Performance Reviews Don’t Have to Suck

by Alli Polin on February 19, 2013

performance reviews don't have to suck

If there’s one thing that people hate, it’s performance review time.  Managers complain that they don’t have time to document and deliver reviews and too many people feel like it’s a necessary evil instead of focused on their professional development.  To say the least, it’s not a joy for HR to track and manage either.  Sadly, reviews delivered annually, or even quarterly are little more than a time sink in most companies.  They suck because they’re more about process than the person. 

The secret to making the performance review process suck less and inspire more is to facilitate, not deliver, the performance review.  It’s a two-way conversation between two professionals – not a boss reading from a document and telling someone how they performed while they sit, listen, and “take it” in silence.

Hello, Mr. Manager!  If your team member is failing, poor ratings and pointing your finger at them and their failings won’t make things better.  Be a leader!  Coach, mentor and take responsibility for supporting their success, not simply pointing out their failures in the review. 

Yes, reviews do need to documented and there are some great platforms that are changing the game, like Work Simple.  Get out of the mindset it’s an annual or quarterly process and make performance feedback an everyday process.  There are no surprises with what’s documented when people know where they stand day-to-day.

When managers do sit down with people for a focused performance management conversation, here’s a three-step approach to the Performance Review conversation that will make it less of a formality and a more interactive experience.

1.  Look back:

  • What were your highs?
  • What were your lows?
  • What were your biggest surprises?
  • What one thing stands out to you as your biggest accomplishment?
  • What do you wish you had known that you know now?

2.  Look forward:

  • What are you goals for this coming months in your current position?
  • What skills do you want to build on?
  • Where do you want to take your career beyond your current role?
  • What advice do you have for me and for the leadership team that will make you more successful?
  • How can I help you?

3.  Acknowledge the person, not only the work effort:

  • You are _____________________
  • You bring _____________________
  • You inspire _____________________
  • What I appreciate about you is _____________________

Deliver a Performance Review like a Coach, not a Boss:

  • Set up ground rules at the start of the conversation.  Agree to both be active participants in the dialogue and reflection.
  • Agree that both of you will lean into the relationship and conversation instead of putting up walls and boundaries that keep things “safe” at a high level.
  • Accept that you don’t have to know all the answers but ask smart questions to discover them together.
  • Listen to what’s spoken and unspoken.
  • Acknowledge who they are, not only what they accomplished.

If you are the on the receiving end of the review, you’re not off the hook.  Performance reviews that are done to you need to be a thing of the past.  Empower yourself as an active participant in the conversation.  Don’t go into it with dread and the attitude that you just need to suck it up and get it done.  Silence doesn’t’ lead to understanding, growth, development or inspired action.  It’s about you!  There is no room to be passive about your career. 

What are some of your personal best practices when it comes to Performance Reviews?  What was your most positive experience?  Did you have a Performance Review conversation that missed the mark?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

(Photo credit)

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber-Lee Dibble February 19, 2013 at 8:57 pm

This is a wonderful post for me as I am the newbie as it pertains to writing the performance reviews for the State of Alaska Guide Board.

I feel like I had an advantage as most of what I learned to be in this position was actually learned here, online, through people like you, Alli and other great leaders explaining the steps and the points to consider and the negatives to avoid.

So thank you.


alli February 19, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Thank you, Amber-Lee! I love that you live leadership in action every single day… performance reviews are an extension of who you are and your team is lucky to have you on their side.

Many thanks for your kind feedback!


Alice Chan February 19, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Alli, reading your post brings back memories of my former life as a manager. Your approach resonates with me, because I really see reviews as “How can I help you develop your professional skills and your career in such a way that is a win-win for you and the company?” That was the former educator and coach-at-heart running the reviews, as my passion has always been in helping people be the best they want to be.
As always, appreciate your thoughtful, practical insights!


alli February 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Alice – I share your passion for helping people to be the best they want to be! Performance reviews that just rattle off a history of work delivered miss the opportunity for win-win and leveraging the opportunity for shared success. Many thanks for your comments!


Jon Mertz February 20, 2013 at 7:08 am

Great reminders, Alli. Annual performance reviews should not contain surprises. Feedback needs to be given along the way, including positive behaviors and results and ways to improve in areas where needed. It makes annual reviews more of a time to focus more on the year ahead and two-way feedback. I always ask what I can do better or differently, too. Annual reviews should be open conversations. Thanks! Jon


alli February 20, 2013 at 7:11 am

Your team is lucky to have you, Jon! Agree with all of your points. Nobody should ever walk into an annual review and wonder where they stand. Feedback and coaching throughout the year isn’t something to do only when someone is having issues but a great way to reinforce and increase personal and team success. Thanks so much, Jon!


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