How to conduct successful performance reviews

By Paul Slezak - Jun. 21, 2012
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How to run a successful performance review

It’s coming up to that time of the year again.

While there’s plenty of advice out there for employees on how to prepare for their mid-year or annual performance reviews, it’s just as important for employers to prepare for the process as well.

Even in small businesses and start-ups, employees expect to have some kind of formal review and they respect employers and managers who put an effort into reviewing their performance and show an interest in their career development.

With that in mind, here are some tips for employers and managers on how to prepare for and conduct a successful  performance review.

Position description

Each employee should have a comprehensive position description that details the duties of their position and the standards they are expected to achieve. This should have been issued when they first came on board and you should both have a copy of it, to be referred to, if necessary, during the review.


This is a self-appraisal form that should be filled out by the employee prior to their review. The purpose of this is to gather as much extra information as possible about the employee and to assess how they see themselves and their performance within the company.

Examples of pre-appraisal questions could include:

  • What have been your key accomplishments over the last six months and what are the areas that you are disappointed in or concern you most?
  • In relation to communication with your manager what has worked well so far and what do you want to change moving forward?
  • In relation to time management, what have you done that has made a difference to your effectiveness in your role?
  • What are your top four priorities for the next 3 – 6 months?
  • In relation to your personal strengths and weaknesses, what skills have you developed or what competencies have you improved or added to your role in the last six months?
  • What are you offering to the business now that you were not offering six months ago?
  •  In general is there anything about the business that you would like to see improved?

Pre-appraisal documents allow employees to come better prepared to their review, by making them think about relevant issues beforehand. They also help to make them feel part of the overall review process.


These are critical. As a manager or business owner, you should send out pre-appraisal documents three to four weeks ahead and your employee should have their responses back to you at least one week before the scheduled review. This gives you ample time to prepare your own comments and areas for discussion.


Make sure you allow enough time for the appraisal to be conducted properly and choose a private location, where you will not be interrupted by phone calls or other work-related distractions even if this means away from the office. Try to put the employee at ease by having an informal chat beforehand and keep the review as non-intimidating as possible. Having a positive atmosphere is more likely to produce positive communication.


Start with the positives – things they have achieved and are doing well in the performance of their role. Offer praise where it is due and, if this is not their first review, discuss the areas where they have improved since the last review.

Then move on to any negatives – areas where their performance may be lacking or where goals that were set in the last review have not been achieved. Remember to always be as specific as possible by pointing to actual instances where they have not been performing, rather than generalising and risking confusion, which can lead to defensiveness.

Ask for feedback

Let them suggest how they might improve their own performance and ask them what you can do to help them achieve this. This might include further training, or perhaps altering some aspect of their job.

Set goals and make sure they agree with them

Get a commitment from them that they will try their best to improve. If their performance has been good, discuss ways they can improve even more in the six months ahead. Write these goals down and get the employee to sign the completed appraisal form.

End on a positive note

Whether it is a good or a poor review, let them know that you are on their side and will do all you can to help them meet the objectives that have been mutually agreed upon.

Follow up

This is the most important step. If you have agreed to help an under-performer, make sure that you do so. Talk to their supervisor or take it upon yourself to initiate whatever steps you discussed with them to help them perform better.

This is not only for the employee’s benefit, but also to protect you. If you are forced to terminate the employee further down the track and you have not given them the opportunity to improve their performance, you may be open to a claim of unfair dismissal.

A performance review helps you to achieve the following:

  • Identify and monitor over and under-achieving employees;
  • Structure future training programmes and possible future roles;
  • Provide both praise and constructive criticism in a neutral environment;
  • Clearly communicate your expectations to employees; and
  • Motivate employees to greater efforts on the company’s behalf.

When well prepared for and properly conducted, a performance review indicates to your employees your professionalism, your appreciation of their contribution and your desire to see them improve and grow within the company.

It also allows you to see which of your employees are making the most valuable contribution and which, if any, are letting the side down – useful information to have in today’s tough business climate, where every dollar must count.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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