How to rock performance reviews

August 22, 2023
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How to rock performance reviews

Employee evaluations, performance reviews, yearly appraisals – these events have many names, but they all boil down to the same purpose. We do them to ensure people know how they are doing and have a clear path to succeed.


At their best, performance reviews feel motivating and aligning, at their worst they feel performative and punitive. Remembering why you do performance reviews can keep you on the right track. Remember that performance reviews should provide:

  • Reflection: both manager and direct report can reflect on and discuss the team member’s performance relative to previous expectations
  • Alignment: they can align on expectations and commit to action moving forward
  • Motivation: the manager can motivate around the importance of the work and how it ties to overall company goals
  • Opportunity: the manager can indicate where there are opportunities to grow and progress in the coming cycle


At first glance, the role of a manager can seem entirely interaction-based – conducting 1 on 1s, hosting team meetings, coaching, and delivering reviews. However, great management requires a significant amount of work behind the scenes, in preparation. Follow these steps to best prepare for your next performance review.

Set aside 1 hour to write per review and get focused

  • Set a timer, shut down communication tools, and close out browser tabs.
  • Gather relevant materials – expectations/goals, 360 degree feedback, self-reflections, dashboards, internal skill/leveling/performance rubrics.

Focus on quality over quantity.

  • Longer does not mean better either. Focus on the quality and clarity of the review rather than the length.

Book 1 hour on the calendar to deliver the review with 15 minutes before and after blocked for yourself.

  • Use the 15 minute blocks to prepare beforehand and wrap up action items afterward.

Spend time upfront reviewing expectations for the period.

  • Ensure the feedback you provide is a reaction to the expectations of the role.

Outline your main points and then get specific

  • Bullet point the top performance wins and misses relative to expectations.
  • Bullet point the 2-3 strengths and 2-3 weaknesses you observed.
  • Now go back and add in details.
  • Feedback should be specific and point to clear impact: what did the person do in a specific situation and what was the impact?

Remember the power of the positive.

  • As a manager, our job is to 10x people’s strengths. Positive feedback is the strategic power of great managers.


How you show up for the performance review can matter just as much as the content itself. Use these pro-tips to show up in a way you are proud of.

Close out distractions

  • Shut off Slack, extra tabs, email or anything that could be distracting.
  • Put your phone in your pocket.
  • Be there 100% for your people.

Hold a two way conversation

  • Ensure your direct report is part of the conversation.
  • Ask for their thoughts on the performance period, pause for questions and ensure you check for alignment throughout the discussion.

Spend at least half the time on the go-forward plan

  • Far too often we spend the majority of our time looking back during reviews.
  • While this reflection is important, far more important is how we are moving forward and setting our people up for future success.

Use this agenda:

Check in

  • Start this meeting like you would any other. Have a human moment. Check in on how their day/week is going.

Reminder of your role

  • State that your job is to help the person succeed in their role and that this is an important investment in their development and for you both to reflect, align, and look ahead.

Get to the punch line

  • State how you assessed their performance and with the appropriate emotion.
  • Explain that you will now walk through expectations, each of your thoughts on their performance, and the path ahead.

Review of expectations

  • Do a quick review of what was expected over the past time period.
  • There should already be 100% alignment here so no need to spend much time.
  • If there is not alignment, focus more time here on where the disconnect occurred and how to ensure alignment moving forward.

Direct report – reflection

  • Ask your direct report to reflect on their performance.
  • Did they not meet, meet or exceed the goals set out?
  • Is there context to be aware of
  • What are they most proud of

Manager – reflection

  • Share your reflection of their performance.


  • Pause for questions.

Go forward plan and action items

  • Create this together. Align on expectations.
  • Talk about their career goals and what you will do to support those goals.
  • End the conversation with concrete action items you both commit to in order to support their growth and success.


After the review is when the real work begins – the follow through. As a manager, your job is to set people up for success. The review creates a baseline with clear expectations and a motivating go-forward plan. Now it is up to you and your direct report to put it into action.

Write it down

  • Ensure the review, expectations and go-forward plan are in writing and in a place you and your direct report can easily reference.
  • A good idea is to link the review at the top of your 1 on 1 document.

Agree on clear action items

  • Write down who is doing what and by when.
  • Follow up on your commitments.

Set calendar reminders

  • Set calendar reminders to reference the performance review 1x per quarter.
  • Also, be sure to check in on the completion of agreed-to action items.


The most important part of a performance review is to remember your role as a manager – to set your people up for success. Remembering this and using the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be sure to show up for yourself and your people in a way to be proud of.

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