How to do a performance review: A step by step guide

how to do a performance review




Many managers dread performance review season. If you have years of experience, it may feel like you’re simply going through the motions. Doing the same old routine year after year. Call each member of your team into a meeting room for a one-on-one, hand them an official looking document, and start in with the same tired conversation.


Say some positive things, point out where they are underperforming, and end with a few more positive notes. The proverbial “sh*t sandwich”. Unsurprisingly, there’s little value in handling performance reviews this way. Employees come away from the experience with a mixed message that doesn’t inspire change.


You can end up paying a high price for failing to communicate clearly and honestly. It could potentially result in another year of underperformance, mediocre results, low morale and possibly your employees quitting their jobs.


But if you take the right approach, performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to reinforce solid performers and redirect the poor ones. As an effective leader, your main objective should be the growth and development of your people.


It doesn’t need to be difficult. More often than not, it simply requires taking on a more engaged and vocal interest in the work your employees are doing. This point was clearly highlighted by Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University:


“Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes. The good news is that by simply looking at something that somebody has done, scanning it and saying ‘uh huh,’ [you] dramatically improve people’s motivations.”


So with that in mind, here are 10 steps you can follow during performance reviews to ensure your employees come away inspired and equipped to perform at a higher level in future.


Step 1: Start by asking for their overall feedback


‘How are you feeling?’


‘I’d like to start by hearing your thoughts — how do you think you’ve done since our last conversation?’


‘How would you describe your on-the-job performance in recent weeks?’


The first step is always to get a clear picture of where your employee is coming from. Let them share their perspective before offering your viewpoint. This will give you insight into their level of self-awareness and you’ll be able to tailor your feedback accordingly. Listen actively and take notes if necessary to capture the employees own words and phrases.


Step 2: Give them a chance to celebrate the positives


‘You mentioned you exceeded your productivity targets. That’s great news. Please share some examples and tell me how you did it.’


Reinforce the person’s strengths. Appreciate what they are doing right and give them an opportunity to elaborate on their achievements.


Step 3: Reinforce the positives


‘Congratulations on achieving (X). That’s exceptional work.’


Follow up by adding more positives from your perspective. Use a variety of descriptive action verbs. When possible include specific facts, such as quantifiable or measurable results.


Step 4: Assess self-awareness


‘Is there anything you think you could have done better or differently since our last conversation to optimise results?’


‘Where do you see your greatest potential for growth and improvement?’


Now comes the hard part – communicating the need for improvement in a helpful way that motivates the employee to change. But it’s key to ask before you tell. If the employee’s critique of themselves is accurate and aligns with the facts, acknowledge their insight.


Step 5: Empower employees to coach themselves


‘If you could do (X) over again, what would you do differently?’


‘What will you do in the coming weeks to improve on (X)?’


Employees tend to be more motivated to actually change if they are allowed to create their own plan for improvement. Taking ownership of the process helps create a sense of empowerment.


Step 6: Communicate opportunities to improve


‘I think you did (A), (B), and (C) very well, but feel you can still improve on (X), (Y), and (Z).’


At this stage in the meeting, it’s your turn to do the talking. But keep in mind that any feedback you deliver should be constructive and specific. There is a balance to strike here. You don’t want to come down so hard that your employees feel discouraged. But you don’t want to sugarcoat everything either. Constructive criticism is useful and often appreciated by employees, so long as it is delivered in an appropriate way.


Step 7: Give concrete examples


‘You did (X) recently. That negatively impacted (Y). Help me understand why that happened.’


Be prepared to deliver the facts with tact, respect, and directness. Talk about what you witnessed or experienced, not rumor or gossip. Communicate how the under performance impacted you and others. Then, give the employee the chance to explain.


Step 8: Offer helpful resources


‘I’d recommend you take this online course/read this book/etc. to refresh your skill set in this area.’


Also offer any additional suggestions you have that can help them make improvements and get to the next level in their career.


Step 9: Clarify expectations


‘Moving forward I expect….’


Set a clear expectation for what you’d like to see improvement on. Also ask for a commitment from them.


Step 10: Ask how you can better support them


‘Is there anything you need from me as a manager that I’m not currently providing or doing?


Are you a good manager? How do you know? The only way you can truly know is to get feedback from the people working for you. A performance review is the perfect place to get insight into how you are doing. You need to make sure that you’re supporting them fully and that you’re keeping them happy.




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