July 9

Managers: Tips on how to deliver a constructive and productive performance review


Everyone is busy and as managers either prepare for or facilitate midyear or end of year performance reviews, extra stress can be added, especially if you manage a large team and have multiple reviews to facilitate.

However, providing constructive, honest performance reviews to your team is one of the most important elements of being a good manager. You and your teams’ success is reliant on the performance of each individual within your team.

Your team have worked hard for the year and deserve the time you take to document their accomplishments and provide honest and constructive feedback on how they can continue to evolve and progress in their careers.

Use these tips as you start your written & verbal communications to ensure you have productive sessions with each member of your team.

Important note: What is a small investment of your time will pay dividends with engaged, positive and productive members of your team.

No new information

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that an employee should not be hearing information for the first time as part of their performance review – unless it is brand new/recent information.
Performance reviews are meant to be a discussion about the performance to date – and there should be no surprises for the employee. It needs to be an amalgamation of all performance discussions and feedback for the given period.

Whilst formal mid-year and year-end reviews are in place, this does not mean that these are the only time employees should receive feedback. Feedback should be provided on a regular basis throughout the year, either formally or informally. It needs to be provided on a real-time basis to provide employees with the opportunity to grow & improve.

Goal Setting is key

Your employees need to know exactly what expectations you have of them, and what KPIs can they use to assess their performance. You need to make clear exactly how you will evaluate the employee’s performance. The more objective you can make these KPIs, the more consistent your feedback will be.

Avoid what is called the ‘horns or halo effect

Everything that will be discussed in the meeting involves positive and negative recent events. Recent events have the potential to colour your judgement of their performance. Feedback should be spread across the entire period of time that the performance review covers.

Solicit Feedback from colleagues

Feedback from colleagues who have worked closely with the employee is very important. You may have a formal 360 feedback process or you may need to implement one to gather accurate feedback. Take 360 feedback in context, one piece of negative feedback should not be the focus, nor should one positive. It gives people the opportunity to use this process as a vendetta or to voice negative opinions about people they do not like. As the manager, you should be focused on finding themes and trends within the feedback.

Prepare for the discussion

As you have a difficult conversation that you are preparing for, it is recommended that you consult with your colleagues in HR or more experienced managers when navigating the best way to approach the review. Do not shy away from difficult conversations. In the short term, this can be an easy approach, but, you are doing your employee a disservice by not tracking any performance issues head-on. In addition, in the longer term, the whole team will be impacted by this approach.

Setting the tone

To have a productive conversation, the tone is vital. Often these conversations take the same approach…compliments, criticism, more compliments. This approach often leaves an employee feeling confused as there is no clear message. This one size fits all approach will leave your top performers feeling demoralised and your employees who need improvement confused as the constructive feedback may not have been highlighted effectively. For your top performers, you should focus on the positive feedback, with some goals to work on. For any underperformers, you need to make it very clear that they are not meeting expectations and outline a plan to aid their development. Don’t sugarcoat your feedback as this is not helpful to anyone involved in the process.

Take cultural differences into account

Feedback can be delivered and received in different ways in different countries. In the UK and Ireland, constructive feedback tends to be delivered in a more subtle manner, and in the US feedback tends to be delivered in a more direct manner. Ensure you understand your audience and adapt your style to achieve the best results. Your responsibility is to ensure that both of you leave the meeting on the same page.

Build trust

To effectively improve performance, your employee has to trust that you want to help them, and are in this with them.. Respond openly and honestly to all questions raised.

Start with the positive

Always start with the positive aspects of their performance, which should take up the majority of the discussion.
If you have a situation where the majority of the time is spent on negative feedback, it should be dealt with earlier in the year, and potentially in conjunction with HR outside the formal review process.

Motivate your employees

As a manager, you want your employee motivated about their ability to contribute and grow within the organisation. Ask them questions – what are their aspirations? Map out how they can achieve this.

Stay away from generic language

Certain generic language, such as, you need to be more proactive, or you need to be more assertive can contribute negatively towards instilling a growth mindset for the employee in question. Instead, use examples such as;
You need to take the initiative when you are following up potential sales leads or when you are presenting at meetings you need to be more prepared about the key points you need to make.

Hot button issues

Keep in mind that the hot button issues will likely come up – money and rank. If you can, you should always separate the conversation about compensation from the performance discussion.
Knowing your employees and having regular discussions during the year will help you ascertain which employees will expect conversations around titles or rank, and also those that you want to be proactive about these conversations.

Make the hard calls

Many companies now have rankings of 1-5 within the performance review process. As the manager of the team, you are going to have to make some hard calls, especially if you are working to a bell curve.
A 3 in the corporate world means you are meeting all expectations. Telling someone they are meeting all expectations is a positive statement, but a 3 rating can be perceived as a negative grade. It is your responsibility to clearly communicate and outline what additional work would be required to receive a higher grade.

Do not focus on traits

The focus should be placed on behaviour and results. Behaviours being actions that you specifically observed, such as they responded to all the emails. they presented on the team call etc. Results should be quantifiable.

Ensure you manage your own unconscious biases

While all of us would like to believe we have no bias, conscious or unconscious, research shows this is not the case. Being aware that you will have unconscious biases is the first step, which needs to be followed by action that helps nullify a subjective performance review.

Once you have completed all written reviews take the time to compare like for like performances and ensure the feedback provided and language used to do so is consistent across gender, race, sexuality, nationality, etc.

Research shows that women are 1.4 times are likely to receive critical subjective feedback (as opposed to either positive feedback or critical objective feedback). This research continues to show that women often get less constructively critical feedback, which in turn can lead to vague feedback.
The final part of this research shows that women’s performances are more likely attributed to characteristics such as luck, or their ability to spend long hours in the office, rather than their abilities and skills. This often results in credit for work not being given or acknowledged.

As a manager, there is a huge opportunity to change this dynamic and ensure consistent feedback across your entire team.


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  1. Very good post. Id like to use some of this information on my blog if you dont mind, and Ill provide a link back to your site. Ill also be subscring to your blogs RSS feed.

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