Most performance reviews tend to go fairly smoothly, if conducted properly—and that means with compassion as well as objectivity. But some employees will become confrontational when their review is not as positive as they had expected. This can create a challenging situation for a manager.

The following is a performance review dialogue centered on such a situation. Notice how the reviewer manages to stay calm, does not get sidetracked by the employee’s interruptions, and persists in carefully outlining the pluses and minuses in the employee’s performance.

Note that this dialogue is especially short. Dialogues should generally be longer for full-time employees and allow for substantive two-way conversations.

Manager: Hello, Kathy. Please have a seat. How are you today?

Kathy: To be honest, I’m a little nervous.

Manager: That’s normal. I tense up before my reviews, too. Kathy, you have been with the firm for a while now and I very much appreciate your work. You work well with our customers in a variety of situations. You are also very pleasant to have around the office, and you are one of those people who help make our office a good place to work.

Kathy: Thank you. 

Manager: Overall, Kathy, your performance throughout the year has been satisfactory, and I am pleased about that. In fact, some aspects of your performance are strong . . . but there are some other aspects that could use some improvement . . .

Kathy: Satisfactory? The customer surveys indicate that customers are very happy with our customer service!

Manager: That’s certainly correct! You deserve a lot of credit for the wonderful results on that survey! Not only does it reflect on your ability to provide high-quality service, but it also reflects very well on your ability to motivate the two people who report to you and . . . 

Kathy: So why is my performance only satisfactory?

Manager: While the quality of customer service is very high, efficiency has fallen and your department is way over budget. We have discussed this throughout the year, and as you know, we have had to add temps during the busier periods to keep up with the calls. 

Kathy: I know we are slightly over budget, but my job is to keep customers happy, and there’s no question about how happy they are . . . 

Manager: Yes, Kathy, I hear you and understand what you are saying. I do, however, also have to be concerned about costs. Primarily because of the temps, we’ve ended up a full 23 percent over budget. Our average number of calls handled per customer service person has fallen from twelve per hour last year to just under nine this year. That’s a falloff of over 25 percent. You do need to work at improving the quantity of calls handled.

Kathy: I don’t understand. I am working as hard as I can and I just don’t see how I can do any better.

Manager: Kathy, I do want to reiterate that overall your work is good—it is satisfactory. If you would like, I would by happy to sit down and try to brainstorm with you how you can shave some costs while also keeping up the excellent quality of customer service that you are delivering.

Kathy: So what kind of salary increase will I be getting?

Manager: Effective immediately, we are bumping up your pay by 5 percent.

Kathy: I think I deserve more. I really expected more.

Manager: I think you are very capable. And I will be happy to work with you to brainstorm with you to decrease costs. I think it will be a lot easier to decrease costs than if instead we had to work at increasing quality.

Kathy: Well, I will do whatever I can.

Manager: Thank you, Kathy. I appreciate that. I do appreciate your work. I appreciate having you working with us.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Don’t back down when your honest appraisal is weaker than the employee expected.
  • Offer specific examples if you think the employee will be disappointed with the review.