April 2013
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TD Magazine

Preventing Poor Performance Déjà Vu

Monday, April 8, 2013

Nearly half of employees receive the same negative performance feedback year after year.

The anxiety and dread many employees endure when annual performance review time rolls around is nothing new. Poor performance feedback is old hat as well, according to a recent study by corporate training and performance firm VitalSmarts.

The study found that 43 percent of surveyed employees received the same negative feedback in their 2012 performance reviews as they did in prior years. Furthermore, nearly 87 percent left their reviews without a plan for how to better meet their managers' expectations.

Why do so many managers fail to provide an effective performance improvement plan to correct employees' repeat offenses? "I think that no one likes to deliver bad news, so we tend to sugarcoat it," explains David Maxfield, vice president of research for VitalSmarts. "We do so by not being specific about what the person needs to do. We also tend to focus the plans we do create on more specific technical areas of improvement—such as the ability to perform a certain task—rather than those characteristics that are interpersonal and behavioral in nature."

Maxfield encourages employees concerned about their performance to focus on three career-enhancing habits. First, know your stuff: Work hard to stay on the cutting edge of your specialty.

Second, work on the right stuff—the parts of your job that both need to get done and provide the highest value to the business.


Finally, develop a reputation for being helpful. It's important that people know who you are because you are generous with your time and expertise.

In their book Change Anything, Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, co-founder of VitalSmarts, offer seven tips for reversing the déjà vu trend: ask for detailed feedback, visit your default future, invest in professional development, find a mentor, put skin in the game, control your workspace, and let your manager see your advances.

About the Author

Community of Practice Manager, ATD  Ann Parker is senior manager of the Human Capital Community of Practice and the Senior Leaders & Executives Community of Practice at ATD. Prior to this position, she worked at ATD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for TD magazine, and most recently as a senior writer and editor. In this role, Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession's content.

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