Company Culture

​​5 Tips for Effective Performance Reviews


Written by James Berenback • October 19, 2023

​​5 Tips for Effective Performance Reviews

Receiving feedback is hard — heck, giving feedback is hard too. Whether you’re giving feedback as part of an annual review process or because you need to address problematic performance, having these types of conversations comes with challenges. Many managers find performance reviews to be stressful, particularly in anticipation.

Here are five tips for effective performance reviews to make these conversations easier, both for you and the teammate receiving feedback.

Prepare for the conversation

If you know that a performance review is coming up for one of your teammates — or if you realize that you’ll need to step in with feedback based on low performance — preparing for the conversation can result in more effective communication and a more empathetic response.

To prepare, be thoughtful about your response. Spend time thinking about your teammate’s work and come up with examples of both their successes and their challenges. Having specific examples to refer to means that you won’t need to brainstorm during the conversation. Even if you don’t mention each one of the examples you prepare, these examples can be a useful way of evaluating performance.

Having a detailed framework of expectations and performance can also be a good way to prepare for this type of conversation. Giving your teammate a rubric or position description ahead of the conversation means that they, too, can prepare, leading to a more effective conversation.

Don’t forget the positives

Even if the performance review is the result of low performance, don’t forget to bring up the positives about your teammate’s work. Sandwiching constructive feedback between examples of a person’s good work can be a helpful way of keeping the conversation empathetic and personable. Performance reviews are serious conversations that are generally quite emotionally impactful, and leaving the conversation on a positive note can make all of the difference.

As a way of injecting positive feedback into a performance review, try using some of these phrases:

  • “Look, I know how challenging this work can be, and I’m really grateful that you tackle these challenges head on.”
  • “That being said, I notice how hard you work and that’s something I really appreciate about you.”
  • “I like how open you are about what’s happening for you, I think your willingness to be vulnerable with the rest of the team is a big strength you bring.”
  • “Thank you for being open to this conversation, I really appreciate you listening and talking with me. I’ve enjoyed working alongside you and look forward to the next quarter.”

Be curious

During the performance review, it can be helpful to frame the conversation around exploration and curiosity. Asking about their experiences or their reactions to your constructive feedback can be a good way to open up the conversation, making it less about a checklist of how good their work is and more a dialogue that can naturally flesh out ways they can improve.

When you ask your teammate a question or encourage them to reflect, give them time to offer a complete response. Silence can be uncomfortable but sometimes conversations need space to grow, otherwise your teammate might not have the chance to communicate their full thoughts or feelings.

Show overall impact of actions

As a way to illustrate how your teammate’s performance can improve, you can frame their performance around the impact of their work. If their performance needs improvement, you might consider talking to them about how their work impacts other people on the team, the overall efficiency of company processes, or the quality of work delivered to clients.

By showing a larger context for your teammate’s work, you can communicate the stakes that exist when it comes to meeting expectations. When someone understands that the quality of their work has a larger impact down the line, they might become innately motivated to improve their work, particularly if their work impacts other people.

Set a cadence for checking in

Lastly, to have an effective performance review, offer to continue the conversation. You can offer to check in about your teammate’s performance in a matter of weeks, once a quarter, or however often you think would be helpful. Leaving the performance review with an invitation to keep talking communicates that you’ll continue to support them to improve their work. This also gives you more opportunities to reinforce your feedback, in the event that your teammate’s work doesn’t improve.

Following these five tips can help you take performance reviews to the next level. Be sure to focus on clear communication using direct language, but don’t forget to show compassion and empathy during these conversations. And after you wrap up the meeting, be sure to take a big deep breath to destress!