve company goals. However, when managers are careless, their words can do serious damage, leading to a drop in engagement, discretionary effort, and morale.

There are many ways to communicate during a performance management review, as well as a number of different management styles to suit a wide range of personality types. But regardless of how you choose to lead or motivate, you should always refrain from using sentences that are…

Emotional or overly personal — try to keep performance management reviews objective

When you use sentences that begin with phrases such as “I feel” or “in my opinion”, employees will justifiably feel that the feedback is subjective and, therefore, not entirely valid. To avoid debates, confusion or miscommunication, always provide factual examples when delivering feedback.

If you feel an employee isn’t putting in sufficient effort, or you think a particular employee is underperforming, or you are concerned that an employee is confrontational with his or her teammates, provide concrete evidence to back up your assertion. Simply saying “I feel your heart isn’t in your work” or “in my opinion, your work isn’t up to scratch” won’t provide clarification. It also abruptly shuts down further communication.

Overly broad or general — this is particularly critical with relation to personal development objectives

As implied above, generalities do nothing but hinder a performance review. When giving feedback, always be specific and, when determining SMART objectives and setting personal development objectives, ensure they are succinct, clear and understood. Employees and managers should always be on the same page. They should know what is expected and by when. Employees should know exactly how they are progressing or where they are going wrong. Without specifics and definite examples, employees will never be entirely certain and they will never be able to improve or advance.

Extreme or all-encompassing

When you use words that are considered extreme, you will appear unfair and unreasonable, putting employees on the defensive. For example, you shouldn’t say that an employee “always” does X or “never” does Y. Instead, state that you have noticed certain behaviours or habits and explain how they are counterproductive. You can also discuss what steps can be put in place to assist the employee if they are struggling with certain tasks.

On the other side of the coin, you shouldn’t pretend that everything is perfect and the employee has nothing to improve upon. Even the best employees can develop further and top performers will want to know how to take their game to the next level. Without a challenge and without advancement, your employees will get frustrated and bored. Remember: although positive feedback can be inspirational, employees are generally open to hearing constructive criticism, too. In fact, a 2014 Harvard Business Review study showed that 57% of employees like to receive negative feedback in order to improve their performance.

Negative or judgemental

Traditionally, employees have dreaded performance appraisals, perceiving them as an opportunity to be unfairly judged and criticised. But performance reviews don’t have to be a negative experience. It is much more advisable to focus on the positives and strengths. Using this tactic, you are much more likely to motivate your employees and inspire them to work harder.

Don’t compare employees to their peers in an unfavourable way. Don’t imply doubt, don’t humiliate and don’t express frustration when employees aren’t progressing at the rate you expect them to (not easy, but it gets easier with practice!). Instead, give your employees support; you’ll be surprised how far positivity will get you.

Threatening or intimidating

Ultimatums rarely work in life and they don’t work to motivate performance, either. Threatening employees to perform the way you would like (or else) isn’t entirely effective and will only result in a fearful, devalued employee.

Refrain from saying things like “If you don’t start improving, you’re out” or “we need you to do a better job, or we’ll have to find someone who can perform your role better” isn’t likely to inspire your employee to work harder. Pick your words carefully and remember that the people in your workforce are your most valuable asset. They should be given the respect and support they deserve.

To find out how Clear Review’s performance management software can help you improve individual and company performance, get in touch with us today on +44 (0)20 3637 4489. We’ll talk you through our platform and discuss your performance management needs.