How to manage a performance review

6 min read  |   29 September, 2022   By Aimee Brougham-Chandler

Two colleagues are sat at a table near a window together with a laptop in front of them. One of the colleagues is having a performance review.

An effective performance review is two-way, honest and constructive. We all know what a good performance review feels like - but actually running one can sometimes be more difficult.

In this blog, we've collated tried-and-tested advice to help you plan and manage your performance reviews. Efficient, organised performance reviews help to keep teams motivated, empowered and engaged in their roles. From what to include to tips on how to make the most of your reviews, we've got it covered. 


How to approach a performance review

If you're unsure about what to start with when considering a performance review, you could start by thinking about how your employee works within the team. Do they suggest ideas for projects or objectives, and show autonomy?

Consider how well they meet deadlines and manage their workload, as well as how innovative they are in their approach to the job. Take all their responsibilities into consideration, along with any additional project work they might perform within the wider company. 

Here are a few pointers to consider when thinking about initially approaching a performance review:

  • Plan for action

Every good performance review has a clear set of next steps. Aim for an action plan, development plan and if necessary, new objectives, all with clear timescales which are documented and easily accessible to both parties.

Bear in mind that these next steps don’t need to be created in the performance review meeting itself. Your employee may need time to process the information you’ve shared with them.

  • Be clear & communicative

Successful performance reviews are focused conversations. As well as giving clear, honest feedback, it's a good idea to invite your employee to speak openly about how they feel about their performance, along with anything they've particularly enjoyed (or found challenging). 

You could also ask how often your employee would like feedback, and invite their thoughts on the review in general.

Ask your employee questions about how they best like to receive feedback and for their thoughts on the review process as a whole to make the most of the meetings. 

  • Follow up

Agreeing a follow-up meeting for development actions and new objectives can be a more practical – and less exhausting - alternative to squeezing everything into a single two-hour session.

Remind your employees that you're available for support when they need it at any time pre- (or post) review. 


Tips for managing a performance review

1. Allow enough time

Show your employees you care about their development by booking in enough time for their performance review. Anything less than an hour can mean a rushed appraisal and an unhappy employee.

Allow time for discussion, reflection and the inevitable questions. If you’re hosting a performance review with a particularly talkative team member, then book in more time.

It’s good practice to err on the side of caution and book in more time than you think you’ll need – that way you have a buffer should the conversation take an unexpected route.

2. Preparation is everything

Time spent preparing for a performance review is time well spent. As well as reviewing feedback and performance against results, spend time thinking about how your employee may react to some of the feedback and recommendations.

You could even potentially brainstorm questions they may have for you, to get ahead.

3. Set the tone

Beware of the ‘feedback sandwich’- compliments, perhaps a bit of criticism, followed by more niceties. This format feels too formulaic. Instead, encourage an open discussion. Asking employees to bring along their own suggestions for their own review is often a good idea. This way, you encourage autonomy but also encourages employees to think about their own achievements and areas of improvement.


4. Be honest

Make your comments as fair as you can- and be honest, whilst considering how any comments might be interpreted. Use examples of your employee’s work or behaviour over the period in review to back up what you’re saying.

Whilst honesty is always the best policy, you’ll need to ensure you maintain a high level of professionalism in your feedback.


5. Avoid surprises

A performance review works best when your employee knows what’s coming. Instead of feeling anxious, your employee can instead look forward to an open and helpful conversation about their development.

And the really good news? You’re probably already doing the work. By sharing feedback in weekly 121s or after relevant situations, you’re letting your employee know how they’re performing.

As well as being motivating in the case of positive feedback, ongoing feedback can help employees course-correct, improving their performance over the longer term.


6. Use self-assessment to simplify reviews

Self-assessment can be your greatest ally in an effective performance review. Ask your employee to complete a self-assessment before the review. You can then use it as the basis of your meeting, leading with their perception of their performance and behaviour.

This approach challenges your employee to look at their performance honestly and instils a sense of responsibility and accountability. It can also reduce the chance of uncomfortable conversations – most people are harder on themselves than others are.

If there’s an objective that your employee hasn’t delivered against, leading with a self-assessment means they’ll mention their under-delivery before you do, making your job easier.
Employee performance evaluation form (1)


7. Incorporate a range of feedback

Performance reviews mean more when they include feedback from a range of individuals. 360-degree feedback can help create a more rounded and personalised review with feedback on areas they weren’t aware of.

Reflect on a longer period of time by making sure you're collating feedback throughout the year. Take time throughout the year to document positive/negative events.

This gives you a full picture of an employee’s performance across the year and helps prevent recent events dominating the appraisal. This in turn makes the review more meaningful and helpful – you can see how your employee has developed over time and include examples that cover a range of skills.

Gathering examples throughout the year shouldn’t need to be an extra task. If you’re holding regular one-to-ones then you’ll already have done the work.

Keep track of your one-to-one meetings with HR software and you’ll have a helpful source to use when it comes to compiling a formal performance review.

Breathe performance management user interface (1) (1)

8. Focus on the positive

Structure your employee’s performance review so that you spend more time on positive aspects than negative. This approach feels more rewarding and motivating and will help your employee feel appreciated.

It also allows you to add developmental feedback into the review as a next step, instead of as a criticism.

Here’s an example. You may have an employee who can come across as rude when he’s interrupted. Instead of telling him outright that people think he’s rude, you could praise his dedication to completing tasks and give him a next step which focuses on dealing with interruptions more positively.

8. Put yourself in their shoes

Remember it can take time for an employee to process unexpected feedback, or negative feedback, in the event that this is raised. Performance reviews can cause a number of emotions, such as panic and denial.

Be mindful of the potential for this and have strategies in place for keeping the focus on the review and any future actions.


9. Encourage collaboration

Encourage your employee to participate as much as possible in their performance review. A performance review is a two-way street and is as much about self-reflection and how the employee would like to progress and develop, as it is about the time period you're reviewing.

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Author: Aimee Brougham-Chandler

Aimee is a Content Assistant here at Breathe. She enjoys writing about topical HR issues & helping readers find solutions. In her spare time, she is commonly found amongst books.

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