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How to Run Meaningful Performance Reviews

With the year coming to an end and performance reviews right around the corner, managers and employees are getting ready to evaluate the past year and set new goals for the coming one. Managers dedicate an average of 210 hours a year to performance management according to a CEB survey, and some dread this activity.

Most managers believe that they have to choose between being focused on performance (highlighting objectives, goals, and desired outcomes) or focused engagement (focusing on energizing or motivating their team members) and have a hard time deciding which attitude to adopt. Gallup surveyed 8,000 employees and found that the highest performing managers are both performance and engagement focused. In fact, employees who work for a manager that helps them set clear goals are 17 times more likely to be engaged, and engaged employees are more likely to perform, delivering up to 21% higher profitability, and performance reviews can be a great opportunity for both developing strong personal connection and setting clear goals.

While last year's review likely had a looming sense of uncertainty, this year can be an optimistic time, as the world seemingly emerges from the global pandemic and organizations have a renewed sense of stability and potentially, a positive outlook on the year ahead. It's never been more important to reflect on what happened and what lies ahead with your team and we're here to help. We've outlined some tips to run meaningful performance review meetings with your remote or distributed team.

Preparing for the performance review call

Before you dive into the call, there are a few ways to ensure that both the manager and the employee have a shared understanding of the purpose of this meeting and come prepared to gain the most value out of the session.

Many perceive performance reviews as a confrontational moment, but really this should be a moment to grow and learn from each other and from the past as well as a moment to set ambitious goals for the future and discuss how you will help each other get there.


Performance reviews in distributed settings require as much coordination as any call, but given their importance, we suggest being even more deliberate about all the details needed to ensure the conversation flows without disruption.

Typically, performance reviews follow a regular cadence, and as they approach, we suggest sending a calendar invite preferably 1-2 weeks ahead, to give the employee ample time to prepare. It's important to include the agenda in the calendar invite and if possible ask your team member to make suggestions to the agenda if they have topics they would like to address that weren't already included. This allows both manager and team member to come prepared.

In your invitation, clearly outline what platform will be used and perhaps include some tips for how you are preparing to create the right conditions for this meeting. For example, you can explain that you will be by yourself in a quiet, discreet place, that you've instructed your family not to interrupt you, and that you will be taking a walk that morning to come with a clear mind.

Prep Work

Performance reviews should not be spontaneous. Both manager and employee should come prepared. Write down what you want to say, and if need be practice it with a trusted peer or someone from the HR team. What you say can often be overshadowed by how you say it, and what starts off as a compliment can quickly end up sounding hurtful if formulated badly.

No matter whether you are giving positive or negative feedback, make sure you have stories to illustrate each thought. If you have strong opinions or are unsure about something it's ok to consult peers and ask them to be your sounding boards, as long as you make the degree of confidentiality of the conversation clear to them.

During the call

Holding space for dialogue

These conversations are not a one way street. We encourage managers to be explicit about creating a safe space for open exchange and to let employees know that they are open to hearing feedback about their leadership skills or what an be improved in the company.

Ask open ended questions and proffer your own perspective when employees respond. It's also important to be vulnerable and open, to show that it is a safe space, one where they can share their thoughts openly.

Being Explicit

In virtual settings, nonverbal communication is difficult to re-create. That's why we suggest keeping your video on, so that the other person can read your facial expressions and reactions. We also recommend being explicit with your feedback, leaving little room for ambiguity.

If something is said that triggers a reaction or emotion in you, try to voice that to make sure the other person has context for how you are reacting.

Clarifying the purpose and sticking to the agenda

Once the call has started, we suggest you open by thanking the person for their time and begin by reiterating the purpose, agenda, and format of the meeting. We always like to give space for the employee being reviewed to speak first. Ask them to assess their own performance (good and bad) and share some feedback about what could be better.

The manager can then chime in, first by reacting to the what was said and then by including any additional points they would like to bring up. Always give time for a team member to react or absorb what you are saying, and if possible prepare a written version of your feedback that can be later shared. Sometimes the experience is too emotional for your team member to remember everything that was said.

Below are possible topics that you can discuss:

  • Accomplishments the employee is proud of.

  • Goals and ambitions of the employee.

  • Hard and soft skills employee should develop.

  • Challenges standing in their way.

  • Ask for them to share feedback with you about how you can lead better

  • Ask for them to share feedback on the organization, employee experience, and how their work conditions can be improved.

After the performance review

Once the meeting itself is done, there are a few things both managers and employees can do to ensure it is actionable and truly impactful.

We believe in the power of documentation. Document the feedback received and the action points you agreed on so you can come back to them in the following review.

Schedule your next performance review. Providing continuous, real-time feedback throughout the year makes is essential in a world that continues to move at a faster pace. We recommend monthly meetings, even if they are 30 minutes long each, with a couple of longer ones throughout the year.

While this activity might be time consuming and stressful for some managers and employees, the positive impact it can have on employee productivity and engagement is incomparable. Remember to be empathic towards each other and make the most of this year’s performance review!

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