21 Performance Review Tips to Build Excellence in Your Organization
Performance reviews can be seen as a necessary evil, as tempting as going to the dentist, or the most powerful tool in empowering your team and exceeding your objectives.
Dreaded? Often. Underestimated? Always.
It's time to see performance reviews as stepping stones rather than judgment days.
This guide will offer 21 performance review tips to improve feedback, motivate growth, and position reviews as cornerstones of success.
📚 Tip 1: Do your homework in advance (Come prepared)
A successful performance review starts before the date of the meeting. Ensure that you know the employee, including:
- their job description and tasks;
- their previous performance review results;
- their performance over the last period (if relevant, progress towards specific performance goals);
- your own feedback on how it is to work with them;
- if applicable: feedback from teammates and clients;
- any results and data you want to use to bring home a point;
- factors that may have affected their results, both within and without their control (examples: needing to take on additional tasks because of understaffing, sick leave, vacation leave);
- any controversies or conflicts they may have been involved in.
- how well they followed the agreed action plan from the last performance meeting;
- suggested actions to improve their performance in the coming period;
- potential career paths.
🚨This step is essential if you're a manager of a bigger team or don't spend a lot of time working close to your employees.
But even if you know about each employee's character and how they work within a team, looking at the actual performance metrics is vital to avoid bias.
Also, you are not the only one that should show up prepared – so should your employee.
Let them know precisely how you expect them to prepare for the meeting. Here are some things you can ask them to do:
- Explain what they have achieved during the last review period, with examples or data to back it.
- Explain what objectives they didn't achieve and why.
- Share what they most enjoy about their role.
- Share where they see themselves a year from now.
- Reflect upon their performance and come up with a list of three things they are happy about and one thing they want to improve.
- Outline their learning and development needs, including any specific training they wish to take, and motivate how it will help them in their role.
- Motivate any extra support and guidance they need from you and the management.
- Have at least 5 questions, or be ready to brainstorm about the coming period.
- Set objectives for the next period.
👀 Tip 2: Ensure expectation alignment
Clear communication calms nerves.
The extreme case: if your employee gets called into a meeting without knowing the reason, they may fear they're about to get laid off – while in reality, it's just a performance review.
The more you can set the expectations, the better. If your employee knows what awaits them, they're more likely to be fully present, open up and discuss, and take in the feedback instead of waiting for the bomb to drop.
You want to communicate that the performance review meeting allows both of you to:
- Reflect and evaluate the past period.
- Discuss job performance.
- Look at your employee's strengths.
- Touch upon their potential and career paths within the company.
- Set goals for the coming evaluation period.
- If applicable, set long-term career goals.
- Discuss developmental needs, if they need extra resources, and what can be improved.
These are some high-level tips. Feel free to adjust and include more detail in the meeting invitation. Let your employee know this meeting is for them to help them reach their full potential.
🛡️ Tip 3: Be ready to address questions or concerns
Depending on what happened during the last evaluation period, you can anticipate some of the questions.
Did you have a lot of unexpected last-minute work?
Did you lose an important client?
Did you hire and expand the team?
It's natural that your employees will interrogate about these topics. That said, it's OK not to have all the answers – follow up on anything you don't know and get back to your employees about it.
🗣️ Tip 4: Stay open to employee input and ensure a two-way conversation
This meeting is for your employee, first and foremost.
Express appreciation for any feedback they give you about the workflow or team.
Also, apply tip 1 (communicating how you expect your employee to prepare), especially for employees who are not that talkative.
🧐 Tip 5: Back up any statement with concrete examples
If you want to drive home a point, ensure you have a concrete example or data to point at. Vague statements and feelings risk adding confusion or conflict. Also, be clear on how you want to frame the situation or event to emphasize your point.
✍🏻 Check out our curated lists of 30 constructive feedback examples and 45 performance feedback examples (for all performance levels).
⚖️ Tip 6: Be balanced – Discuss strengths and areas of improvement
While some companies focus solely on what went well (strength-based performance evaluation reviews), a performance assessment typically involves positive feedback and constructive criticism.
So if you want to conduct a traditional performance review, bring up both.
Here are some examples of how to discuss areas of improvement:
- Last year you went the extra mile! Your scores were some of the best I've ever seen. So far this year, your numbers aren't quite keeping up. Has something changed that is causing this?
- Since X occurred, your scores have taken a dip. Unfortunately, we can't go back in time, but is there anything we can do to get back on track?
- We noticed your output has been a tad lower these last few weeks. Do you need a break or a change of pace to help you recharge?
🧑🎓 If you and your fellow managers could brush up your skills on giving and receiving feedback, check out our article on feedback training.
🤝 Tip 7: Be honest but empathetic
Everyone takes constructive criticism in different ways.
Many people associate criticism with punishment since that usually happens in childhood: if you come home too late, you need to stay in the following night. This process is often subconscious, making people freeze or go into defense.
Some employees can be more sensitive depending on previous or recent negative experiences.
For example, if someone was bullied in school, they may find criticism challenging.
Or if they just got broken up with, they may take things personally and not have space for constructive criticism.
That's why empathy is essential in performance appraisals.
At the same time, you want to be honest and bring up issues.
❓Tip 8: Ask the right questions
You'll get more out of the performance review by applying some coaching skills.
One example is to use open-ended questions to encourage your employee to speak freely.
- Where do you see yourself in a year?
- What do you think contributed to situation X?
- How do you feel about your new areas of responsibility?
- What can you do next time to prevent situation Y from happening?
Another powerful type of question encourages your employee to dig deeper.
Often, our first response to a question is a mere reflex and how we're used to reply. When asked to take it one step further, we're obliged to step outside of our habitual thought patterns.
This is when remarkable insights can arise!
You can use questions of the type:
- And then what?
- What are you afraid will happen if situation x occurs?
- What more can be true here?
- What else did you feel?
❓ Check out 70+ best performance review questions for your next evaluation.
🛠️ Tip 9: Suggest courses of action and ways to improve
We've already covered the importance of coming well-prepared for the meeting. That includes coming up with potential action steps and strategies for improvement.
Of course, you want to involve your employee in developing strategies to motivate them to execute. But being prepared prevents you from blanking and putting off action plans for improvement.
🏅 Tip 10: Don't forget about recognizing achievements
On a similar note, only focusing on the areas of improvement can leave your employees feeling disheartened. Everyone is different, and some people can easily brush it off – while others can feel a lack of motivation and start to underperform as a consequence.
It's essential that you are genuine about the importance of the achievements and that you're sure about the employee's contribution.
You don't want to end up complimenting them on something their colleague did.
🚀 Tip 11: Don't conclude the conversation without a preliminary plan for the next steps
Suppose you're new to conducting employee performance reviews. In that case, it can feel like a relief once you've discussed the strengths and areas of improvement, and you can be tempted to end the meeting.
But a critical part of effective performance reviews that sets the tone for the coming review period is to devise a plan for the next steps.
What do you expect your employee to achieve during the coming period? What are their short-term and long-term goals?
Get clear on those aspects, and you'll leave the meeting with clarity and a sense of forward movement.
😀 Tip 12: End the review on a positive note
Ending the review on a positive note helps your employees leave the meeting feeling excited and motivated. It can cover up for any challenging feedback, make your team feel tighter, and work better together.
An example of how you can communicate that someone exceeds the expectations in the leadership area:
"The last thing I wanted to touch on today was your leadership skills. While this doesn't directly affect your performance, it benefits the entire team. Your ability and willingness to guide new hires this season have been remarkable and haven't gone unnoticed. Are you interested in career advancement, such as a management role?"
☕ Tip 13: Add informal performance check-ins between formal review cycles
Did you know the employees at Spotify have regular check-ins with their manager… over a coffee? It doesn't have to be more complicated than that.
When you have formal review meetings that you know how to conduct, sprinkling informal meetings into the mix is a good idea. Casual performance check-ins make your employees feel more cared for, plus they'll be more comfortable exchanging feedback.
Microsoft is another example of a tech giant that has stepped away from traditional performance reviews. As part of Microsoft's performance management system, managers and employees meet at least bi-monthly and go beyond individual performance.
Instead, shared core values, teamwork, and inclusion are central concepts in these bi-monthly assessments that are done according to a 360 model (where feedback is collected from the entire team).
For more inspiration about how performance reviews are conducted at Spotify, Microsoft, and other companies, have a look at our detailed case studies of stellar people processes – you may get inspired to do something in a completely new way at your company!
⌛ 5 Annual performance review tips for managers
If you want to keep your annual performance reviews, here are our best tips for managers.
Check results and goals from the last annual review
While checking in with the last period should be standard for all performance reviews, it's extra important for the annual reviews. Sometimes, a week or two isn't enough to notice growth.
But you should see clear progress in the annual performance review vs. last year's.
Make your life easier by ensuring you have a solid review system, so you can easily access past data without needing to browse through 20 spreadsheets forgotten on a drive somewhere.
Check on progress on performance metrics and goals
Since work directly or indirectly translates into money, most roles have clear performance metrics. You may not check in with the metrics for regular, informal reviews, but this is typically done during the yearly review.
Also, take a moment to evaluate whether the performance metrics are still relevant.
Do they properly assess the employee's achievements in alignment with their role description?
Or have their tasks changed since last time, so it makes more sense to use another metric for future performance evaluations?
Check expected competency profile and individual competency mastery expectations
Competency goes beyond individual skills – it can be described as entire skill sets, including hard and soft skills, knowledge, and characteristics. An example is leadership. A good leader needs to possess several individual qualities.
Due to the complex nature of competencies vs. single metrics, it makes more sense to evaluate them yearly since they take more time to develop.
🧑🎓 Learn more about competency models in our detailed guide.
Share a detailed agenda ahead of the meeting
To make the yearly performance review a positive and growth-focused experience, let your employees know what's expected of them. That helps remove the nerves and fears of negative feedback during this more extensive, more performance-oriented review.
A detailed agenda also communicates expectations. You and your employee should be as prepared as possible to get the best out of the annual review. See tip 2 on expectation alignment above for inspiration.
Sprinkle in frequent informal reviews during the year
Frequent, more informal reviews will help reduce the pressure on annual reviews and make you and your employees more comfortable.
✍️ 3 Tips for writing a performance review
Use clear, understandable language
A performance review should be clear, not clever. Make sure to write out industry jargon that may be unfamiliar to your employee to avoid ambiguity. Use ways of phrasing the feedback that is straight to the point.
Base the review on first-hand experiences
Naturally, as a manager, you haven't personally witnessed everything your employees have done. But make sure to base the review on data, verified events, or things you have noticed in meetings rather than loose rumors.
The last thing you want is for your team members to feel accused of something they haven't done!
Offer growth support
The performance review should contain feedback and clear suggestions on how to support your employees. That way, they'll feel supported and acknowledged, which are among the top most important qualities behind employee satisfaction.
✍️ For more inspiration and actionable insights, check out our complete guide on how to write a performance review.
➡️ Drive performance and growth with Zavvy
As outlined in this article, there's a lot to keep track of for efficient performance reviews.
With Zavvy, you can save yourself the headaches, time, and money that goes into manual performance reviews.
Schedule automated reviews tailored to each employee – our system ensures you'll never miss sending out invitations, collecting feedback, and booking meetings. It also keeps track of metrics and comments for easy reference in future performance reviews.
As a part of our performance review software, we also offer training courses for managers.
📅 Want to see how Zavvy can cut down hours of administrative work around your performance reviews? Book a demo with us!