Getting Performance Reviews Right – For Managers

Performance reviews are a critical tool for every manager. They are even more critical in the forced remoteness of COVID-19. Getting it right takes a lot of effort and careful thought and you can’t wait until the last minute to start. We’ll walk you through what you need to do and think about to create valuable and helpful performance reviews:

Start Preparing Early

It’s time to start your performance review now, not the day before. There are few things less valuable to you or your employee than a poorly prepared performance review. It’s a waste of time – for you and your employee. It comes across as superficial and rushed and the employee is unlikely to take anything constructive away from it. So start early. By that, I mean start noting good and not-so-good things you want to discuss with your employee. You can create an email folder in Outlook and save anything you think would be helpful performance review material in that folder. When the time comes to start putting the formal review document together, you will have plenty of material to include. You should also have a copy of the employee’s resume in your materials so you can remember their background and work history (it’s surprising helpful it can be). By starting early, you will have time to refine the document, add to it, or whatever is needed to make sure the document you hand to the employee is useful and well written. Your goal is to have the final appraisal written at least two days before the review meeting.

Be Clear and Direct

Clear Communication
Clear Communication

The worst thing to deal with for an employee is vague feedback (or no feedback at all). Employees want to know what they are doing wrong or could do better so they can change it. Not addressing the issues directly and clearly is probably where most performance reviews fail. Managers don’t want to come across as the “bad guy,” so they tiptoe around these difficult conversations, thinking that if they just hint at a problem, the employee will somehow get their act together and get on with solving it. In the history of employee management, that has never happened. If there is something that needs to be worked on or changed, just tell them. Be fair (and never condescending or confrontational). Give an example or two of what they did and how they could do better. Performance appraisals are not really about evaluating people but about evaluating results.

Behaviors Are as Important as Accomplishments

An employee’s behavior is just as important as evaluating their performance. Don’t forget to do both. Not only is the completion of tasks very important but also how they are done. Right or wrong behavior can significantly impact a department, even if it is just one person. Every leader should determine the key behaviors that they believe make an employee successful. As a leader, find your success factors or key behaviors and use them to energize your team and give them a clear path to getting great things done.

No Surprises

If it’s going to be a tough review for someone, it shouldn’t be surprising to the employee. If there was something to worry about in terms of surprises because of an issue that needed fixing, you should have discussed the problem long before this meeting. In other words: If someone is underperforming, you should already be talking to them and working on the problem. Unless it just happened yesterday, a performance review shouldn’t be the first time someone learns about serious performance problems. This is highly unfair and unproductive.

Let Them Evaluate Themselves


This one is a little controversial but it might be a good idea to ask the employee to rate their critical behaviors and specific accomplishments. Most will be honest about where they outperformed and where they failed. The odds are good that their view and yours be the same or come close. And if it is not the case, you can spend more time focusing and discussing the gaps. Oddly enough, you’ll probably find that your top performers rate themselves lower than you do and the opposite is true for the weaker employees.


Let us know in the comment section how you prepare a performance review as a manager.

You may also like