How to Conduct a Performance Review Meeting: Your Complete Guide
You've planned the performance reviews, handed them out, and had everyone fill them in. Only one thing left: delivering the result to your employees in a performance review meeting.
Regardless of previous experience, organizing this type of meeting can feel daunting.
Preparing for a performance review meeting helps you stay calm and appropriately deliver feedback. Because even with constructive criticism, how you share it makes the real difference.
This article will teach you how to conduct a performance review meeting with your employees. As a result, you'll finish feeling better equipped to handle this cornerstone of the review process.
💁 What is a performance review meeting?
A performance review meeting is a formal discussion between an employee and their manager to evaluate the employee's work performance over a certain period.
These meetings are typically part of an organization's more extensive performance management system and often occur regularly, such as annually or semi-annually. However, some companies may conduct them more frequently.
A performance review meeting aims to create a space for sharing feedback on an employee's strengths and areas for improvement. It's also an opportunity for both the employee and the manager to discuss the employee's accomplishments, challenges, and goals. Plus, they might review specific projects or tasks, overall job performance, or skills and competencies related to the job.
Tip: A successful outcome requires asking the right performance review questions during the evaluation step.
➡️ Check out our article on employee appraisals to learn more about the entire process.
✍️ How to conduct a performance review: Don't forget about preparation
How you deliver the results is critical. Everyone wants to feel seen and appreciated and know that their work makes a difference. A performance review meeting is the opportunity to show your employees that they matter – and how.
Regardless of any constructive criticism, you can learn how to conduct this type of meeting in a way that has your employees leave feeling inspired and motivated to keep growing!
In the preparation step, managers have a few critical tasks.
Gathering and reviewing performance data
If you use a 360 performance evaluation, you must gather multiple participants' performance ratings.
Tip: Ensure you know what feedback you should present to your employee and how to interpret the results.
What do you want to get out of the meeting?
Ideally, you want your employee to leave with clear goals and action steps and no ambiguity on the results of their performance evaluation.
You'd also want them to feel motivated and inspired to keep working and perform even better.
Tip: The worst thing is to enter a meeting with no clear agenda and realize you've just been small talking for the duration of the meeting with no clear insights and action steps.
Creating an agenda
The agenda should outline what you will cover in the meeting. Send it to your participants ahead of time via email – more on that in the next section.
➡️ Check out our quarterly review meeting agenda template.
💡 Your step-by-step guide and tips for performance review meetings
Below are our recommended steps for effective performance review meetings.
For fast reference, you'll find the steps outlined in the next section as a checklist.
A successful performance review meeting starts before the set time and day; it begins as you send the meeting invitation.
In the invitation, include an outline of the agenda, any preparations, and what your employees can expect.
Invite them to contact you for any questions before the meeting.
Tip: Besides having well-prepared employees, setting expectations also help calm down nerves, as it reduces the number of unknowns and potential unpleasant surprises.
Work with goals
Good performance is a highly subjective concept if we don't use goals. The foundation for evaluations is how your employees perform compared to their individual (and team-specific) goals. This is also what you will discuss in a performance review meeting. Our recommended goal-setting method is SMART goals: to set goals that are
- Specific: There should be no ambiguity about the scope of the goal. An example of a non-specific goal is "grow our social media following." A specific goal would be "grow our social media following by 5000 followers within 2 months". That example also entails other parts of the SMART goals.
- Measurable: A measurable goal means that you are working with a key metric that can be quantified. In the above example, "5000 followers" is a target that makes the goal measurable.
- Achievable: It's essential that the goals seem within reach (with some effort!) to keep employees motivated. If the goal is too far-fetched, they might feel disheartened.
- Relevant: There should be a clear reason for why you're working toward this particular goal. For example, checking social media metrics would be more appropriate for a marketing manager than a customer service representative.
- Time-bound: You need a deadline for reaching the goal. Ideally, you want to work with goals that you can attain before the next performance review meeting so that you can discuss the outcome.
A SMART goal should be easily understood even by someone without expertise in your niche. For example, everyone can get the concept of 5000 followers within two months, even with little understanding of social media.
Employees can then work toward these goals before their following performance review.
🕵️♀️ If you want to go deeper, we've created a guide to learn more about the difference between performance goals and development goals.
Discuss accomplishments and shortcomings
Thanks to the goals, it will be easier to see where the employee met or exceeded expectations and where they fell short.
Here are our tips for talking about accomplishments:
- Discussing their performance and giving constructive feedback is the central part of a performance review meeting – one that many new managers can dread. Remember, it's more about how you deliver the feedback than what it's about.
- Focus on how employees can avoid repeating what went wrong instead of guilting past mistakes.
- Find the balance between being empathetic on the one hand and authoritative on the other. Nailing this will require practice. But it will get easier for each performance appraisal.
- Ensure that any feedback you offer is as constructive and objective as possible. When applicable, use metrics to strengthen your arguments with numbers.
- Use active listening to make your employees feel heard and have the message land better. In short, this implies relaying the meaning of their message back to them in your own words. It also includes being present and giving them your full attention.
- Maintain eye contact if the meeting is in person, and keep looking at the screen if you have an online discussion. Checking your phone is a big no-no when practicing active listening.
Tip: Don't be afraid of silence! The most significant breakthroughs come when we give people space to reflect and connect the dots instead of rushing to fill in and avoid a potentially awkward silence.
💡 Want more tips and examples? Check out our examples of constructive feedback.
Highlight areas of improvement
The areas where your employee didn't meet their goals should ideally be the focus of the coming period.
Why do they think they didn't meet the goal?
- Was it due to poor performance, work ethics, and lack of motivation?
- Could you have done more to support them?
- Would they have needed additional training or resources?
- Are there any gaps in the performance review process?
- Or were the employee performance goals too optimistic?
Whatever the reason, you need to ensure that managers and employees are clear on the areas of improvement before moving forward.
When discussing areas of growth, coach your employees by encouraging them to come up with solutions instead of imposing them.
Tip: A coaching approach increases people's chances of following through and making the necessary adjustments. After all, they delegated the job tasks to themselves, not you!
👀 To see a coaching approach to performance and growth in real life, check out our detailed case study of employee development at Spotify. They are, without a doubt, one of the best learning organizations out there.
➡️ Learn more about improving performance management and what employee performance metrics to measure in our complete guides.
Set goals for the next review period
Let the learnings from the previous goal-setting inform the goals for the coming period. Working with strength-based goals can help create an action plan to leverage someone's strengths instead of fixing their weaknesses. It can help encourage employees to do a better job. Plus, many people enjoy doing things they are good at more than things they find challenging.
Tip: Documenting the outcomes of the performance review meeting for future reference is crucial.
We recommend regular check-ins during the coming review period.
During the meeting, make sure it's a two-way conversation.
Ask open-ended questions to engage the employee even more.
Engaging your employees is the key to taking your performance reviews from performance measurement to performance management.
With many employees and performance review meetings, it soon becomes a lot to keep track of – our check-in software is perfect!
📝 How do you structure a performance review meeting? Sample meeting agenda
Use this checklist, summarizing what we covered above, for effective review meetings.
- Set expectations – Share what your employees can expect from the meeting and any preparations required in the invitation.
- Work with goals – Use SMART goals as a foundation for the evaluation.
- Discuss accomplishments – Remember to use active listening and discuss what they and you could have done better.
- Highlight areas of improvement – Allow your employee to develop solutions for performance issues.
- Set goals for the next review period – Let the past inform the future to set realistic goals, but ensure to challenge your employees.
- Schedule follow-ups – Follow-ups can make or break a performance review meeting. They help your employees course-correct and catch any misunderstandings before they become mistakes.
📝 Snag all our check-in meeting templates here. With templates for 17 different scenarios, we can guarantee there is something for you.
🏆 5 Benefits of conducting performance review meetings
Tools and software solutions can vastly improve the performance management process. That said, they don't substitute direct conversations between managers and employees.
Performance review meetings – in-person or online – are invaluable. Here's why.
They ensure mutual understanding
You can avoid many mistakes with proper communication. Communication is key for professional growth and success – even more so for remote teams, as you can't just pass by a colleague and drop a question. Everything needs to be outlined in detail because everyone's version of common sense, or how to undertake specific procedures, is different.
A performance review conversation is a chance to clarify that you are on the same page regarding employee performance, action items, and employee goals.
Performance review meetings set a positive and forward-looking tone
Be sure to balance constructive criticism with positive feedback. Set standards for future performance and tie them to the potential beneficial outcomes both for your employee and the whole team. People will be more motivated to do a good job if they see how their contributions add to the company's wins.
They encourage growth
Performance feedback gives clear directions on where improvements are needed and what each employee needs to focus on for the coming evaluation period. It is easier to grow if you have something to compete with (your goals). Also, in-person meetings, whenever possible, or one-on-one meetings virtually with the manager are more powerful than simply getting the results of the performance reviews sent via email.
They highlight achievements and potential
These meetings highlight achievements and potential, which helps to motivate and engage your team members. If you work with strength-based goals, these sometimes dreaded meetings can have a much more positive tone and help employees capitalize on their natural strengths within the organization.
They contribute to higher overall performance
Higher overall performance is a clear benefit from an individual and company perspective.
It can be easy to assume that people prefer a quick email or text message in our digital era, but that's a lot of missed potential.
Performance reviews are much more fruitful when organized as a meeting instead of a one-way conversation.
😟 How to handle sensitive topics during performance review meetings
As a manager, you must be ready to address sensitive issues (such as underperformance) during the performance review meeting, which can be the most nerve-wracking part of the meeting.
Here are our top tips for rising to the challenge.
- Back your feedback with data whenever possible to make it as objective as possible. For example: instead of saying, "Your performance hasn't been up to standards," say, "Your sales goal for the last evaluation period was $1M, and you achieved $100k." The underperformance is just a fact and not a personal opinion. This gets more challenging when evaluating "softer" qualities, such as communication skills.
- Instead of delivering the criticism upfront, invite your employee to share their thoughts about the area where they underperformed. For example, "What do you have to say about your sales results during the last evaluation period?". If they have self-awareness, they will know their results were below expectations and motivate why. It's trickier with employees who lack self-awareness and accountability.
- People who get defensive and look to blame others often do so because of different fears they hold on to. To the extent possible, seek the root cause of the fear. Maybe they fear losing their job if they admit they made a mistake or didn't perform as expected. They may also have guilt and shame around errors and deflect them as a coping strategy.
- Be compassionate and empathetic. Try to put yourself in your employee's shoes and understand why they failed to meet their goals or whatever didn't go as planned. Try to figure out if there is an underlying reason. Maybe they are struggling with a situation in their private life that they feel uncomfortable sharing about.
- Plan what to say, but don't make a script. Your words need to flow naturally for them not to feel forced. Mentally prepare yourself by thinking through potential outcomes and how you will handle each of them. If you're open to learning from each performance review meeting, you will be surprised by how fast you'll improve and get comfortable conducting them!
- Be open to change your mindset. Performance review meetings are not interrogations. You are not there to try to unveil someone's past mistakes or make them feel guilty for things that went wrong. You are there to help them reach their full potential moving forward. Cultivate a growth mindset by focusing on lessons learned and possibilities for improvement.
💡 We can't be too prepared to deal with sensitive topics. If you need more practice, check out our training on giving and receiving feedback.
➡️ Zavvy enables more meaningful performance review meetings
Performance review meetings are essential to the review process and something your organization shouldn't overlook.
The outcome of a meeting can make or break your employee's motivation and results and, thus, your company's performance.
Knowing that the most strategic use of your time is to prepare for how to deliver the feedback. A less optimal, time-consuming thing is the administration behind a performance review meeting.
And that's why Zavvy comes in to make your life easier!
Our performance review software enables easier data collection and is a go-to place for everything employee performance and development.
Plus, our one-on-one meeting software makes remote performance review meetings more manageable. It helps organize structured and meaningful conversations.
📅 Book a demo to learn how Zavvy can facilitate your organization's performance review process and 360° employee growth.