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13 Performance Review Tips That Actually Improve Employee Performance

/ 5.3.18

performance review tipsThe best employee performance reviews are positive experiences that motivate and drive high performance. But creating that kind of experience is easier said than done for most managers.


Performance management is rapidly evolving. Although the traditional, annual review is still useful, it's not enough to keep up with the modern workplace.


If you're looking for better results from performance conversations, consider these 13 performance review tips!


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1. Shift your mindset from evaluator to coach.

The first step toward better performance reviews is to start with a coaching mindset. Many managers are used to acting as judges or evaluators — but this isn't the most effective approach. If you come into a performance conversation with the mindset of a judge, your employee is going to feel like they are on trial.


Show your employee that you're on the same team, and that you want to help them improve. Your goal should be to help employees — and ultimately your organization — win.


2. Talk regularly about performance.


When managers and employees only converse about performance once a year, there's room for a lot of suspense and anxiety. These conversations tend to feel awkward because they are less practiced. They also tend to focus on past performance, missing the opportunity to focus on future results.


Ongoing performance conversations shift the focus forward. Managers work on improving current and future performance. They can coach, motivate, modify behaviors, adjust goals, and recognize employees in real-time. This creates a more positive experience for managers and employees. It reduces the tendency for unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty to arise.


The annual performance review still has a place — but you need to supplement it with ongoing performance conversations. It's best practice to have these conversations throughout the year, at least quarterly. Monthly one-on-one conversations are even better!


performance review tips  

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.


Incorporating 360 degree feedback into a review ensures it won’t be one-sided. This benefits the employee and the manager. Feedback can shed light on certain aspects of an employee's performance that their manager might not have been aware of. It can also uncover themes and provide strong evidence for the impact of an employee's performance.


Get your free copy: 360 Feedback Questions


You should share peer feedback with employees prior to their performance appraisal. This gives them the chance to self-reflect and seek clarification. 360 feedback software gives employees direct access to their feedback. They can also comment on feedback, allowing for a more robust feedback conversation.


4. Share your notes before the review.


No one wants to walk into an important conversation blindly. Having to answer questions or discuss topics you're not prepared for can be stressful. Set everyone up for a more effective performance conversation by allowing time for preparation. By sharing notes ahead of time, you both can enter the meeting on the same page and make the most of your time together. Consider including: 

  • Topics or events you want to discuss
  • Data points you want to review
  • Questions you want answered
  • 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:

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.


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.


Ask questions. Part of active listening is asking more questions. Asking follow-up questions can help you understand more and dig deeper.


Repeat back what you heard. This gives you the opportunity to check you accurately understood what the other person said.


Don’t be defensive. If you’re spending your listening time preparing your response, then you’re not actually listening to the other person.


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. The right questions help keep you focused on the topics that are important to your employee’s and organization’s success. Use a performance review template that invites honest, genuine feedback and uncovers actionable ways to improve 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 are standing in your way?
  • What impact has your performance had on the team? The organization?
  • How can I improve as your manager?

Get your copy: The Big Book of 350 One-on-One Questions


7. Choose your words 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 should know exactly how their performance is measured. Managers and employees should have a shared understanding of what good performance looks like. Provide clarity around each employee's role and how the organization perceives their contributions.


If your organization used performance metrics or ratings, be transparent about them. Employees should understand how metrics are used, what they mean, and what ratings they've received.


"As a manager, you owe candor to your people. They must not be guessing what the organization thinks of them." — Jack Welch, Former CEO of GE


9. Provide context and share impact.


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


Don't use generalizations like “always” or “never." These can raise up defenses, and it is rare that someone acts in the wrong way 100 percent of the time. Even with positive feedback, the words “always” and “never” are too general and rarely helpful. Without context, an employee can't be certain about what exactly was good about their work.


Make sure to discuss how the employee’s performance or behavior has impacted their overall performance, their team, or the 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. But it's important to not let those biases get in the way of fairly reviewing performance and delivering clear feedback. You should regularly self-reflect and try to be aware of your biases. Here are a few common types of biases that can occur in a performance review: 

  • Recency bias: the most recent behavior becomes the primary focus of the review.
  • Similar-to-me bias: managers show greater affinity toward employees who are similar to themselves.
  • Halo effect: an employee is rated high in all areas because they do one thing really well.
  • Horn effect: an employee is rated as a poor performer because of one thing they don'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. If you want your review to actually improve performance, creating next steps is vital. Together, create a clear plan around what happens next. Set goals and deadlines and document the plan in a place you both can access.


13. Schedule the next conversation.


Finally, do yourself a favor and put the next performance conversation on the calendar. This demonstrates you’re invested in employees’ continued growth and development. Employee performance is unlikely to improve if it is 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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