Huling, Emily

How NOT to hate them

My stand-out memory of a formal performance appraisal-as the reviewee, not the reviewer-was as a young, inexperienced production underwriter at Aetna Life and Casualty. I’d been promoted from a casualty desk underwriter to a field marketing and underwriting position. Up until this time, my reviews had gone well. Aetna offered a very structured education program for underwriting trainees. Expectations were clear and feedback was frequent. Monitoring and measuring employee progress was carried out according to schedule. We trainees knew where we stood at all times.

This new job was different. It had more freedom to prioritize and plan work, schedule agency visits, and make independent decisions. After six months in my new job, I had my first review. It went like this.

Boss: “So, Emily, how do you think you’re doing?”

Me: “Great!”

Boss: “Well, you’re not.”

I burst into tears.

I don’t remember much else about that meeting. But I do remember having a career-changing “aha” moment. I learned two things. First, I learned how not to conduct a performance review if I were ever a manager. second, I learned I’d better find out what I was supposed to be doing and do it well or risk losing my job. (It took me a few more years to learn there is no crying in business.)

I’m not alone in experiencing an unpleasant employee review. Every week I hear complaints from both managers and employees. Many bosses say they don’t have the time and feel uncomfortable addressing performance issues. Employees often believe that the reviews are a waste of time and one-sided, with managers talking at them instead of engaging in meaningful discussion.

Both sides must overcome their dislike of this process and get better at it. One-on-one employee/manager meetings are necessary. Employers should use this practice to evaluate skills, measure performance, and set development plans. Employees want to know how they are doing, and they appreciate meaningful feedback.

Following are a few key strategies to help both managers and employees give and get value from the performance review process.


1. Realize how important these meetings are and how much stress they can cause employees. Avoid canceling or postponing scheduled reviews. Putting off a review insults the employee.

2. To help in scheduling reviews, plan that all reviews be completed-for the entire organization-during a one-week period. That way, no one is overlooked and if there is a message to communicate universally, it’s conveyed consistently. I recommend that reviews be carried out twice a year.

3. Have both the manager and employee complete the review form. The meeting should focus on discussing how each views the employee’s work.

4. Know what you want to accomplish in the meeting.

5. Do not use the meeting to discuss compensation, benefits, or promotions. Cover those in a separate meeting.

6. Direct comments to the work, not the person. Use the job description as the basis for review. Keep an ongoing file on pertinent issues such as knowledge, teamwork, decision-making, customer service, quality of work, managing workload, etc. Have your facts ready and stick to those facts.

7. Discuss development opportunities available to the employee. Create personal and professional growth plans.

8. Maintain privacy of all employees. Do not discuss others’ performance with employees. Conduct the review in a neutral setting such as a conference room where there will be no interruptions.

9. Spend as much time listening as talking.

10. Ask the employee to summarize what’s been said.


1. Come prepared. If you’ve been asked to complete the review form, do so. If not required, you should still be prepared with a self-review of how you believe you’ve performed in key areas.

2. Anticipate possible problems and be prepared to respond in a professional and positive manner.

3. Avoid whining or complaining. If you have an issue to address, have the facts and your recommendation to resolve the problem.

4. Know your strengths and how they are or can be an asset to the organization.

5. Ask your boss what you can do to support him or her in her job. What can you do to better the company? Can you spearhead writing the procedures manual? Train a new employee who has been hired?

6. Know what you want to accomplish in the meeting.

When executed properly by both manager and employee, performance reviews help both individuals and organizations improve. What do you need to do to make reviews a successful part of your business experience?

By Emily Ruling, CIC, CMC

The author

Emily Ruling, CIC, CMC, helps the insurance industry create topperforming sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of “Selling from the Inside” and “Kick Your ‘But.'” For information on her programs and products call (888) 309-8802 or visit

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Mar 2005

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