When it comes to Performance Reviews, Nobody Likes a Surprise

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At a gathering earlier this year, I found myself in conversation with a new acquaintance who had just finished up his first year with a mid-sized IT firm. Being interested in staff development as I am, I asked about how the dreaded annual review had gone. Turns out that his manager had given him a run of the mill critique – some good, some bad, but one aspect of the review really stuck in his mind and left him feeling upset about the process.

Of the negative feedback he’d received, intended as constructive criticism, a majority was related to skills and behaviors that weren’t in his job description or ever discussed. With a year of work under his belt, he felt blindsided by his performance review. He felt he was being evaluated for skills he didn’t even know he was supposed to have.

Who wouldn’t be discouraged by this situation? Surprises like this leave people frustrated and on the defensive. Done right, these could have been simple discussions or suggestions to raise talent levels. Progressive companies are using shared expectations and ongoing feedback to develop and retain top talent. An article published last year highlighted Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, who explained that “If you get into the habit of regular feedback, it’s not confrontational; it’s just the ebb and flow of conversation and a constant tweaking of how you work with somebody.”

Are you sharing your expectations and feedback with employees, or are they out talking about your poor review process with strangers?


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