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Why Do Leaders Lie on Performance Reviews?

“You can’t fire them.”  

“Why not?”  

“Because they have never had a negative performance review.”


Ask any HR professional, and you will hear this story. It happens in businesses and in the public sector. A problem employee needs to be fired for the good of the organization, but it can’t be done.  Why?  Because that employee’s performance reviews say nothing negative about their performance.


I always challenge leaders to look in the mirror and exercise Courage on performance reviews.  But, the more I think about this situation, the more I realize that leaders who write good reviews for low performers are dealing with an Integrity issue. They are lying!


There are actually three Habits of Character that we need to discuss in this situation:


Courage:  Acting despite perceived or actual risk.

Integrity:  Doing what is good, right, and proper, even at personal cost.

Duty:  Taking action based on my assigned tasks and moral obligations.


Many of you have heard me talk about how Courage and Integrity are inseparable.  You can’t have Integrity unless you have the Courage to take action.  A leader is lying when they claim to want to lead a great team or that they want high performing individuals and then write a performance review that does not reflect someone’s true performance. That review is a fabrication. It is creative writing. It is a lie.


Fear, discomfort, or lack of confidence will cause some leaders to shy away from writing a critical performance review. That is understandable.  When you get to tell somebody they are an all-star and valued by the organization, that is a good day! But delivering a message about a person’s poor performance is not a good day for anyone. 


Unfortunately some leaders don’t deliver hard messages to employees because they are lazy.  Preparing for those conversations, having the documentation to back up your assessment, and wading through the employee’s emotions when you deliver the message takes time and is not fun. This is where some leaders just do the easy thing instead of doing their Duty.


They write a review that is average, not specific, and they may even cut and paste comments from other reviews.  They don’t even try to do their Duty and make that person and the organization better. This is a leader who is just selfish and lazy - and that is sad.


Whether it is a leader’s lack of Courage or their laziness that drives them to write good reviews for poor performers, this ends up being a breakdown in Integrity.  The reviews are lies and everyone, including the poor performing employee is hurt by them.


Here are some solutions for anyone with a poor performer and how to prepare for those reviews:

  • Nobody should be surprised by what they hear at a review.  Coaching should be happening throughout the review period. 

  • Keep notes with specific situations and dates when their performance fell short.

  • If it is a big enough issue, coach and document the conversation immediately.

  • Be proactive, not reactive. Involve HR early in the process so you have everything you need. Don’t wait until after the review and then ask HR to help you.

  • Role play the review with a peer or HR professional before the actual meeting.

  • Do not respond emotionally, even if the employee gets emotional. If you are prepared, the facts will be all you need.


Sitting down and telling somebody the truth about their subpar performance is never fun.  Exercising the Courage to do your Duty will preserve your Integrity as a leader.  You will be making the organization, the person and yourself better.  And you won’t be lying.



  • Do you know of people who are low performers yet have never received a poor review?

  • Is it better for them to think they are doing well or know the truth?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.


Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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