Top 10 tips for holding effective performance reviews

Laughing in a catch up

Employee performance reviews are a key part of any development strategy, encouraging reflection on challenges as well as celebration of successes. We recommend that leaders and managers hold performance reviews with their teams regularly, but typically people hold larger and more detailed conversations at the end of the year. Because of the infrequency of these larger reviews, it can be a hard skill to master and that’s why we’ve asked Key Account Director Christian Thing for his top 10 tips for holding effective performance reviews.

Performance Review Tips

1: Share the format with the employee

A performance review is not in itself a performance, and as such you should avoid creating a pressurised environment that employees feel they simply need to ‘get through’ rather than learn from. Studies show that simply saying “let me give you some feedback” creates a threat response in the brain that is experienced in the same way as a threat to our survival. Sharing the performance review format in advance can help to reduce uncertainty and stress for an employee, ultimately leading to a better conversation with the potential for real takeaways.

2: Prepare the right performance review questions

A performance review is not like a film review where the critic simply broadcasts their opinion on strengths and weaknesses; it is an exercise in reflection and setting goals accordingly. Questions should lead an employee to reconsider his/her own choices and behaviours, judging them from the perspective of how they supported the achievement of individual and team goals. In order to inspire the best possible conversation, try to ensure that performance review questions are open ended, such as:

• What do you need to learn, re-learn and un-learn in order to improve your performance?

• What needs to be true to develop your performance levels even more?

• Is the current balance between support and challenge the right one for you?

3. Get different opinions

Gathering data from multiple perspectives allows for a great performance review. When you are reviewing someone’s performance, ensure that you don’t only offer your opinion. Ask other colleagues who have worked closely with the individual to review their performance and develop your feedback by encompassing this information. However, make sure you don’t just use these other opinions as a way of driving home your own or the reviewee may feel attacked.

4. Connect on a personal level

Performance reviews should be kept conversational to encourage the individual to be open and honest leading to a more constructive outcome. Plus, the more enjoyable the conversation is, the less it will feel like a box ticking exercise. Rather than diving straight into feedback for the individual, consider connecting on a personal level first. Perhaps ask, how’s their life outside of work? Or, what interesting things have they done since you last spoke?

5. Listen

It’s easy to jump straight into how you are thinking and feeling about the individual’s performance. An important part of this review is to hear what they are thinking and how they think their year has gone. Ask questions that encourage the individual to give their own assessment of their performance. Find out what they’ve learnt, development activities they’ve undertaken, their highs and their lows, etc. By listening to them you can ensure that your feedback is constructive as you can focus on the development areas of which they are less aware.

6. No surprises

Managers who run effective performance reviews ensure that they contain are no surprises. You shouldn’t bring in any new information. Instead, you should use the conversation to summarise and confirm all the feedback that’s been given during the year and point out what they bring to their role that is unique. This highlights the importance of not saving all your feedback for the end of the year but rather regularly reviewing behaviour.

7. Avoid the ‘feedback sandwich’

Don’t rely on the ‘feedback sandwich’, where a piece of criticism is softened by sandwiching it between two positive messages. The sandwich method may have been an industry secret in the past, but nowadays people understand how it works and they know the ultimate point is to deliver criticism, so they disregard the compliment as insincere or just part of the process.

8. Be Specific

Broad feedback is of little use when setting next year’s goals so make sure that you are specific with the advice you give. Great feedback should review specific behaviours and open a discussion on what the individual can do to improve that behaviour.

9. Have a future focus

The importance of reflecting on the year’s progress is so that suitable goals can be set for the following year. Spend time focusing on the coming year and what development they should achieve. You should think about how the individual can reach these goals and how you can support them.

10. Don’t just give it, receive it

As a leader, you play a vital role in the working lives of those you lead. Your behaviours and attitudes will influence how they perform and what they achieve. It is, therefore, important to take time at the end of the conversation to explore how they felt about your support this year. Did you provide everything they expected? Think about and discuss with them what they need from you in the coming year to help them achieve their goals.


Make your performance reviews productive and successful by incorporating some of these top tips. Reviewing performance is an important step in an individual’s development and by giving these conversations the attention they deserve you will ensure that your people continue to excel in the future.

Although it is often hard to find the time for performance reviews throughout the year, we believe that there is real value in holding regular feedback sessions. As you review this year’s performance and plan for next year, consider increasing the regularity of these conversations to make the next end-of-year performance review even more meaningful.

If you want to know more about performance reviews, check out our webinar on the subject.

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