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Channeling Chris Rock - Negative Comments in Performance Reviews

Can you imagine what a curse-filled, negative experience a performance review would be with Chris Rock as the reviewer?

When you use negative comments in a written performance review, your employees hear the same thing.  No matter how professionally you try to pull it off - it's personal.   It's Chris Rock dropping the F-bomb, talking trash about them in public....

Everyone ebbs and flows regarding giving feedback to direct reports.  You have an issue one day, and your week goes crazy and you never get a chance to talk to the employee in question about the issue.  Next issue that comes up, you're providing feedback same day to get the problem corrected - maybe too harshly.   The good news?  Most employees understand the variability and cut you some slack for the times you are harsh if it averages out overall. 

Keep in mind, that's for day-to-day coaching.  Employees are of an entirely different mindset when itChris_rock  comes to their annual performance reviews.  Written comments on the annual review are always the subject of greater scrutiny.  Why?   Reasons include the following (from the employee's view):

1.  It's in writing, and that feels final...
2.  It will be in my file for eternity, there for my future manager to see long after you are gone..
3.  My friend Bob, in another department, wasn't subjected to the same scrutiny, so why me?...
4.  It proves you don't like me...
5.  You are wrong.

With those feelings in mind, giving an overall rating to an employee is one thing, but providing comments to back up the overall rating is the emotional powder keg.  You've got multiple choices with each comment string you write to back up a category rating contained in the review.  One of those choices is what spurs the true emotion - negative, critical comments in a performance review. 

You think you are handling it well.  But all the employee hears is Chris Rock going off on a negative, curse-filled rant.

Example of a fairly benign negative comment (this one is well written compared to some toxic language I have seen) - "Joseph needs to watch the tone of his voice when communicating with customers.  He is often perceived as negative and confrontational."

Ouch.... That would sting most of us, so managers have to know when it's appropriate to use the negative, critical comment.  After all, the goal is improved performance, not simply ripping them, right?

The Breakdown of Appropriate Use of Performance Management Negativity:

Situation #1 - Performance Review Category rated "Exceeds" - You're kidding me right?  You want to plug an area you rate as Exceeds with a negative comment?  No use of negativity is ever appropriate here, you caveman/cavewoman...

Situation #2 - Category rated "Does Not Meet" - They don't meet the objective, right?  So some negativity is required, just keep it behavioral in nature, direct and non-personal.  In other words, based on facts.  It's still going to hurt, but you have to back up the rating.

Situation #3 - Category rated "Meets" - Ah, yes.  The most dangerous category of all.  Employee meets the objective, but you think they can deliver more.  Wouldn't a negative comment jolt them into improved performance?  Not likely.  Don't try to be a hero by going negative in this situation.  You have to reinforce the positives, then encourage them to stretch for more...

Want a better way to drive increased performance for the "Meets" performer?  Compliment him/her with a few things they do well to support the "Meets" rating, then give them some stretch objectives on what it will take to become an "Exceeds" performer in the area in question.

Or, just drop the dime on them like our friend Chris Rock.... Your choice....


Sadistic Manager

As someone who just finished sending a ton of reviews back to his management team for edits, I have to say thank you for this. Fantastic advice.

Negative commentary out of context - and in a few places, positive commentary out of context - were the majority of the reasons why I rejected the ones I sent back.

"You rated this one as 'occasionally fails to meet expectations' but then wrote a glowing compliment? Where's the directive for him to improve, here?"


In your post, you gave this example of a "fairly benign negative comment: "Joseph needs to watch the tone of his voice when communicating with customers. He is often perceived as negative and confrontational."

I don't see the problem with this statement. It does not say Joseph IS negative and confrontational, but that he is perceived as such. Can you give an example of how you would address Joseph on this point if you were giving his review?

Kris Dunn

MJ -

Here's my big problem - it's sound like a robot wrote it. If that's all the comment that goes along with the rating, then that's not coaching. First up, if Joseph's demeanor is a stregth in other areas, that needs to be noted. Next, even if there isn't anything positive to say, the manager needs to provide some thoughts on how he can correct the perception.

Not enough to bang with a problem. Need to provide some thought starters on what he can do to improve, and document them in the review. It becomes a coaching anchor moving forward to hold the employee accountable by.

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