Would YOU Give Someone a BAD Performance Appraisal?

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

If you perform Performance Appraisals with your team, then it’s likely you have needed to give someone ‘bad’ feedback. But did you follow through? Giving someone a bad review is not easy (it’s hellish!) but it’s also very necessary if we have the reviewees best interests at heart.

Have you ever had a bad review yourself? I don’t mean the review process itself was clumsy or mis-used, but I mean ‘bad’ in the sense that it didn’t give you good news? If you have, then try putting yourself in your manager’s shoes, and consider how they felt about giving it to you. Do you think they enjoyed it? In 99% of these situations, the answer is NO.

This is a big challenge for managers, do you agree?

Giving someone a ‘bad’ review is an arduous process. It’s definitely one of the hardest things to do in a manager’s life. It’s no surprise that some managers avoid it entirely.

Would you give one of your team a bad performance review?

So far, I’ve used the word BAD. And I have also put the word in ‘quotes’ too. Because, I don’t believe that giving another human being feedback that helps their development intrinsically bad. Do you?

The reason we might think it is bad is because it is difficult, and cause a painful emotional uprising.

It is human instinct to avoid pain. We avoid it consciously and sub-consciously. Pain isn’t just felt physically, it is also felt mentally, and it is the mental pain that is often the worst. Knowing we will inflict mental pain onto somebody else, especially if we care about them in the context of being a colleague, we will be tempted to avoid it! I have, have you?

But here’s the thing. By avoiding providing painful feedback during a performance appraisal, what are we doing? We’re creating the environment for our colleague’s undesirable behaviors to continue. If he/she feels no pain, then they won’t change. Change only really comes with pain.

Equally (and this is the hard bit) if we avoid giving the painful feedback, we’re avoiding agony for ourselves as the appraisers…

[What if they hate us? What if they cry? What if they resign and it looks bad on me? What if they sue?]

If we don’t go ahead with giving the feedback then we don’t gain experience and get better at it. We create a lose:lose situation. Who wants that?

So isn’t a ‘bad’ appraisal really a ‘good’ appraisal if it helps the appraisee understand the necessary behavioral changes they need to make? And the art of making it a GREAT appraisal is to learn how to help the appraisee cope with the information/feedback they receive, and know what to do with it.

It takes practise. Lots of it. And perhaps some coaching and mentorship – have you tried talking to someone who has ‘been there’ and ‘done that’ in this?

You could also try picking up a great book I discovered that shares some strategies, backed up with real test cases, in how to perform ‘great’ reviews, whether they’re grade A or grade F results. The book is How To Say It Performance Reviews: Phrases and Strategies for Painless and Productive Performance Reviews by Meryl Runion and Janelle Brittain. It also provides tips and insights into preparing an agenda, monitoring body language, and developing the right tone of voice. Why do I like this book? It is written by people who clearly understand the nature of the pain on both sides. It is supportive – it doesn’t tell us how to do the obvious, it shares insights into the psychology of the situations we face and how to find the best approach to ease the pain.

Will you be giving someone a ‘bad’ appraisal? Then this book might be just what you need to make it painless.

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5 thoughts on “Would YOU Give Someone a BAD Performance Appraisal?”

  1. Simon,

    As a manager who has had to deliver bad performance news, I can’t resist a couple comments on my personal approach.

    First – as a manager, if you’ve waited until the employee’s appraisal to share aspects of their performance that aren’t up to par, then as a manager I’M not doing MY job. If there is a negative aspect to an employee’s performance that warrants inclusion into their official file, then it is our responsibility to both the employee and our employer to address the specific issue now. One approach that helps soften the blow is to clearly define the under-performance along with clearly defined expectations of what acceptable performance looks like. Too often I hear of managers telling someone they aren’t doing a good job but can’t tell them why or how to improve.

    Second – Sometimes the actual appraisal can be way to long and involved. I know sometimes HR imposes a certain process on us, but the best advice I got on this topic was years ago from one of my mentors. He said to take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. With your employee, fill in three things on the left hand side that you think the employee is doing a good job at and should be commended. On the right hand side, fill in three areas you would like to see the employee improve and what improvement would look like. I’ve always liked that approach and have used it with success in the past.


  2. Dave I like your thinking. The appraisal isn’t the place to have a grand unveiling! The appraisal is an official point in time, but the review process goes on through the year and is continuous, right?


    1. Hi Asif

      Thanks for sharing your views! Have you ever had an incident where feedback from an appraisal has differed from the feedback given to you during the rest of the review period?


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