How to Review Your Direct Reports Fairly and Objectively - A Manager's Guide

Analyzing Direct Reports Fairly

As you step into the role of a manager, you may feel as though everyone expects you to be perfect. But you're human and you're going to make mistakes.

One of the areas in which mistakes are likely to happen is the way you treat your employees. Fairness is essential in your role, and people are watching to make sure you are treating everyone the same.

How Do You Define "Fair?"

Before you can begin to create a set of rules to ensure you treat everyone the same way, you need to define what "fair" means to you. For many managers, it means:

  • Following the rules – When you're leading others, you need to know the rules and apply the rules in every situation. Doing so shows that you believe everyone to be the same in the office and that everyone will be held accountable for breaking said rules.
  • Following the rules every time – Even when situations happen among friends or others that you don't want to call to task for not following the rules, being fair means you will follow the rules every single time.
  • Being willing to be flexible in certain circumstances – There will be situations in which you might want to not follow the rules or you need to change the rules. This would only happen in extreme circumstances or after a long period of thought.
  • Not showing favoritism – When you are in a company where your family or friends are employed, you need to make sure they are subject to the same rules and guidelines that everyone else has to follow.
  • Being consistent – This tip goes along with the rest of the list, but in order to be fair, you need to be consistent in what you do and why you do it.

In the end, you are the only person who can define what "fair" means in your company. You will also be the person who will need to respond to those who may not share your same definition of what is fair and right.

And that's where things can get tricky. When people begin to associate "fair" with what they feel is "right," you can find yourself being criticized by those who work for you.

It's a part of being a manager, and it can cause you some headaches if you're not ready for this feedback.

When Your Employees Are Friends

Some managers may have been promoted from within their company, which means their friends may not have been promoted, or they might still work for the company.

In your role as a manager, you might be tempted to allow your friends and family to do things you wouldn't let others do. However, this sets a poor example to the rest of the company, and may cause others in the company to take you less seriously.

To ensure you're not treating friends or family members differently:

  • Talk with them when you get the management role. You will want to sit down with any friends and family members when you step into the manager role. Be clear about what you expect from them and what they can expect from you.
  • Leave work at work. You may want to set the expectation that you will leave work at work, when you are home or out at a social event. You don't want to mix the two worlds, as that can blur the lines at work, too.
  • Agree that work is not personal. Tell your friends and family that work is not a place for private things, and decisions made or actions taken there are not a part of your personal relationship.
  • Be accountable for when you make mistakes. Be clear with the rest of your team that if they see you treating your friends or family differently, they can let you know and that you will rectify the situation immediately.

While you are going to make mistakes, the more you can clearly define the boundaries between personal and work life, the more effective a manager you will be.

Know the Rules, Stick to the Rules

If you're trying to be fair, you need to know the rules by which your employees should abide. To know these, you need to make sure you are current with the employee handbook and any other guidebooks that contain the rules.

Be clear about what is expected of your staff and what may not be a part of the rules, as you understand them.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Management Essentials course?

It may be helpful to also make sure that you investigate the rules before you make a decision about a difficult situation. In some cases, you may not remember something correctly, and this might cause you to make a less than fair decision.

When you're a newer manager or at a new company, it's especially important that you take the time to learn the rules of your company. Find out what they are, what they mean, and how they are applied.

And know, too, that you may not know all of the rules at once. This is okay and expected. You might need some time to catch up to what the company is doing and what the company wants the staff to do.

However, when you are in a position of power, it is best to spend the extra time you need to learn the rules, even if that means a few sleepless nights.

When to Bend the Rules

With all of this talk about rules, there are times when you will need to bend the rules. There will be times when the rules will not apply, or they may not seem as though they are reasonable for the situation.

But how do you make the decision to bend rules that you strictly enforce at other times?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The staff member didn't understand the rules. Before you begin to worry about how to apply the rules in a situation, it needs to be clear that the staff member knew the rules. After all, a new employee may not be up to date on everything they need to know. Or there might be a situation in which an employee applied the rules incorrectly, but not intentionally. Find out the whole story and then decide how to manage the situation with that information. It might be a good learning lesson for the employee, and it may not require additional action.
  • The situation is unique. In some cases, the situation might be so unique, with so many extenuating circumstances that the rules may not apply in that situation. When this is the case, you may find you need to defend your actions, but you may also be able to do this without a lot of push-back from other staff members.
  • The rules are outdated. When you're brought in to help a struggling company, or you are brought in to turn things around, you may find some of the rules to simply be out of date. If this occurs, use the situation to figure out how you can adjust the rules to be more pertinent to the modern time.

Certainly, there are times and circumstances in which rules may need to be bent or broken. The key is to make sure you're not changing the rules constantly or bending the guidelines daily. When you do so, you create chaos in your team, as they are unsure about how they should act.

Instead, try to find consistency in the way that you apply the rules; then, when you do have to change things or shift the way rules are applied, it is seen as a decisive action, not as a lapse in judgment.


Being a fair manager should be one of your goals in your role. Though you will make mistakes, and your team will make mistakes, the more you can think about how to be fair, the more you will be able to create a work situation that works for everyone.

Caring About Direct Reports

At some point, the culture of management started to create an image of the uncaring and inhuman leader. It seemed as though the leader should be someone who didn't care about their team, as they only cared about the results they could generate from their team.

While the goal of success is reasonable, it's also been shown that managers who show they care about their employees are ones that can get more from their team.

Yes, You Can Care

While no one can make you care as a manager, if that's not your personality, realize that you CAN care about your employees. You can show them you are interested in who they are, how they feel, and what they need.

Caring doesn't mean that your staff becomes a set of best friends, but it can mean that you become more approachable and more of a colleague.

Here is why you should care:

  • Your staff is responsible for your results. In the end, while you might guide your staff to certain end results, they are the ones who are doing the work that you need done. You should care about this fact and your staff should know that you realize this as well.
  • Your staff is human. While you might have hundreds of employees, you need to remember they are human. They make mistakes and they have lives outside of the office. When you can keep these ideas in mind, you can begin to care more and appreciate them more.
  • Your staff wants to be noticed and appreciated. Yes, your staff wants to be noticed and appreciated for the work they do. If they feel no one cares about them and the work they do, they might just turn around and stop caring about the results they create.
  • You can reduce staff turnover and improve morale. A happy staff member who feels cared for is one that will stay where they are. This increases your stability, decreases your training costs, and enhances your overall operation.

No matter what you may see in movies, and no matter what you have heard from other professionals, you can care about your team. And no, this doesn't mean you need to be friends. However this does mean you need to pay attention to your staff -- who they are, and what they're doing for you.

Check In Regularly

One of the things that a staff member might feel is missing from their day is a space in which to share what they are doing and how they are doing it. When a manager only "cares" about the results, they may not see how creative an employee is, and how fantastic they are.

You need to begin a system of checking in with your employees. It doesn't mean you need to spend hours with them, or that you need to take them to dinner. What this does mean is you show that you are thinking about the job they do – and you want to know more about their daily activities.

This can look like:

  • Regular meetings – It can be helpful for you and for your employee to have regular meetings. These might be once a month or more often, depending on the time you both have available. In these meetings, you can talk about what the team member has done and how they may have negotiated problems.
  • Email check-ins – When you're not in the same office, or you can't make your schedules work for a meeting, then it can help to have meetings and check-ins via email. You can then focus on hearing how they are, what they are doing, and how you might be able to help them during their workdays.
  • Desk visits – If you have the chance, it can also be helpful for you to visit their desk from time to time, even if it's just to say "hi" and to see how they are. By acknowledging your staff members, they will feel they are more than just a number.

The more time you can take to notice your team, the more they will begin to work for you, and not just because it's your job. As you're a part of the team too, you need to keep track of where everyone is at, and ensure everyone knows you are aware of him or her.

Gratitude Pays

One of the most common complaints among employees is that they aren't appreciated enough in their job. This can be challenging for some managers to handle, as they may think money is the only way to appreciate someone's work.

But this is far from the case.

Yes, it's true that pay raises are appreciated and they are certainly welcomed, there are other ways to make sure team members feel as though they are valued.

  • Say thanks. The more you notice good work and the more you say thanks for it, the more the employee will be encouraged to continue. Just saying thanks to them over email or in person is all you need to do to show that you are grateful and that they are seen in the work they provide.
  • Recognize good work. When an employee has done something that is above and beyond their job description, it's a good idea to recognize them in a more visible way. This might mean that you announce their achievement to others, or that you share their success with upper management. Making someone's success visible helps him or her feel important and valued.
  • Reward. If possible, it can be helpful to give rewards for exemplary work. This might be work that far surpasses expectations, or that creates exceptional results. These rewards might be raises, gift cards, vacation days, etc. The key to making rewards effective is to avoid giving them unless it's a remarkable situation. That way, they retain their value and people still feel special when they receive them.

The more you can recognize your team and show them how grateful you are, the more you will be able to get the results from them that you want – and expect.


Caring for your employees can be simple, and yet still produce exceptional results for your company. With regular check-ins and gratitude, you can make sure that each person feels special and that each person knows you care for them.