The Biggest Career Killer of All Time: The Performance Review.

“Jenny … One other thing that I wanted to mention. You need to be aware of the time that you come in to the office. We usually get to the office before nine a.m., and I’ve noticed that sometimes you come in five or ten minutes late. It’s okay to come in late sometimes because we all have those days, but you should really get to the office before nine. It’s not a huge deal, but something I just wanted to let you know. You are still doing a great job, and I appreciate your work.”

Do you know who was giving Jenny this advice?

Her manager.

And do you know when she gave Jenny this advice?

During her annual performance review.

Do you know where this was happening?

At Starbucks.

Her manager is giving her the results of her year-end performance in a public coffee shop. I know, because I was sitting at the table next to them as an innocent bystander.

What do you think Jenny is thinking right now while her manager is telling her this?

I don’t know, but I’ll take a guess. It’s probably something like this:

“Whoa! Whoa here! When I joined the company you told me that it didn’t matter what time I come to work as long as I get my work done! And now I’m being dinged because I show up to work five minutes late? You do realize I show up late because I’m up at seven answering emails for an hour before I get ready to come to work, and my train doesn’t get here until nine! And wait a minute here! You’re telling me this in a public coffee shop? Ugh, I hate this job with a passion. Seriously, I’d do anything to end my misery right now.”

Sound familiar?

If Jenny’s manager isn’t even smart enough to conduct her performance review in a private place, why should Jenny suffer?

What else did Jenny’s manager say about her? Does it really matter? Do you really think Jenny remembers any of the good stuff that was said about her? All she remembers is how she has to change her entire morning just so she can “get to work on time.”

I don’t know Jenny, but I would guess that the next six months went something like this:

  • Month 1: Gets up at 7:00 a.m. Only answers emails for thirty minutes. Gets to work on time
  • Month 2: Gets up at 7:30 am. Doesn’t answer emails in the morning anymore. Gets to work on time.
  • Month 3: Gets up at 7:30 a.m. Hits the snooze button and really gets up at 8:00 a.m. Gets to work ten minutes late. Takes the back door so her manager won’t notice.
  • Month 4: Gets up at 8:00 a.m. Sends her manager random emails during her commute so her boss thinks she is working. Gets to work 15 minutes late. Takes longer lunch breaks.
  • Month 5: Gets up at 9:00 a.m. Works remotely more often.
  • Month 6: “I really need a job. I can’t do this anymore.”

Six months of lost potential because of one stupid comment about showing up to work on time.

What’s the solution to performance reviews?

Fortunately, there are a few companies that recognize this issue.

“Adobe ended performance reviews in 2012, after the employer noticed greater employee turnover after the annual reviews. In an interview with Human Resource Executive, Donna Morris, Senior Vice president of People Resources at Adobe, says that the reviews were an outdated process and made people feel like they were labeled.”

The problem is that most companies won’t be adopting this policy any time soon. So it’s up to you as an employee to be proactive.

Here’s what I do as an employee and consultant:

Schedule regular check-ins. I go out of my way to get feedback from my manager every two weeks. I put this on my client manager’s calendar as a recurring event.

Subject: “Bi-Weekly Checkup – Manage Expectations”

Hi Jane – Let’s use this 30-minute meeting to discuss my performance and overall status of my projects. This will help me keep you updated as well as to understand how I can manage your expectations.

I NEVER wait for feedback. I always actively push for open feedback. Since I pursue this activity, I receive feedback that I would never get in a more formalized approach.

During the meeting I ask the following questions:

  • “How are you doing?”
  • “Here’s my latest status…”
  • “Is there anything I should be doing better?”
  • “How can I help you?”

I am someone who gives performance reviews. How can I give constructive negative feedback without ruining someone’s day?

Harvard Business review has a great article that covers this question in great detail.

My favorite excerpt is this:


If you’re delivering some particularly hard-to-hear news, consider giving the person the rest of the afternoon off. Studies have shown that top performers are especially vulnerable to major setbacks. Show compassion not by softening the blow with false praise, but by giving bad news straight and then offering some breathing room.

Long story short — You are going to ruin their day. If you deliver it properly, they will come back the next day without a sour taste in their mouth. You want to help their career, not kill it.

How can I accept negative feedback without ruining my career?

I’m sure plenty of books have been written about this exact topic, so I really can’t do this question any justice.

Here is what I do when I receive negative feedback:

  1. Get temporarily hurt. Yes, I have feelings.
  2. Understand WHY I received the negative feedback. I’ll ask questions to the person providing the feedback to provide specific examples that back up the negative comments.
  3. Understand more about the person who gave me the negative feedback. A lot of times I will receive feedback from someone I know isn’t true, but I will still try to understand why that particular person gave me that feedback.
  4. Take action to fix it.
  5. Go back to being normal.

I have a 24 hour rule. From the moment I receive negative feedback in my career or life, I have 24 hours to go back to normal even if the negative feedback was unjustified. This has helped me come back stronger.

PS: Read the only resignation letter template you’ll ever need.