9 tried and tested performance review tips

performance review tips




Interested in tips to get the most out of performance reviews at your organisation? While each company conducts performance reviews in their own unique way, universal principles exist about how to talk to an employee about their performance.


These tips are not exclusive to performance review meetings. They also apply to a variety of other performance-related conversations such as employee goal setting, salary adjustment meetings, or discussing 360 feedback.


It’s unsurprising that such conversations can be intimidating, for both managers and employees. Sometimes it can feel as if both parties are treading on eggshells to avoid causing upset of offence. But don’t stress. These 9 performance review tips can help you turn what can be disengaging and anxiety-ridden into a positive experience that actually drives growth.


Be prepared


In order to create real impact, performance reviews need to be taken seriously. They should not be relegated to a mere box ticking exercise. All this does is waste everyone’s time. If you don’t know why you are doing the review or what you’d like to get out of it, there’s little point in doing it.


With that said, you should give yourself plenty of time to prepare both yourself and your employee before the meeting. The aim is to come up with helpful advice and specific issues to discuss.


When preparing, it’s important you look back at your employee’s entire record. This will help you assess their performance within the last time period (usually 3-6 months) and make sure there are no noticeable issues.


The key here is to avoid the temptation to narrowly focus on recent events, especially bad ones. Doing so clouds judgement and reduces the effectiveness of the review. You need to keep the big picture in mind in order to have a clear, balanced view of the situation.


Set the agenda


Following on from the point above the best way to ensure you and your employee are prepared is to create a meeting agenda and send it to them. When drawing up the agenda, get your employee involved. Ask them if there are any specific issues they’d like to discuss.


Formalising the planning process helps set expectations so nothing comes out of the blue and catches them off guard. Much of the anxiety employees commonly feel around performance reviews stems from a feeling they might be “ambushed” by something unexpected during the review.  


Furthermore, it gives structure to the review and makes it easier for you to make a record of everything that’s discussed.


Coach, don’t judge


A coaching mindset is a key to running better performance reviews.


This might seem counterintuitive, by definition a review is the act of assessing or judging. But ultimately, if you show up to the meeting with the mindset of a judge, the interaction will feel adversarial.


It’s helpful to think about judging and coaching in the context of sports. 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.


Framing it in this way reveals how counterproductive it is for a manager to take on the position of a judge in a performance review. It doesn’t help anyone. So, frame the meeting as a coaching exercise where your aim is to help your employee “win”.


Never “ambush”


There are unfortunate cases where an employee walks into a performance review thinking everything is fine and by the end of the meeting, they’ve been sacked or put under disciplinary proceedings.


This should never happen and demonstrates a complete breakdown in communication. You should be open and honest with employees about any concerns you have regarding performance. And you shouldn’t wait until a formal review to raise these. When such concerns arrive, your first step should be to discuss them directly with your employee.


Never be rash and go straight to punishment (unless they suddenly do something awful) and never just assume that ‘they’ll get better’ without you saying anything. They may not even know that they’re going wrong.


On the other hand, if they’re amazing, don’t be afraid to tell them. It will motivate them to work just as hard in future.


Talk about performance regularly


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.


Most companies will do a performance review at least once every six months – but why not more often? The more regularly you catch up with your employees, the more on top of things you’ll be and the quicker you’ll know about any negatives in the team. Your staff will also feel good, knowing that you’re trying to look after them.


Discuss career development


People want to know that they have opportunities to progress, grow, challenge themselves and thrive with your company – so your employee performance review is the perfect time to discuss this. Ask them:


  • What are their hopes for the future?
  • Are they happy in their current role?
  • Could they benefit from further training? If so, in which specific areas?


It’s important for you to know whether your staff members are happy. If they feel their role has stagnated with few opportunities for growth, they may well leave. Everybody wants to feel they have clear scope for progression.


If a staff member does come to you with a plan for how they’d like to progress, the worst thing you can do is ignore it and simply say ‘no sorry, that’s no possible right now.’ Granted, you won’t be able to offer everything to everyone; if the opportunity doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist.


But you should try to think of other ways to offer them more responsibility, training, and development. Show them that you do value them and want to keep them around.


Practice the art of active listening


Don’t forget that a performance review is a two-way conversation. So make sure you are facilitating a dialogue and actually listening. Employees don’t want to receive a long monologue from you on all the areas they are lacking in. They want to feel like their point of view has been heard and actually been taken on board.


Here are 5 active listening techniques from Mind Tools you can use to become a more effective listener:


Pay Attention

Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Recognise that non-verbal communication also “speaks” loudly.


  • Look at the speaker directly.
  • Put aside distracting thoughts.
  • Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
  • “Listen” to the employee’s body language


Show That You’re Listening

Use your own body language and gestures to show you are engaged.


  • Nod occasionally.
  • Smile and use other facial expressions.
  • Make sure that your posture is open and interested.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and “uh huh”.


Provide Feedback

Our personal filters, assumptions, judgements, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect on what is being said and to ask questions.


  • Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is… ,” 
  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say… .” 
  • Summarise the speaker’s comments periodically.


Defer Judgment

Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.


  • Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
  • Don’t interrupt with counter arguments.


Respond Appropriately

Active listening is designed to encourage respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective.


  • Be candid, open and honest in your response.
  • Assert your opinions respectfully.
  • Treat the other person in a way that you think she would want to be treated.


Set some SMART goals


Any discussion on performance review tips wouldn’t be complete without a mention of SMART goals. The acronym is so widely used it’s almost become a cliché in the business world. But it persists for a reason, it’s useful and effective.


Goal setting is an integral part of the performance review process. So it’s important that any goals you do end up setting are SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, and time-based.


Before the review, thoroughly consider what your expectations are for the future, how they’ve improved so far and whether they actually have room for improvement.


You should also consider how you, as a manager, can support those new goals; could you offer more training, support or resources?


Ask about your own performance


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. Just ask the right questions:


  • Is there anything I can do to support you more?
  • Is there any training or guidance you’d like to take part in?
  • Is there anything you’re not happy about?


Keeping an open line of communication like this will help employees to feel valued, listened to and happier in their work environment. It also means they’ll approach you more readily in the future.


To reinforce this, you could also send out an anonymous employee satisfaction survey to your team. Here is some advice from the team at Officevibe on why such surveys are important.


Wrapping things up


After the performance review, its good practice to send out a summary of everything you discussed, particularly a list of the targets and goals you both agreed on.


This will give you both a guide for future reference and something you can use to assess performance at the next review. It’ll also help to iron out anything that may have been miscommunicated during your meeting.


Good luck!



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