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13 Performance Review Tips That Actually Improve Employee Performance

/ 5.3.18

Ready for better results from13-Performance-Review-Tips-That-Actually-Improve-Employee-Performance your performance reviews? These 13 tips can help you turn what can be disengaging and anxiety-ridden meetings into positive experiences that drive higher performance.


Performance management is evolving rapidly, and organizations vary in their performance appraisal methods and philosophies. Whether your organization uses a traditional, annual performance review, has transitioned to ongoing performance conversations, or is somewhere in between, these universal tips will help you discuss employee performance.   



Download: Pocket Guide for Uncomfortable Performance Conversations

1. Shift Your Mindset from Evaluator to Coach

The first step toward better performance reviews is to start with a coaching mindset (as opposed to a judge or evaluator). That might seem counterintuitive; by definition, an appraisal is the act of assessing or judging. But in reality, if you come into a performance conversation with the mindset of a judge, it won’t feel like you’re on the employee’s team. The employee feels as if you're putting them on trial, not trying to help them improve.


Think of situations where there’s a judge and a coach, such as a gymnastics meet, debate tournament, or dance competition. Contrast the relationship between the competitor and the judge versus the relationship between the competitor and the coach.


A judge isn’t responsible for improving performance. A judge has no stake in whether a competitor improves, wins, or loses. A judge might even be a nameless, faceless stranger in a crowded, dark auditorium. A coach, on the other hand, is someone with a strong relationship with the competitor. A coach’s sole purpose is to improve performance, and ultimately, to help competitors win.


When you think of it like this, it should now seem counterintuitive that a manager would ever be in the position of judge. So, start with a coach’s mindset. You’re here to help your employees, and ultimately your organization, win.


2. Talk Regularly About Performance

Limiting performance discussions to annual events creates suspense and anxiety, and it makes conversations about performance more awkward because they are less practiced. Annual reviews tend to spend too much time looking backward, whereas ongoing conversations shift the focus forward.


HBR’s article “The Performance Management Revolution” found annual reviews, “hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future, both of which are critical for organizations’ long-term survival. In contrast, regular conversations about performance and development change the focus to building the workforce your organization needs to be competitive both today and years from now.”


Josh Bersin estimates that roughly 70% of multinational companies are moving away from annual reviews and toward more ongoing conversations, according to the same article.


Even if your organization uses an annual review process, you can still have more ongoing performance conversations between employees and managers. It’s best practice to have these conversations throughout the year, at least quarterly.


A regular one-on-one meeting can provide the perfect setting for these conversations. We recommend having four different types of one on one meetings throughout the year:

  • Goal Setting
  • Performance
  • Career Development
  • Monthly Check-in


3. Collect Feedback from Others

Managers aren’t the only ones with visibility to employees’ work. In fact, a lot of employees’ everyday work might be more visible to their peers than their managers. To get a more complete picture of employee performance, ask others for feedback as part of the performance review process.


Incorporat2.11.18-13-Performance-Review-Tips-That-Actually-Improve-Employee-Performance-2-1ing 360 degree feedback into a review ensures it won’t be one-sided, which benefits both the employee and the manager. For employees, it can bring to light aspects of their performance their manager might be unaware of. For managers, it can help uncover themes and provide employees greater evidence of the impact of the employee's performance.


Get your free copy: 360 Feedback Questions


Best practice recommends sharing peer feedback with employees prior to the performance appraisal, so they have a chance to self-reflect and seek clarification. If you’re using a software like Quantum Workplace to track 360 feedback, it can give employees direct access to their feedback with the ability to comment for a more robust feedback conversation.


Finally, don’t forget to include the opportunity for employees to self-review. A self performance review, whether done as part of a 360 or separately, gives employees the opportunity to share their perspective and gives managers visibility to their employees’ perception of self.


An employee engagement software like Quantum Workplace can be an extraordinarily useful record to look back on feedback during more comprehensive reviews and to evaluate improvements.  


4. Share Before the Review

Going blindly into any conversation can create anxiety. Getting asked a question or discussing a topic you’re not prepared for can be stressful. Set everyone up for a more effective performance conversation by ensuring everyone can prepare. By providing thoughts ahead of time, the manager and employee enter the meeting on the same page.


Share topics or events you want to discuss, data points you want to review, questions you want answered, and anything else relevant to the employee’s performance.


5. Listen Intently

This is a two-way conversation, so make sure you’re facilitating a dialogue and actually listening. Here are a few tips from HuffPost and Fast Company on being a better listener:


  1. Listen to learn, not to be polite. Come from a place of curiosity, rather than generosity. You’re listening to understand, not to simply give someone equal talking time.
  2. Be aware of emotions. Emotional intelligence is about understanding both your and others’ emotions. Seek to understand how the other person may be feeling, and work to keep your emotions in check if needed.
  3. Ask questions. Part of active listening is asking more questions. Asking follow-up questions can help you understand more and dig deeper.
  4. Repeat back what you heard. This gives you the opportunity to check that you accurately understood what the other person said.
  5. Don’t be defensive. If you’re spending your listening time preparing your defensive response, then you’re not actually listening to the other person.
  6. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Difficult conversations can be uncomfortable. Good listeners learn to be comfortable with the discomfort.

6. Ask Effective Performance Review Questions

Asking the right performance review questions is critical to making sure the conversation is focused on the topics that are important to your employee’s and organization’s success.


 Free Ebook Download: 350 Questions to Ask in Performance Management  Conversations


Ensure your organization is using a performance review template that invites honest, genuine feedback and uncovers actionable ways to improve employee performance. Here are a few of our favorite questions to ask:

  • What accomplishment(s) from the last quarter are you most proud of?
  • What goals do you have for the next quarter?
  • What development goals would you like to set for the next 6 months?
  • What obstacles stand in your way?
  • What impact has your performance had on the team? The organization?
  • How can I improve as your manager?

7. Choose Your Words (and Phrases) Carefully

Your words carry power — power to motivate and power to deflate. Take the time to be thoughtful about the performance review phrases you choose. Here are a few do's and don’ts:



  • Do use specific language.
  • Do stay positive.
  • Do focus on solving problems.
  • Do use measurement-oriented language.
  • Do use powerful action words.



  • Don’t use phrases that are vague.
  • Don’t be disrespectful.
  • Don’t downplay good performance as if it were lucky or easy.
  • Don’t be overly harsh or negative.
  • Don’t focus only on the good or only on the bad.

8. Be Transparent

Employees need to know how their performance is measured, understand what good performance looks like, have clarity around where they stand, and know how the organization perceives their contributions. If your organization uses performance metrics or ratings, be transparent about it. Employees should understand how the metrics are used, what they mean, and what ratings they’ve received.


In the Wall Street Journal, Jack Welch explains, “As a manager, you owe candor to your people. They must not be guessing what the organization thinks of them.”


9. Provide Context and Share Impact

When giving performance feedback, be specific and share examples so the other person understands the context of the feedback. Being vague can create confusion. Providing context empowers employees to repeat positive performance and address poor performance.


Using generalizations like “always” or “never” can raise the other person’s defenses (when feedback is corrective), as it is rare that someone acts in the wrong way 100 percent of the time. And in the case of positive feedback, the words “always” and “never” are still too general. Without reference of a specific situation, an employee lacks certainty about what exactly was good about his or her work.


Make sure to discuss how the employee’s performance or behavior impacted his or her overall performance, the team, or organization. This additional context helps employees understand the effects of their performance — both good and bad. 


10. Own Your Feedback

Own the feedback you give employees; don’t hide behind other feedback providers. If you have feedback to give, give it. In addition, avoid using dismissive language to downplay feedback. This can send mixed signals on whether or not the feedback matters.


11. Keep Your Biases in Check

We all have biases.  Self-reflect to ensure your biases aren’t getting in the way of fairly reviewing performance and delivering clear feedback to employees. Here are a few common types of bias that can occur in a performance review:

  • Recency Bias: The most recent behavior becomes the primary focus of the review.
  • Similarity Bias: A manager shares similarities with an employee, and as a result shows greater affinity toward that employee in their review.
  • Halo Bias: An employee is rated high in all areas because he or she does one thing really well.
  • Horn Bias: An employee is rated as a poor performer because of one thing he or she doesn’t do well.

12. Align on Next Steps

Possibly the most important tip of all is to define next steps. Without clear next steps, performance conversations feel unresolved and if you want your review to actually improve employee performance, those next steps are vital. Together, create a clear plan around what happens next. Set goals and deadlines and document the plan in a place you both have access to it.   


13. Schedule the Next Conversation

Finally, the simplest tip of all: Put the next performance conversation on the calendar. This demonstrates that you’re invested in employees’ continued growth and development. Employee performance is unlikely to improve if it’s only discussed once per year. Be intentional. Set the tone that employee coaching will happen throughout the year by scheduling the next conversation.  




 Navigate your next employee performance review without breaking a sweat! Our printable pocket guide will help you effectively prepare for, facilitate, and follow-up on your performance conversations.


pocket guide for effective performance reviews




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