How do I document my concerns on an annual performance review if I haven't discussed those issues with the employee in the past?

The primary rule of performance management is that there should be no surprises. When an employee feels ambushed by stored-up complaints that his manager has been withholding over long periods of time, that manager has failed to communicate properly. Since communication is the bedrock of business, that manager needs to be trained more effectively in dealing with adversity, delivering bad news, and managing conflict.

That being said, remember that the path of least resistance is avoidance. Even the best managers will attempt at times to avoid broaching uncomfortable topics if they feel that bringing them up will only make matters worse. Maybe avoidance allows the work to get done with minimal friction. But when it s time for the annual performance review, that manager will be hard pressed to articulate on paper the subordinate s multiple shortcomings. Many managers deny the problem even further by doling out ''satisfactory'' scores (much to their later chagrin when they wish to terminate the employee for cause). On the other hand, there is a way to gently communicate the ongoing problems at review time while still aggressively dealing with the problem. Let's look at how it's done.

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First, the manager in question should assume responsibility for failing to communicate properly when speaking with the employee about the review. Second, the manager should qualify written comments with statements like, ''Although Laura and I didn't discuss this issue during the review period . . .'' or ''This was not formally brought to Laura's attention at the time it occurred.'' Yes, your statements diminish the impact of the message you're making when you include such disclaimers. Still, it's only fair to do so, and your employee will have an easier time accepting your criticism if it's not perceived as an ambush.

Here's how your verbal conversation might sound:

Laura, it's time for the annual review, and I've been meaning to have this meeting with you for quite some time. I apologize to you, and I assume responsibility for not having shared my concerns with you earlier. However, I don't feel that your performance or conduct are up to par relative to your performance in the past. This year has been a difficult one for you: We've had multiple complaints about your tone of voice with customers—issues that I've smoothed over with customers myself rather than bringing them to your attention. Also, your loan-to-value ratios have contained errors that the desk appraisers have caught in their audits of your work. As a result, several have shared with me that they don t trust your work to be top quality, especially when you appear to be under pressure.

Your overall performance score on this evaluation will be ''does not meet expectations.'' I want you to know that I'll qualify that by saying that these issues were not brought to your attention immediately as they occurred. I can't hold you fully accountable for fixing problems that you're not aware of. On the other hand, tone of voice with customers and simple loan-to-value calculations are the basics of your job. Just because I haven't taken the opportunity to sit with you to discuss others' concerns doesn't justify your behavior or lack of attention to detail.

I've written my review of your performance. I'd like to review it with you now. If you have any immediate questions, just let me know. Otherwise, I'll ask you to take this home and study it. I'm sure you'll have other questions tomorrow, and I'd like to be able to answer them for you as concretely as possible. I also want you to know that I'll bring any performance or conduct issues to your immediate attention from now on so that you won't feel surprised or anxious about how I'm evaluating you.

Oh, there is one other thing: I'd like to have another formal performance review with you in ninety days. Although you won't receive a merit increase now because of the current review, there is a possibility that you'll receive a merit increase in ninety days if your performance and conduct show significant improvement.

Similar language should be used in the ''Comments section of the written review. An example can be found in Appendix O.

 
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