A Guide to a Great Performance Review

Performance reviews are sometimes seen as time-consuming, demotivating, inaccurate, biased, and unfair. It’s time to change that narrative!

People are dissatisfied with performance reviews. Most CEOs think their current process doesn’t help identify top performers. Plus, only one in five employees agreed that their company’s practices motivated them. Performance reviews should be motivating, accurate, and fair. So, how can you make sure they end up that way?

First, you need to understand the purpose of a performance review:

  • Provide an accurate evaluation of job performance
  • Develop employees’ skills in line with job tasks

Research indicates that employees become high performers by identifying areas where they need to improve. Then they need to practice and evaluate those skills with performance feedback. Feedback should be constant, but performance reviews are one of the most important forms of feedback. We’ve created a guide for making the most out of them!

How should you prepare?

1. Make standards clear

In ongoing work with employees, clarify the standards by which their performance will be judged. Emphasize your expectations far ahead of time to avoid confusion. Your employees need to understand how they are being measured to optimize their performance.

2. Set aside ample time

Don’t rush through performance reviews. The topics covered are very important and take time to discuss. Set aside more time than you think you’ll need. It’s better to end the meeting early than to cut it short. Pick the date and time far enough in advance to have dedicated time to observe their behaviors and actions.

3. Reflect ahead of time

Once you’ve observed your employees, take time to reflect on the causes of their performance. If there are issues, is it a matter of motivation or ability? For those lacking motivation, think of ways you might be able to incentivize them to increase motivation. For those lacking certain capabilities, think of possible training and coaching options. Take time to reflect on how you can reward and retain your top performers, too!

What should you do during the review?

1. Convey positive intent

Performance reviews are for feedback that will help employees increase effectiveness and grow. The conversations shouldn’t be primarily centered around issues or concerns. Make sure you are highlighting the positives along with areas for improvement. Employees should be able to enter and leave the conversation feeling positive.

2. Be specific

Being specific with feedback will help your employees better understand their strengths and weaknesses. Overly general feedback can lead to defensiveness. Broad judgements don’t open the floor for discussion on what needs to change. Specify exactly what you mean and your employees are more likely to be open to your feedback.

 3. Talk about impact

Sometimes people are unaware of negative outcomes they caused. Let employees know the impact of their actions and behaviors. But keep in mind that people can’t change their personalities. Focus on what is within their control. Don’t forget to highlight the positive impact their actions and behaviors have, too!

4. Ask for responses

Effective performance reviews aren’t a one-way exchange. Rather than simply delivering advice and direction as a manager, ask your employees to respond. You may interpret things differently. Seeing their perspective will help you test your assumptions and reasoning. Plus, dialogue opens the discussion to possibly reveal how your management style, behaviors, or policies play a part in their performance.

5. Establish next steps

At the end, discuss next steps for both yourself as a manager and your employee. What strengths can the employee continue to capitalize on? Are there assets that will help the employee increase effectiveness in certain areas? What learning & development is needed? How will progress be measured? Make sure there are clear answers to these questions so your employees can move towards progress.

Now what?

1. Regularly follow up

Schedule regular follow-up meetings to check in on your employees’ progress. You can even set automated digital reminders of goals. Weekly nudges can be effective in helping people form new habits and improve behaviors. Make sure you provide regular feedback, whether it’s in person or virtually. That includes positive praise in addition to other constructive feedback.

2. Look for patterns

Continue observing your employees on a regular basis, too. If a pattern of issues persists, maybe you need to form a new action plan. It could be new coaching, transitioning an employee to a new role, or letting someone go. Give people a chance to improve, but at the end of the day, you may need to part ways with some individuals.


As a people leader, refine your performance review process. Create a template for planning, conducting, and repeating them. These conversations can be difficult, but very necessary. Find an effective structure that makes it easier for you and your employees!