Fixing the Employee Review Process

In fact, the average employee review is typically done at the last minute without the benefit of decent notes. Supervisors tend to focus on an employee’s most recent performance successes or failures because the past year has not been well documented.

There’s often little frankness or honesty in the written evaluation. Rather than giving a bad employee a poor review, supervisors feel it’s easier for them to hand out an average review.

But that tendency to “fudge” the truth can come back to haunt a company if it later wants to fire that employee for poor performance. All he or she has to do is point to the “average” evaluation and say, “See, there’s nothing there.” That gives the employee a question of fact that may go to a jury if he or she otherwise alleges some violation of the various civil rights statutes after the employee is terminated.

In many significant ways, it’s better to stop doing performance reviews entirely than to do them poorly. A good evaluation system should provide honest feedback on an ongoing basis, not simply once a year.  And perhaps most important, if we are doing what we should be doing, employees should never be surprised by what they hear in a year-end review.  And all reviews should be done with the benefit of good notes and hard facts.

Five things businesses can do to upgrade the performance review process:

1. Ask yourself why you are doing them. If you tie pay or promotions to performance, then okay, proceed. While this might seem like a simple idea, if a company doesn’t have such a link, supervisors won’t put any effort into the evaluations, which will likely end up hurting the company in the event of litigation.

2. Tailor the evaluation to the job.  Companies tend to use packaged evaluation tools, which mean that all your employees—from the sales manager to forklift drivers to the CFO—are being rated on the same criteria. Divide reviews into categories or job families to ensure that employees are rated fairly.

3. Train your reviewers. While companies are willing to train supervisors to use online performance tools, most don’t think to invest where it counts—teaching bosses how to review an employee face-to-face and give constructive feedback. Focus on doing that and your investment in an online evaluation system will pay off.

4. Review performance every day. Think that reviews should be either on an employee anniversary date or at the end or beginning of the calendar year? Think again. Supervisors should evaluate employee performance daily by giving examples of good and poor performance, offering constructive suggestions for improvement.

5. Involve the employee being reviewed. Supervisors are only half of the equation. A good evaluation process should involve asking the employee to define job duties, detail what success looks like and what the employer needs to achieve it. And remember, this, too, is an ongoing—not an annual—process.

Now don’t be fooled by what you might read on the Internet. There is nothing simple about doing good performance reviews. It is work but it is work you should do.

With the economy the way it is, and companies all over cutting back, doesn’t it make sense to try to have the best employees you can? Of course it does. Invest the time and effort in doing this right and you can bet it will pay off in the long run.

Steven A. Palazzolo is senior counsel with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, a Michigan law firm with offices in Lansing and five other cities across the region. Palazzolo can be reached at Read his blog on employment law at and tweets at @ZoWNJLabor.








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