When Your Performance Review Is Going to Be Below Standards: How Managers Should Respond When They Aren’t Meeting Expectations

By:  Jacqueline Lee

 When a performance review is looming, you may realize with growing dread that your department won’t meet expectationswithin the time limit.  You, as the manager, know that you will be held responsible for the performance of your team.  You also know that missed targets could mean missed raises or missed bonus payments, for you and for your employees.Before you head into the boss’s office, take some time to prepare your response to your review.

Be Honest With Your Supervisor

Sometimes, you may not have all of the answers for why the department is not performing as it should.  Ideally, you would have asked your supervisor for assistance long before your performance review.  However, you may have been afraid that your boss would think you didn’t know how to do your job.

Overcome the fear of asking for help by asking for specific advice during the review.  Don’t ask your boss general questions, like, “How can my department hit our sales goals?”  General questions make you look clueless, and make you look as though you’ve already given up.  Instead, ask your boss specific questions, like, “How can we prioritize our task load so that we’re generating more revenue?”When the supervisor answers, take notes, and ask only clarifying questions.  If the conversation goes well, you may gain some insight into areas where you’ve been doing unnecessary work, so that you can appropriately redeploy your people.  Document your efforts to carry out the boss’s advice, and provide her with updates throughout the next review period.

Be Honest About Your Team

Before complaining about unrealistic expectations from the company, you have to ask yourself if your team is truly giving its best effort.  This means that you, as a manager, have to know your employees’ strengths and limitations.  If your department is not meeting goals because of a lack of skills or a lack of effort, then your job is to address shortcomings.  Putting together extra training opportunities will help to improve skills, and performance management will address a lack of effort.

During the review, give your supervisor an honest assessment of your employees’ strengths and opportunities for improvement.  However, don’t deflect responsibility from yourself by throwing an employee under the bus.  Tell your supervisor the specific action steps that you plan to take to solve the problem during the next review period.  Then, stick to your plan, documenting your actions and providing periodic updates to your supervisor after the review.

Be Honest With Your Team…To A Point

Communicating with your employees means walking a fine line between honesty and diplomacy.  Saying aloud that your boss’s goals are too high, for instance, is not a good idea.  Even if you’re right,word will travel back to your supervisor, with potentially negative consequences.  You can acknowledge to your team that the company goals are challenging as long as you don’t speak as though the goals are unrealistic.

If your supervisor expresses frustration over your department’s performance, don’t express that frustration to the group.  Keep your communication with your employees fact-based and neutral.  Also, never let your employees know that you’ve received a Below Standards review.  You should never place that burden on the shoulders of an employee.

When the Bar Is Too High

Sometimes, supervisors have set unrealistic expectations for departmental performance and then refuse to admit that they’ve been wrong.  To justify the fact that your supervisor didn’t deliver, you may find that you are the one being thrown under the bus.  In that case, you have a few options to consider.

Your first option is to make the changes that you can make in your own management behaviors and in your employee behaviors.  Implement your supervisor’s advice, and demonstrate a commitment to taking the actions that he recommends.  In some cases, performance will turn around, and your relationship with your boss will grow more positive.

Your second option is to ask for a transfer to another division of the company, or to find another job.  However, you will not be successful in your new environment if you hang on to unproductive behaviors.  If your boss has unrealistic expectations, then you may need a new boss.  However, if you are not pushing yourself to your full potential, then a new boss will not generate a miraculous turnaround in your situation.


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