Effective performance management is one of the most common challenges we come across. But, if you want to improve your leadership skills, this is the ideal place to start. When performance management reviews get results, productivity and motivation skyrocket.

The thing is, no matter how necessary, it’s not easy to critique an employee’s performance whilst still inspiring them to do better. Many leaders struggle to get this right – and make some big mistakes in the process. Here are four of them:

1. Being too harsh.

This should go without saying, but it’s surprising how many leaders see the performance review as an opportunity to come down hard on their employees, pointing out all their flaws.

Although you should always highlight areas for improvement, and flag any issues affecting performance, it’s also important to offer praise and congratulate employees on their wins. Let them know their hard work is appreciated. It’s rare to find an employee without any redeeming qualities whatsoever – so make sure you offer some positive feedback alongside the negative.

2. Making assumptions.

You do not know everything about your employees, so don’t assume you do. Before you jump to conclusions about any aspect of your employees’ performance – ask.

Invite your employees to share their take on their performance, and any reasons behind areas that fall below the expected standard. This doesn’t mean you’ll be going easy on them – but it will provide you with an opportunity to support your staff in overcoming challenges that prevent them from performing their best.

3. Not listening.

Performance management should be a two-way discussion. If you want to inspire your employees to perform well, make sure they feel heard.

This is especially important if performance has been lacking. It’s one thing to avoid assumptions and ask for their take on the situation – but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t actually intend to listen to their response. Take on board what the employee is telling you, even if you disagree, and use it to facilitate a constructive discussion.

4. A lack of empathy towards your employees.

Good leaders care. They care about the organisation and getting results – but they also care about the people delivering those results. If you fail to show your staff empathy when they need it, you risk reducing their motivation. This will only further hinder performance, rather than helping it.

Showing you care isn’t weakness. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. It’s possible to be both assertive and compassionate – two characteristics that contribute to successful performance management.