Ready, Set, Review! How to Prepare for a Performance Review

Preparation guides the direction of any important performance conversation. In this guide, we'll help you understand how to prepare for a performance review in a way that maximizes the impact of the conversation and boost employee success.

Ready, Set, Review! How to Prepare for a Performance Review

Preparation guides the direction of any important performance conversation. It's particularly important for the annual performance review.

By the time a performance review discussion begins, you and your employee have both developed internal expectations that shape your mood and approach. If these intentions aren’t aligned, the conversation will get knocked off track before it has the chance to make a meaningful impact. To ensure a successful performance review, it is crucial to prepare for delivering critical feedback in a clear and effective manner.

Here are a few key highlights from this blog post that will help your managers understand how to prepare for a performance review:

  • Performance reviews are valuable opportunities to boost employee and business success
  • Preparation (or lack thereof) can make or break your performance review conversation
  • Effective performance reviews require clear communication, a structured agenda, and constructive feedback
  • Feedback from performance reviews can help shape future goals and support employee development
  • Navigating difficult conversations and choosing the right phrases is crucial during performance reviews

Let's dive in!

Understanding Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are valuable opportunities to boost employee and business success. They're an important part of your organization's performance management process. Managers and employees can align on expectations and create a plan for development. Employees can get specific feedback on tasks, projects, and behaviors, including what is going well and areas for improvement. The review process also allows employees to reflect on what they've accomplished—and where they'd like to go next, including potential role changes.

The Importance of Effective Performance Reviews

Quantum Workplace research shows only 68% of employees feel their performance is fairly evaluated. And only 60% say their managers provide performance feedback that actually helps them improve. This highlights a big opportunity for managers to have more effective review conversations.

When approached thoughtfully, performance reviews can serve as pivotal moments for employee growth and professional development. But managers need to dedicate adequate time and resources to prepare. They need access to data that helps them get a full picture of employee performance. They need a structured and collaborative agenda to help frame the conversation. And they need to consider how they'll deliver feedback in a meaningful and motivating way.

The goal of preparing for a performance review meeting? A productive and engaging conversation that helps employees feel clear, refreshed, and ready to tackle the next year.

What are the key elements of successful performance review preparation?

Here are some key elements to help managers understand how to prepare for a performance review:

  • Get clarity
  • Make the time
  • Set expectations
  • Share the agenda
  • Focus on alignment
  • Recognize achievements
  • Address areas for improvement

1. Get clarity

Data is your friend. Don't walk into a review with nothing but subjective opinions in your pocket. Look back at the year to understand the full picture of an employee's performance over time. You are the coach. You need to review the game tape before you design the next set of plays.

Start by making time to get the clarity you need for an effective performance conversation. Review data from goals, feedback, recognition, and 1-on-1s and reflect on past performance. The data should help you surface themes, highlights, and areas of opportunity with specific examples to discuss. What you find should inform your review agenda and guide your discussion with each employee.

Performance goals: Goals are an important part of an effective employee evaluation process. An employee's goals should align with team and organizational goals from the get-go. Managers should use goal progress as a primary indicator of employee performance—and use them to guide any performance discussion.

Feedback: Feedback is a catalyst for employee growth. Take a look at any feedback employees have received from you, their peers, or in self-assessment. Look for themes and patterns that might be worth discussing in the review.

Recognition: Reviews are a great opportunity to celebrate what's going well. Get up to speed on what an employee is getting shout outs and recognition for. Acknowledge those wins in the review to help employees feel appreciated.

Previous 1-on-1s: You can't possibly remember an entire year's worth of work for every employee. Looking back at 1-on-1 notes from the year can help you spot strengths and opportunities over time.

2. Make time

You have a lot of responsibility and reviews are time-consuming. But the payoff is worth the investment. If you shortchange employees in reviews, you risk disengagement, slipping performance, and turnover.

We know managers are busier than ever. And performance reviews can feel like another tedious to-do from HR. If that's the case for you, we encourage you think about it differently.

Each review is a deposit into your team's success account. When you make the time to prepare, you'll benefit from:

  • More insight and confidence walking into the review
  • More substance and meaning to guide the conversation
  • Better engagement and better outcomes after the review

Taking steps to make the most of each review is the best use of everyone's time. And the investment you make today should compound—leading to better performance and more successful reviews in the future.

3. Set expectations

Setting clear expectations for performance reviews is key to getting everyone on the same page. Managers should communicate that the performance review is more than just a formality. It's an opportunity for meaningful dialogue aimed at aligning goals, providing feedback, and fostering growth. Managers should also emphasize that performance reviews are not one-sided evaluations but collaborative conversations. Employees should be encouraged to share their perspectives, concerns, and goals to help foster ownership and accountability.

4. Share the agenda

Employees are already anxious about the review process. Don't add fuel to the fire. Ease their concerns by bringing them into the process and sharing the agenda. Employees should have the opportunity to fill out their side of the review too. This gives managers valuable insight into where there is alignment and disconnection.

A structured agenda helps set the stage for a productive review conversation. You want to create well-rounded discussion touching on achievements and areas for improvement. Ideally, you'll share this agenda with the employee and give them ample time to contribute. Bringing employees into the process in this way creates transparency and helps them feel heard.

First, make it very clear what you plan to cover in the meeting. Share your notes ahead of time to give employees an idea of what they can expect. We recommend using an agenda that allows you and your employee to make notes on the below topics. This ensures both parties are putting careful thought into the conversation.

  • Current performance. Both parties should enter with assessments of how the employee is performing. Have the employee consider current roadblocks and if there’s anything you can do to help them.
  • Goals. The goals you set with an employee are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to performance. But they play a large role in determining whether the employee is succeeding or failing. Assess progress on employee goals and give time for them to share context.
  • Future aspirations: Employee performance is fueled by their view of the future. The annual review is a good time to discuss career aspirations and how they might shape future performance expectations. Brainstorm professional growth and development opportunities tailored to the individual’s skills and interests.

Be sure to let the employee know if the meeting could take on a negative tone. The last thing you want is an employee feeling railroaded by a negative performance review. They'll feel betrayed and lose trust in both you and the organization. If you plan to discuss negative topics, include notes about concerns and what changes you want to see.

5. Focus on alignment

The performance review is not a time to place blame or focus on what could have been. The goal is to do better in the future. Keep the conversation focused on strengths and opportunities to get more aligned.

Performance reviews should emphasize alignment, not blame. Managers should steer clear of dwelling on past mistakes, instead focusing on future improvement and providing constructive criticism. You want to find the right balance of acknowledging strengths and great work—and identifying areas for improvement. By framing your performance review in this light, you can have more positive and productive conversations that actually motivate performance.

To help with alignment, managers should prioritize clear communication and goal setting. You want everyone on the same page regarding expectations, objectives, and areas for growth. It's important to keep the organization's overarching goals top of mind. And then make a connection between company objectives and an employee's aspirations and goals.

Finally, managers should practice active listening of employee perspectives and concerns. This creates a more collaborative environment where everyone feels heard and valued. Everyone can work better together and continuous improvement becomes the norm.

6. Recognize achievements

Performance reviews are a perfect opportunity to recognize great work. Take some time to acknowledge accomplishments and show appreciation for hard work. This will not only boost morale, but encourage continued excellence and commitment. Whether it's exceeding targets, solving a challenging problem, or demonstrating exceptional teamwork, be sure to call out what's been going well. Tying recognition to company values or objectives helps further reinforce alignment.

7. Address areas of improvement

Addressing areas for improvement requires a delicate balance of sensitivity and constructive feedback. Managers should approach reviews with empathy and a focus on growth, rather than criticism. It's important to frame feedback in a supportive way that encourages development.

When discussing areas for improvement, be specific and provide actionable suggestions for growth. Don't just point out shortcomings, but offer guidance on how the employee can enhance their skills or overcome challenges.

Finally, make sure employees feel supported and empowered to change. Actively listen to their concerns and ideas for improvement and work collaboratively on a plan for development.

Navigating difficult conversations

Navigating difficult conversations is a critical skill for managers. In order to grow and improve, you have to be able to tackle the hard stuff together.

When you're entering a review conversation that you know will be difficult, preparation is key. You want to gather all pertinent data and examples that will help bolster your points. You also want to spend some time anticipating potential reactions from the employee. Moreover, you want to approach these conversations with empathy and open ears. It's important to consider the employee's perspective and emotions to encourage constructive dialogue.

During the conversation itself, focus on clear and direct communication. Use specific language to articulate feedback and concerns, avoiding ambiguity that could lead to misunderstandings. Active listening and open-ended questions can help promote mutual understanding and productive conversation.

How Quantum Workplace can help you streamline performance reviews

Performance conversations don’t need to be hard. Keep your managers and employees on the same page with engaging performance reviews. Our performance review software gives your teams reliable context to help them have more objective and engaging conversations.


1. Customize reviews to fit your needs. 

Easily measure what you want, when you want with flexible review modules that you can tailor to fit the needs of your culture and the various groups within it. 


2. Help your managers build positive performance habits.

Make it easy for manager to coach to performance by integrating your process into their existing workflows. Set up formal conversation cycles to create the right frequency and consistency of touch points.






3. Easily track review response rates. 

See the status of each review cycle to help your teams stay accountable and monitor performance ratings in real-time. 


4. Embed performance goals directly into reviews.

Our platform makes it easy to include goals as part of performance evaluations—and helps coach managers have objective, effective, and growth-oriented conversations.






5. Orient reviews around multi-rater feedback.

Incorporate feedback into your review cycles to gain valuable insight from the individuals your people work with most, and better orient  performance conversations around development.


6. Visualize and align on performance data across teams.

Get a comprehensive view of your organization’s talent with our talent dashboard. Zoom out and see the big picture, to help you make more informed decisions on how to keep and develop your best talent.



Conclusion: how to prepare for a performance review

Managers must make time and understand key elements of how to prepare for a performance review. Effective performance reviews hinge on thoughtful preparation, empathy, and clear communication. Managers and employees should aim to align their intentions and expectations to spark more meaningful conversations. When both parties prepare with care, performance reviews can be catalysts for employee growth, engagement, and impact in the coming year.



Make your performance review process more effective, efficient, and engaging. Quantum Workplace's performance review software helps your managers and teams prepare for, facilitate, and follow up for better reviews and better performance.

Published January 3, 2024 | Written By Kristin Ryba