How to carry out team performance reviews effectively

Male and female discussing something in a meeting whilst holding a piece of paper

Giving performance reviews can be tough. Our guide contains tips on making performance reviews positive and beneficial for everyone involved.

Whether you’re conducting them or on the receiving end, performance reviews can be tough for all involved, despite their best intentions. For a manager, no matter how experienced, they can be one of the hardest parts of assuming such a role, while hearing negative feedback about your performance is always going to sting.

Nevertheless, they remain an important part of the workplace, even if they are frequently mishandled. Integral to the growth of your team, getting performance reviews right is key, and can lead to more motivated employees and greater productivity.

However, making sure everyone’s time is well spent is easier said than done. For both first-time managers and experienced leaders, this extensive resource serves to turn your performance reviews into a positive experience that can be of benefit for everyone.

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What is a performance review?

Before the review

During the review

After the review

What is a performance review?

Before we jump into the methods and approaches you can use to improve the process, here’s a definition (or refresher, depending on your experience) to get started. Perhaps the most important thing is to not lose track of what a performance review entails.

Performance reviews are a conversation between a manager and employee about the latter’s performance, development and growth. Crucially, it is not a takedown of the employee, but rather a critical element of a business’ overall performance management strategy, where the focus should be driving and improving their future performance.

So, with that in mind, here is our guide on how to help you carry out team performance reviews in a more effective manner.

ceo talking to an employee

Before the review

Understanding what goes into a performance review

By carrying out performance reviews, you can effectively engage and motivate employees. Done wrong, however, and employees can feel more disengaged than ever, leading to a decrease in performance.

From the outset, it’s a good idea to conduct multiple reviews a year. A lot can change in a year, and one end of year review is not enough. Quarterly, or even monthly, performance reviews can help to maintain communication as employees go through potential changes. Additionally, this keeps everyone on the same page regarding goals, progress and performance.

While this might seem excessive and a big drain on your time, by dint of their frequency, they needn’t be long, extensive meetings, but quick catch-ups that alert you to any potential problems.

Additionally, performance reviews should be engaging, with both parties invested in proceedings equally. Know that the review should promote trust, ease anxiety, make things clear and demonstrate alignment, touching on the following:

• Career growth and development

• Engagement challenges

• Alignment with organisational goals

• Changes or key messages from senior leadership

• Recognition

• Peer feedback

• Customer feedback

Remember not to centre things on the past too much. Employees can become unengaged by focussing on what can’t be changed. Instead, try to focus on the future; this is what employees can shape moving forward.

And don’t forget, performance reviews may cause undue anxiety. You can reduce this by bringing employees into the process early on, getting them involved in the preparation and planning stage. The clearer the agenda, the more they’ll know what to expect.

Outlining your agenda

Both the manager and employee should work together to prepare a shared agenda and notes with salient talking points. Rather than going into things ill-prepared, both parties should come equipped with material to create a meaningful conversation about performance.

employee in performance review meeting

Not only will the employee know what to expect, but it also provides them with ample opportunity to contribute, too. Additionally, it ensures you can actively listen as opposed to merely talking at length.

Also, don’t forget to include information on time, date and location in the agenda.

Choose an appropriate venue

Creating a vibe with the venue you choose is important, too. Opt for somewhere with minimal noise where you know your employee will be comfortable. Somewhere that’s buzzing with activity and conversation will leave them prone to distractions, and won’t be conducive to a strong performance review.

During the review

Ask the right questions

Part of ensuring the review is a two-way process is asking the right questions; they’ll keep you focused on the most important topics and can result in honest, real feedback from employees. A performance review shouldn’t be a formality – use it as an opportunity to create actionable means to improve performance. You might want to consider asking some of the following questions, for instance:

• What are you most proud of?

• What goals would you like to set or accomplish in the next 6 months?

• Is there anything you feel that’s standing in the way of progression?

• How do you feel your performance has impacted on the business?

• In what ways can I improve as a manager?

• How often would you like to receive feedback?

Two smartly dressed male employees sat in arm chairs discussing something in front of a laptop screen on the table

An evaluation mindset can make employees feel judged. Asking the right questions works towards developing a collaborative approach as they’re invited to contribute to the conversation. From here, you can identify and guide them in achieving their goals.

Use language carefully

The way you express yourself carries a lot of weight, both positive and negative. The words you choose can motivate employees as much as they can disengage, so be mindful of what you say. Keep in mind the below, for instance:

Avoid making comparisons to other employees. Instead, they should be measured against their past performance. ‘Absolute’ words, such as never and always, can harm morale; no one ever does something all the time, and your employee is sure to feel they’re being criticised unfairly.

Conversely, the opposite is also a no-no. Simply saying how well an employee has performed throughout the year and leaving no room for improvement is a bad idea. It shows the employee that you haven’t been paying attention; they’ll expect to hear areas they need to do better in.

Similarly, specificity will be appreciated. Avoid empty generalities; employees want to know where and why they succeeded and fell short, but remember to always be constructive in the case of the latter. Treat good performance with respect rather than begrudging admiration, and remember it’s not the person you’re reviewing, but how they tackle their duties.

Listen actively

By creating a dialogue during the review, you’ll be expected to listen to what your employee has to say, rather than merely paying lip service to equal talking time. Continue to ask questions to go deeper into specific questions and listen to what they have to say rather than formulating an answer while your employee is speaking.

young man smiling at female sitting across from him.

After they’ve shared feedback, repeat back what was said, as this will allow you to check that you understood them and were actively listening to them. Your employee will be appreciative of and encouraged by such acts.

Review the behaviours, not the traits

A common but perhaps unsurprising error is attempting to evaluate traits such as leadership, motivation, attitude and so on. The issue here is that these are internal and subjective, which makes them very difficult to evaluate on a fair basis.

Instead of traits, focus on looking at the employee’s behaviours and results. The former are qualitative things that can easily be observed around the office, while results are quantitative things like achieving sales quotas, increasing productivity, and reducing waste. These provide solid evidence of their work that you can ground your reviews in, whether you’re commenting positively or constructively on them.

Agree upon the next steps

At the end of the conversation, managers and employees should review their notes, define the next steps to take, and provide any necessary feedback. A review doesn’t just end when both people leave the room; there has to be goals and steps that you can put into action so employees can work towards improving their performance.

Both of you should leave the meeting with items on their to-do list. They don’t have to be especially long or equal, but things that are achievable and can be of value in the future are essential.

Male and female having a one on one conversation in an office

After the review

Maintain the momentum

Additionally, once a meeting has concluded, put the next performance review in each other’s calendar. Whenever you’ve planned to hold your reviews, a degree of regularity shows your employees how invested you are in their continued development.

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