10 Performance Review Best Practices to Level Up Your Teams

Evolving your performance reviews may seem overwhelming, but you must start somewhere. With the right performance review best practices, reviews can become a strategic lever. They can elevate engagement, performance, and success across your organization.

Performance reviews have long been a staple of traditional performance management. But in a workplace where continuous feedback reins, employee reviews are ripe for transformation.

The old playbook of rigid templates and simplistic rating scales needs rethinking. An employee's performance is multi-faceted. It's complex. This realization has prompted forward-thinking companies like Google to abandon stack ranking methods.

Our research shows performance management is one of the most-felt aspects of culture. Leveling up your performance reviews can improve your culture—if, and only if, you put coaching, growth, and alignment center stage.

Evolving your performance reviews may seem overwhelming, but you must start somewhere. With the right performance review best practices, reviews can become a strategic lever. They can elevate engagement, performance, and success across your organization.

10 performance review best practices for HR

HR professionals play a pivotal role in performance reviews. You're the architects of the performance review process: including the what, why, and how. You're responsible for shaping a system that reflects the nuanced needs of the business and its people. These 10 best practices will help you think beyond administration to actively enable a culture of employee success.

performance review best practices

 

1. Set clear and ongoing performance expectations.

Imagine walking into a room, blindfolded, with the task of hitting a bullseye. Now, take off the blindfold, and you see not one but several dartboards, each with different scoring rules. That's what performance reviews can feel like without clear expectations—disorienting and aimless.

Employees need to know what success looks like. Your people leaders need to remove the blindfolds and clarify where to aim. This requires clearly defined, well-communicated performance criteria that syncs with what's most important to your company.

As an HR leader, it’s your role to help leaders clarify what is great performance. And to make sure employees understand not just the “what” but the “how” of performance. They should know exactly how their performance will be measured and what it means to meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations—and how to improve to reach the next level.

When everyone is clear what success looks like, review anxiety fades. Employees can steer their efforts confidently, having clarity on what’s valued and expected of them.

2. Move toward continuous coaching and feedback.

Effective performance management is less about the year-end crescendo and more about the ongoing rhythm of feedback and coaching. Prioritizing a continuous performance management approach can transform the very nature of your teams' performance review conversations.

Coaching shouldn't be a sporadic event. In the most effective teams, it happens in the moment and on the job. When a salesperson nails a pitch, immediate feedback cements what went right. When a project misses the mark, prompt feedback encourages learning and improvement.

This regular rhythm of feedback turns managers into coaches. Training them in the art of real-time feedback equips them to become performance enablers. They can help employees correct course, celebrate wins, and build on successes as they happen.

Anne maltese performance review quote 1

When the time comes for formal evaluations, the dialogue is free of surprises. Managers and employees enter the conversation with a shared history of feedback. The process becomes a collaborative review of known facts rather than a stressful, annual revelation. And managers and employees can spend more time discussing the future.

3. Engage employees with two-way conversation.

Performance reviews have historically been a one-way street—management speaking, employees listening. This approach turns reviews into a dreaded monologue. Employees passively receive feedback and end up feeling more like subjects than participants. They feel undervalued and disengaged. As a result, the entire review process is reduced to a tick-box exercise that fails to inspire or incite real development. No one enjoys it. No one finds meaning it. No one cares.

Two-way dialogue demystifies performance reviews. It’s a shift from a top-down assessment to a collaborative exchange. Employees can bring their own reflections to the table. What did they excel in? Where do they see room for growth?

This is not just about accountability; it's about ownership. When employees are co-navigators, they take a vested interest in the direction of their growth and the success of the organization. And it transforms reviews from a corporate routine to a meaningful exchange in which everyone finds value.

4. Focus on the future and potential development.

Consider a gardener tending to plants. The past season's growth is important. But it's the preparation for the upcoming season that ensure continued flourishing. When we focus on past achievements in performance reviews, we miss the mark on cultivating future growth.

Reviews are an opportunity to nurture performance and potential. Managers can uncover runways and roadblocks—and identify skills, knowledge, and opportunities needed for professional development. They can work with employees to build conditions for thriving.

It's important to ask not only what goals have been met—but what ambitions lie ahead. Aligning employee aspirations with the organization's trajectory sets the stage for growth that benefits everyone. Performance reviews become forward-looking commitments. And employees can leave with a clear path to their development ahead, boosting engagement.

5. Prepare and train your managers for effective reviews.

Like a skilled captain guiding a ship, managers are the primary navigators of your performance review process. Their attitude and expertise shape every part of your performance management cycle. Training managers for this role involves more than a briefing. Your managers need continuous coaching, training, and support for effective performance reviews.

You want to train managers not just on the mechanics of the review process, but also the soft skills that are core to your performance approach. Hands-on training (like simulated reviews) helps managers practice praise and feedback in different scenarios. Emotional intelligence training helps them deliver feedback that inspires and motivates. Conflict resolution helps them turn even the toughest conversations into opportunities for growth.

You should also cover the specifics of your organization's review process. Managers should understand how to set objectives, measure performance, and align goals with company strategy. Create a feedback loop where managers seek and receive input on how reviews are going. This not only models a culture of continuous improvement—it helps you refine the review process itself, ensuring it's a meaningful experience for everyone involved.

Adequate training helps your managers build confidence. It ensures they feel equipped to handle the nuanced dynamics in review conversations.

6. Incorporate multiple data sources for objective reviews.

Employee performance is complex. Relying on a single thread of data creates an incomplete, often misleading picture. Objective performance reviews thrive on rich and varied data that encompasses many facets of an employee's contributions. This helps ensure fairness and mitigate bias, painting a fuller picture of employee impact.

Consider integrating 360 feedback from a variety of stakeholders. Peer reviews, customer feedback, and self-assessments are great tools. Each perspective offers unique insights, highlighting successes and growth opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Be sure to look beyond quantitative data. Metrics like sales figures and customer satisfaction scores are tangible evidence of performance. But balance is key. Not all valuable contributions are easy to measure. Managers should recognize efforts in team collaboration, creativity, adaptability—and whatever other competencies and values matter to your business.

Finally, technology plays a pivotal role in aggregating and analyzing this data. Modern performance management systems can track and compile information from various sources, providing a comprehensive overview at performance review time. This not only streamlines the review process but also supports a culture of transparency and accountability.

7. Standardize the process while allowing flexibility.

Crafting an effective performance review process is like drawing a map. The route must be clear and well-marked, so everyone can reach the destination. But there's a need for paths that accommodate different modes of travel, acknowledging that one size doesn't fit all.

Standardizing core elements of your performance reviews help ensure consistency and fairness. Things like review cycles and rating scales should be uniform to maintain clarity and equity. This will help prevent confusion and set a baseline expectation for all employees.

But the beauty of a well-designed process lies in its flexibility. Different teams and roles may require tailored approaches to effectively assess performance. For instance, a creative team might need to emphasize innovation and collaborative projects. While a sales team might focus more heavily on targets and customer feedback. You can allow flexibility in how goals are set, how feedback is gathered, and how success is measured.

To navigate this balance, provide clear guidelines on what is standard and what is flexible. Training your managers is key here. They need to understand how to apply the core principles of your process while adapting to their team's nuances.

8. Streamline reviews with efficient tools & tech.

Pen-and-paper reviews are not effective. They are cumbersome, time-consuming, and offer little value to the business and your teams. You need performance review software to help streamline your processes. The right partner can help transform reviews from a logistical nightmare into a strategic asset.

The ideal performance management software is user-friendly and integrates effortlessly into daily routines. It facilitates a wide variety of performance activities like:

  • Goals
  • Feedback
  • 1-on-1s
  • Recognition
  • Talent Reviews
  • Succession Planning


This shift from manual to digital doesn't just save time. It enhances quality of feedback, capabilities of managers, and the overall review experience. Performance management becomes a seamless part daily operations rather than an intrusive, standalone task. Managers and employees can have ongoing dialogue that helps them align and pivot. Performance stays top of mind and employees can take charge of their own development.

Adopting a performance management platform also:

  • Eliminates the clutter of paperwork
  • Reduces the risk of lost information
  • Provides a secure, centralized space for sensitive performance data
  • Gives leaders visibility into employee performance across the board

9. Align reviews with broader business strategy.

Performance reviews should point toward the broader goals and strategies of your organization. When employee goals are aligned with the company's vision, it clarifies purpose and creates a sense of significance. This alignment transforms reviews from isolated evaluations into pivotal discussions about how each employee can move the business forward.

Make sure employees at all levels of the organization understand strategic goals. This knowledge is the backbone of effective review. It enables managers and employees to see their roles through the lens of what matters to the company. When an employee understands how their work fits into the bigger picture, engagement and motivation naturally increase.

Also consider how to weave your company’s core values into the review process. Surfacing these values and discussing them with employees helps strengthen your culture. It’s not just about what is getting done, but how it is getting done.

10. Continuously improve review processes.

Your performance review system needs ongoing assessment and improvement. You want to make sure it remains effective, efficient, and engaging for all employees. Continuous improvement will require feedback from your stakeholders.

Consider your employees as co-creators of your process. Actively seek out feedback on your performance review process and be open to change. After each review cycle, ask your managers and teams about their experiences.

  • What worked well?
  • What didn't?
  • Are there areas that felt redundant or aspects that were missing?

Use this input to refine your approach. Perhaps the timeline for reviews needs adjusting, or the software used could be more intuitive. Maybe the criteria for evaluation need updating to reflect new company priorities. Each piece of feedback is a chance to fine-tune the process, making it more efficient and meaningful for all parties involved.

performance review nicole davies quote


Importantly, communicate changes and the reasons behind them to the entire organization. Transparency about how feedback has shaped the review process reinforces a culture of trust and continuous improvement. It shows that the company values input from its workforce and is committed to making performance reviews a positive and productive experience.



 

Improving your performance reviews can boost employee, team, and business success. 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 24, 2024 | Written By Kristin Ryba