Performance reviews or appraisals are a great way of communicating an employee’s work output versus the company’s planned goals. It allows people managers and their staff to identify accomplishments, review challenges, and discuss development opportunities. While well-conducted employee appraisals can help motivate workers and improve their work productivity, poorly conducted reviews can leave them feeling disgruntled and unengaged.
If you’re unsure how to do a performance review that will benefit your company and your employees, we’ve listed several tips you can use before, during, and after the review process.
How to Prepare for a Performance Review
Step 1: Communicate Performance Criteria & Review Process
Before any performance review, it’s important to first discuss the entire process with your workers. They must understand the evaluation ratings and criteria, what good or poor performance looks like, and the tools/forms used to document it. This way, everyone is familiar with the process and knows the standards by which their work performance will be judged.
To learn more about employee appraisals, read our What is Performance Management guide.
After you have communicated the performance criteria to your employees, as well as created and aligned work goals with your staff, then you can start preparing for the review meetings.
Step 2: Gather Employee Performance Data
As a people manager, one of your tasks is to track and give feedback on how well (or poorly) your direct reports are doing at work. Performance comments that are backed by data are helpful. Not only will this data provide insight into the employee’s performance and behavior at work, but also adds context to the positive and negative feedback you may give.
You can get this data from a variety of sources:
- Previous performance review sessions (e.g., a quarterly or mid-year review)
- Notes from one-on-one meetings
- Feedback from peers and other managers
- KPI and/or project trackers
- Recognition/s received during the performance review period
Step 3: Prepare All Notes & Feedback
Set aside time to prepare your notes and feedback on what your employee has or hasn’t accomplished for the performance review period. This way, you don’t miss any important points, such as improvement areas or exemplary output from a project that has been timely completed.
Using an employee evaluation form will be helpful, as this will provide a framework for the review meeting. You can choose to invest in a performance review system as most solutions offer an evaluation template or allow you to create a custom form for your business. For those without an online software, check out our guide to employee evaluation forms, which contains performance review templates you can download for free.
In writing performance reviews for your workers, you should also identify any roadblocks that may have affected their performance, as well as what you can do to help them succeed at work. Try to assess your staff’s output at work by asking yourself questions, such as:
- Are the performance issues a result of limited resources or a lack of skills?
- Can training programs or on-the-job coaching enhance the employee’s skills?
- Is the task or project a good fit for the employee?
- Do you need to consider moving the person into a role that matches the worker’s skills?
- Will a performance improvement plan (PIP) help?
Not sure what a PIP is? Check out our performance improvement plan guide, which includes a template you can download for free and steps on how to create a PIP.
Step 4: Set Up the Review Agenda, Time & Location
Performance reviews can be stressful for both the manager and staff. One way to alleviate the anxiety around this is to prepare an agenda. With this, both parties know what will be discussed and the general tone of the meeting.
Don’t forget to include the location and time of the review meeting in your agenda. Note that choosing the right time and location can impact the overall vibe of performance review discussions. Also, be sure to send the meeting invite at least one or two weeks in advance. This will give you and your workers more time to prepare the self-assessments and required forms.
To help you plan the meeting better, consider these factors:
What to Do During a Performance Review
Finally, the day of the actual performance review has come! Before diving into the formal review process, we recommend going over the agenda and the expected discussion flow so both you and your staff know what will happen moving forward. By setting expectations, there won’t be any dull and unproductive silences, while also ensuring that you and the employee know the flow of your conversation.
To have an effective performance review session, there should be two-way conversations between you and your employee. The feedback shouldn’t only come from the manager. Having a polite dialogue between the two parties is key, so encourage your employee to participate in the discussion and ask questions.
You can do this by having your workers share their self-assessments and stating their strengths, challenges, and improvement opportunities for the coming month, quarter, or year. Then, you can provide your feedback on each item.
Bear in mind that performance conversations are more effective if you consider these as coaching and evaluation sessions. Don’t make your workers feel that the meeting is a mini-trial, with you as the judge. Avoid lecturing them on tasks they failed to complete and areas they need to improve on—instead, work with your employees to help them achieve their goals.
An employee evaluation form typically contains a set of questions about performance and some actionable ways to improve work output. However, you can ask questions to help move the discussion along. Remember that good questions can help enhance work relationships, employee motivation, and engagement.
Avoid questions that ask why your staff failed to complete a task or project. While you can discuss their development opportunities and ask updates on goals, don’t bombard your employees with what they did wrong (or did not do). Approach the situation by asking them what help they need and what they can do to improve.
Some sample performance review questions are:
- What accomplishments from the review period are you most proud of?
- What development goals would you like to set for the next review period?
- What goals (tasks or projects) were you least proud of and why?
- How can I support you in meeting your work goals?
- Do you feel overworked, underworked, or just right?
- How can I improve as your manager?
Get to the point when providing feedback, but choose your phrases so that it isn’t discriminatory or demotivating. That’s why it’s important to take time to prepare your employee assessment in advance, as this helps you come up with constructive feedback that’s clear and concise.
Avoid using general terms, like “good” or “poor,” and making “if-then” statements. Don’t include pay-related topics in the performance discussion—there should be a separate meeting for that. In giving performance feedback, we recommended using measurement-oriented language, action words, and specific details when possible, such as sharing positive productivity rates or incidents of missed project timelines and tasks.
Here are a few examples of what to say (or not say) when conducting performance reviews.
|What To Say||What Not To Say|
|You’re an asset to the team||You’re a very good employee|
|You excel in finding new or creative solutions to problems||You did great—I have no feedback for you|
|You effectively communicate with others and express ideas clearly||You’re lucky to get a performance bonus|
|You are a strong team player||If you continue hitting the target, I might promote you next year|
|You perform well alone but seem to struggle working with others||You are always late for work|
|You rarely offer concrete solutions that will help the team execute a project/task||You handled the project (task, presentation, or meeting) poorly, and I’m disappointed|
|You tend to be risk-averse and take the traditional approach in solving problems||You missed the project completion date by several months, so don’t expect getting a pay increase this year|
Two-way conversations mean giving both parties the chance to speak and actively listen. Taking note of what your employees are saying during your one-on-one sessions will help you understand them better. You’ll also get to learn more about their interests and the challenges they face at work.
Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions if you need to clarify the issues or points that your employees raised. A good exercise to check whether or not you understood what the other person said is to repeat back what you heard.
Being open to hearing about your employees’ problems at work is one of the people management skills that managers need to develop. A Catalyst survey even shows that manager openness has a positive impact on employee creativity and dedication, enabling them to go “above and beyond” at work.
Curious to know what skills are needed for managing employees? Read our guide to top people management skills.
While one of the topics for discussion during performance reviews is the accomplishments that the worker achieved for the review period, there may be instances where you’ll need to provide negative feedback. These conversations can be uncomfortable for you and your employee, but it is an essential part of the performance review process.
However, don’t dwell too much on the things that went wrong. Focus the discussion on how you can help your staff to improve or solve the problem. Take this opportunity to work together in coming up with a development plan or work goals for the next review period.
To end the discussion, you and your employee should go over shared feedback and comments, review notes, and identify the next steps for any improvement or action plans. You should also wrap up the performance discussion on a forward-focused and positive note. This way, your staff is less likely to feel discouraged and unmotivated after the meeting.
What to Do After a Performance Review
The employee performance review process doesn’t end after your one-on-one meeting with your staff. There are a few more tasks that you should complete to keep the process moving.
Step 1: Provide Employees With a Copy of the Completed Form
After you and your staff have completed the performance review meeting, don’t forget to provide your worker with a copy of the accomplished evaluation form. Aside from giving them an official company document that lists their accomplishments at work, it also allows them to review and track the agreed-upon improvement and development plans.
Step 2: Keep Performance Conversations Going
Performance review meetings should happen regularly. Depending on your HR and company policies, you can hold performance discussions on a quarterly, semi-annual, or yearly basis. Holding multiple employee evaluation sessions throughout the year will help you track worker output versus planned goals.
It also allows you to capture and address improvement areas at a faster rate than you would if performance reviews were done annually. You can even create formal coaching sessions to help workers improve work performance. For coaching tips, read our how to coach employees guide.
To help you manage performance reviews more easily, consider investing in an online system to automate the entire process. Check out our best performance software guide for a list of our recommended solutions.
For managers, knowing how to do a performance review is an essential part of managing employees. It requires setting challenging but attainable work goals to motivate workers and balancing giving praise and recognition alongside constructive criticism.
By following the tips and steps in this guide, you can effectively prepare for, conduct, and follow through on performance discussions with your team. When done correctly, performance reviews can help track worker output versus planned goals, identify development opportunities, and improve employee engagement.