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Why Canned Phrases are Dangerous

by Mike Beek on April 23, 2012

From a book by Amy DelPo The Performance Appraisal Handbook

If you find writing performance evaluations overwhelming, you are not alone. There is something about having to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to memorialize one’s thoughts about an employee that fills managers with dread—and fear. Perhaps it is because writing an evaluation combines two things that make people uncomfortable: writing and criticizing.

Some managers cope with this discomfort by buying books filled with canned, prewritten phrases that they can copy into their reviews. Although these may simplify your life, they will not improve your employees’ performance— which, after all, is your ultimate goal. Employees don’t need artfully drafted prose; they need specifics. They need input. And they need your respect, consideration, and time. They get none of those things from canned phrases.

Moreover, if you use canned phrases that are obviously canned, vague, or inapplicable to an employee’s situation—particularly when criticizing an employee—it could get you into legal hot water if the employee later sues. A lawyer for the employee could discredit your evaluation by establishing that you copied phrases from a book rather than writing your own observations and conclusions.

The good news is that you don’t need those canned phrases anyway. If you follow the process—gather information, draw conclusions, and then write the evaluation—and don’t worry too much about the quality of your writing, you’ll do just fine. If you feel that your writing skills aren’t good enough, consider making it one of your own performance goals for the coming year to take a short one-day seminar on writing

About Amy DelPo

Ms. DelPo is an author and consulting editor who specializes in employment and family law issues. She brings years of criminal and civil law experience to her work as an author, having litigated cases in all levels of state and federal courts, including the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. She has written numerous employment law titles, including The Performance Appraisal Handbook , Dealing with Problem Employees , and Create Your Own Employee Handbook . She is also the editor of Parent Savvy , a book that answers parents’ practical, financial, and legal questions. Ms. DelPo currently divides her time between writing on legal issues and chasing after her two busy children, Sophia and Charlie. Ms. DelPo received her law degree with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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