Are you on dangerous ground with your boss? Here's how to spot the telltale signs of performance trouble and take action.

Cindy Waxer, Contributor

April 3, 2012

4 Min Read

10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over

10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over

10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

When conducted properly, an employee performance review can deliver huge benefits. "Performance reviews give employees feedback, allow two-way communication, create a partnership, and increase employee accountability," says Michael Shur, an executive career coach and an assessment specialist at, a career counseling firm in San Jose, Calif. "The idea of a performance appraisal is to help people be their best."

Performance reviews can have a powerful impact on employee morale and satisfaction--but the impact isn't always positive. A poorly conducted or heavily critical performance review can instantly deflate an employee's morale, breed bad feelings, and lead to attrition. The key is to recognize when your manager is offering constructive criticism and when he or she is ready to show you the door.

Here are some telltale signs of a poor performance review--and some suggestions on how you can help turn the situation around.

Duh. You've been put on a performance improvement plan. Shur says being put on probation by your IT manager is more than simply a red flag. "It's a checkered flag--a sign that the race is kind of over."

[ An effective boss knows how to balance empathy and accountability. Read more at When 'Nice'Bosses Fail. ]

Yadda, yadda, yadda. You never bother sitting down with your IT manager to discuss your work, your accomplishments, or your career milestones. Rather, you wait for your annual performance review--a one-hour meeting that you can practically recite by heart. If this scenario describes your typical performance review, you may be in trouble.

"There's a danger in a performance review where, one hour out of the entire year, a manager and an employee talk about things like performance and development goals," says Shur. "It becomes almost ritualistic and a cover for a very highly subjective managerial process. There are numbers and rankings involved, but it's not the outcome of a process, but rather an activity that needs to get done once a year--and then it's over."

Rinse and repeat. If you hear your IT manager tell you one more time to learn JavaScript, you're going to scream. Well, you're probably not the only one. "A red flag is if you keep getting the same feedback on multiple occasions or during multiple cycles," says Shur. "If you're hearing things from your IT manager like, 'You're not responsive enough to internal customers,' or 'Look, I'm trying to help you, what can I do?' The same feedback time and time again is a big red flag."

Cracks in the foundation. "It's one thing to receive negative feedback about your technical skills--for example, to hear that your code isn't quite good enough," says Shur. "But it's a whole other ballgame to be criticized for IT performance fundamentals such as missing deadlines, poor attendance, ethics, and integrity. If you hear these issues raised in a performance review, these are a huge deal. You need to address them immediately and be very proactive about them."

Bad buzzwords. While hearing words like 'late' and 'substandard' during a performance review would strike fear in the heart of any IT professional, the term 'consistently' is one that really should raise eyebrows, according to Shur. "I think the word IT professionals have to pay the most attention to is whatever word that comes after 'consistently.' That's usually a great indication of whatever direction you're going in--good or bad."

Take action

If any of these five signs creep up during a performance review, don't panic. "Don't assume that it's all over and that you shouldn't even try," Shur advises. "Pick apart the issues, be proactive, and address what you hear. After all, IT managers appreciate an employee who takes the lead on their own development and says, 'Here's what I plan to do.'"

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About the Author(s)

Cindy Waxer


Cindy Waxer is a Toronto-based freelance writer and content strategist who covers small business, technology, finance, and careers for publications including Technology Review, The Economist, TIME, Fortune Small Business, and

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