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15 Performance Review Tips for Managers in 2024

By October 20, 2023 April 1st, 2024

As a manager, conducting effective performance reviews is one of your most important responsibilities – whether you’re an enthusiastic newcomer ready to develop management skills or a seasoned expert aiming to further refine your leadership approach.

Performance reviews allow managers to collaboratively set goals and track progress. But they also serve a bigger purpose – these meetings are crucial opportunities to motivate, inspire, and strategically empower your team members to reach their full potential.

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In this article, we’ll share essential performance review tips for managers that you can use to enhance your team’s performance and increase your managerial prowess!

What is the Goal of a Performance Review?

performance review tips for managers

Earl Nightingale, more well-known as the ‘Dean of Personal Development,’ once referred to success as the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal. In other words, success starts with a goal.

And Nightingale should know.

He achieved such astounding success during his career in network radio that he was able to retire at the ripe young age of 35.

As a manager, your fundamental goal is to achieve organizational objectives and enable your employees to perform in the trenches with you. So, how do performance reviews, also called employee reviews, fit in with the big picture?

What is a Performance Review?

Performance reviews, or performance appraisals, are formalized and structured assessment tools used to evaluate employee performance.

The structure of a typical review can vary from person to person and role to role. But typically, a review consists of measurable goals such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) the employee has to achieve within a set period (say a year to 6 months) and competencies they need to demonstrate on the job.

The most effective employee performance appraisals are two-way conversations where managers function not just as leaders but also as workplace coaches steering their employees towards achieving their full potential. At the same time, they’re open to feedback about their role in the employee’s success and changes they can make to improve the efficacy of the performance review process.

Check out these performance review templates for examples and inspiration to guide yours.


15 Performance Review Tips for Managers

performance review

In this section, we’ll cover the 15 best performance review tips you can use to churn out highly effective reviews that actually get results.

1. Prepare in Advance 🖊️

Preparing in advance is the most important part of the review process and sets the tone for the performance conversations you’ll be having. It helps you ask the right questions and provide more relevant feedback for your employees.

To start with, you want to invest time throughout the year to perform check-ins.

Maintain a separate folder or file for your employee, where you keep notes of what your employee did well throughout the year and places where they could improve (stacked up against the review evaluation criteria).

Review past performance and compare it with how the employee is doing now. Also, solicit feedback from other co-workers, team members, and direct reports, and review customer feedback for more holistic and constructive feedback.

Employee evaluation software is a great tool you can use to simplify this process, especially when you have many team members who work for you.


2. Set Clear Objectives 📊

A lot of performance reviews end up being non-starters simply because neither the manager nor the report is clear about the end goal of the reviews and how their roles tie into it.

Before you start your review, have a conversation with your employee about why having structured performance management is critical to their performance.

Performance reviews help employees gain complete clarity on the parameters against which they will be measured. Discuss the job description and connect the dots to the evaluation criteria. Talk through the key deliverables with your employees and explain how their performance will be measured. Also, discuss the consequences of failing to keep up and what’s on the table if they perform exceptionally well.

Contact your Human Resources department if you need additional support understanding how specific employee goals and competencies tie into organizational goals.


3. Create a Positive Atmosphere 😃

It’s no surprise that the majority of employees don’t look forward to performance reviews. 66% of respondents in a survey by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) said they were “strongly dissatisfied” with the performance evaluations they received in their organization.

Employees are more amenable to reviews demonstrating respect for their dignity, even though sometimes you may need to have some hard conversations. Ensure your reviews are carried out in private, comfortable spaces. Set aside plenty of time for employees to discuss their thoughts and concerns.

Positivity, approachibility, and openness to conversation will stand you in good stead.

🔥 BONUS Pro-Tip from The Assist: Conduct self-evaluations prior to reviews so employees can reflect holistically before receiving feedback.


4. Use Specific Examples 📝

This is where doing the groundwork, in terms of taking notes throughout the year, comes in handy. Whether you’re discussing behaviors you want to see more of or behaviors that need to change, provide concrete and specific employees.

It can be challenging for your employees when they don’t have examples to learn from or steps they can implement immediately to make positive changes.

If Suzy’s conversation with a customer went badly, share how Suzy could have managed or directed the conversation better step-by-step.


5. Balance Feedback ⚖️

Frame performance review conversations as opportunities for growth. Balance praise with constructive criticism, so it’s not all “bad.”

Try the “feedback sandwich” model – you start with something positive, followed by constructive criticism, and then close with more positive feedback. You’re literally sandwiching the criticism between layers of positive feedback to cushion the impact so it doesn’t come across as harsh.

Also, ensure you’re never criticizing the person or referring to personal attributes. Instead, refer to specific behaviors and the positive outcomes that need to be achieved.

Try these examples of positive feedback for your next employee performance review!


6. Active Listening 👂

Active listening aims to understand where the employee is coming from so you can move forward in a mutually constructive manner. It involves shutting off all distractions and staying present while your employee speaks. Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues to identify unspoken emotions. Encourage employees to air concerns, grievances, and challenges.

Use empathy to put yourself in your employee’s shoes and confirm your understanding. The aim here is to build trust and ensure your employees feel like they’re genuinely being heard. However, this is a continuous process that needs to occur throughout the employee lifecycle, not just at review time.

🔥 BONUS Pro-Tip from The Assist: Incorporate anonymous peer feedback for a 360-degree perspective on performance beyond just the manager’s view.


7. Be Timely ⏰

Punctuality, reliability, and consistency with reviews convey the message that you mean business. It’s common for managers to get caught up in business matters so much that performance reviews become an afterthought. It shows in haphazard reviews with very little research into what the employee actually did.

Whether it’s your annual performance review or the semi-annual check-in, carry out your reviews promptly and on time. Also, this can seem like a no-brainer but address concerns as soon as your employee brings them up so you’re not waiting for the review to deal with them.


8. Goal Setting ✅

The SMART method of goal-setting is popular simply because it’s effective. The expanded form of this acronym, i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, showcases the five criteria to consider when you set up goals for your employees.

SMART goal setting will ensure that your employees know exactly what they’re supposed to achieve and by when. They’ll know how their performance is going to be measured. Last but not least, SMART goals are actually realistic and achievable.


9. Recognize Achievements 🏅

It’s important to set aside time to acknowledge and appreciate your employee’s accomplishments and contributions. The review shouldn’t be about simply pointing out your employees’ flaws.

To make the review a fair process, ensure you give some if not equal, weightage to highlighting what they’ve done well during the review period. If it’s an exceptionally high-performing employee, you want to provide tangible recognition of their job well done using rewards.

If you haven’t already, make use of employee recognition software that automates the process of rewards so you can encourage even small contributions as and when they happen, making your employers happier and more motivated in the process.

🔥 BONUS Pro-Tip from The Assist: Hold reviews in neutral locations removed from daily office distractions to enable more focused conversations.


10. Address Areas for Improvement ⭐

Tackle areas of improvement head-on, as these are crucial to getting your employees on track to passing their reviews with flying colors, and helping you meet your company’s goals.

When providing feedback, ensure that it’s a “show and tell.” Give concrete examples with a step-by-step action plan, so the employee isn’t left to fend for themselves. Offer resources, for example, a colleague who can function as a mentor or the option to shadow you as you work.

Encourage self-assessment so your employees have leeway to recommend areas that they think they need support with.


11. Employee Development 👏

Employee development is one of the most important parts of a performance review. It’s a process of continuous evaluation, so check in with the employee throughout the year to identify skill gaps. Also, take time during the review to discuss training needs your employee may bring up spontaneously.

Assign training courses or on-the-job mentors for professional development. Evaluate whether your employee may need to absorb new skills to improve their performance. Discussing professional development is a great exercise to underline how vested you are in having the employee grow within your organization.

Also, agree on how and when you will measure progress post-the-training. Your goal as a manager is to help your employees succeed and assist employees’ needs.


12. Document the Review ✏️

While you’re having the conversations, it’s also critical to document the review. Aside from the relevant parts of the general discussions, you also want to formally record goals and action plans. Performance management software can help make this process automated and seamless, so there’s minimal time and effort involved.

At the same time, documenting the review and having the employee e-sign off on it helps create a formal record, so there’s a transparent view of what was discussed and agreed upon.

Documented reviews can become very important if there’s an employee with consistently poor performance. It can provide evidence if you’ve made several attempts to discuss drawbacks and coach the employee toward success to no avail. It’s also helpful as evidence in case of legal issues.

🔥 BONUS Pro-Tip from The Assist: Train managers on providing empathetic critiques focused on behaviors rather than personal attributes.


13. Avoid Surprises ❌

If you’re doing the work in terms of checking in regularly with employees, it helps avoid surprises that can completely catch you off guard at review time. The manager-employer equation is a relationship, first and foremost, that needs tending throughout the year.

Ensure your employees know the door is always open for them, not necessarily in the form of structured reviews. You can have less formal and intimidating “quick” chats whenever either of you feel the need to. The idea is to walk the talk so your employee knows they can trust you and come to you with any problems they have.


14. Be Fair and Consistent 🤝

Being fair and consistent requires applying the same evaluation criteria to all the team members performing the same role.

The slightest whiff of favoritism or bias toward any team member can significantly derail team spirit. It can reduce motivation, dampen employee engagement, encourage silos, and make other members feel their contribution doesn’t count. You know the old saying – “bad news travels fast!”

Maintain fairness in your interactions with your team both in and out of the review room.


15. Follow-Up 🗣️

Once you’re done with the review, schedule follow-up meetings to track progress on goals and address any concerns. Continuous feedback and evaluation are necessary to prevent bouts of low employee morale and ensure your employees are motivated to do their best.

Plus, it helps you nip any issues in the bud so they don’t fester on the backburner until the next review. Otherwise, your employees can get frustrated to the point where it starts to negatively affect their overall performance.

🔥 BONUS Pro-Tip from The Assist: Structure reviews around progress made on prior goals to reinforce accountability and consistency.



Handling Difficulties and Mistakes in Performance Review

The key to handling difficulties and mistakes in performance reviews is dealing with them head-on. Look at errors you’ve made as valuable learning opportunities. If you feel that you’ve not done right by an employee, make a sincere admission of it and discuss how you can work together to fix the situation. Employees will appreciate your honesty and willingness to improve.

If you need help navigating a problematic review, don’t hesitate to reach out. Your Human Resources coworkers are there to provide guidance, training, and resources to support managers. You can also connect with senior colleagues who may have experienced similar challenges before. Admitting our shortcomings is difficult but shows maturity as a leader.

Additionally, invest time in educating yourself through the wealth of excellent online resources and training available. Look for courses on constructive feedback delivery, conflict resolution, performance coaching, and other critical management skills. The more you know, the more adept you’ll become at facilitating productive reviews even during tough conversations.

With an openness to learn and a commitment to develop management abilities, you can transform difficulties into opportunities for growth and employee success. Modeling this behavior for employees also builds trust, vulnerability, and a culture of continuous improvement.


Join a Manager Reddit Community

managers reddit thread

Joining a Reddit community for managers can be a game-changer for managerial productivity.

You gain access to a community of like-minded people who are going to encounter similar situations like yours. You can ask questions about how to deal with specific issues and share your insights with others.

Last but not least, networking with people in the same community and building strong relationships can be super helpful if you’re considering looking for new opportunities further down the line.


People Also Ask These Questions About Performance Review Tips for Managers

Q: How can a manager effectively prepare for a performance review?

  • A: Evaluation is a continuous process. Maintain separate folders for each of your direct reports and take notes throughout the review period on how your employee is doing. What did they do well? Where can they improve? Note specific examples. Before the review, also take stock of past performance reviews. Ask for feedback from other colleagues.

Q: What role does a performance review template play?

  • A: A performance review template acts as a structured guidepost. Templates will help you identify must-haves so you’re not missing out on anything crucial. Some templates that are available online are also customizable. So you can add and remove elements as relevant to your business. The great thing with templates is that once you’re set-up, you can rinse and repeat for other employees and future reviews.

Q: What methods can managers utilize in evaluating their employees?

  • A: Managers have a couple of different methods to work with for evaluation:
    • Evaluate against metrics or specific goals. For example, achieve X amount of sales within Y period.
    • Evaluate traditionally based on competencies (teamwork, collaboration, compliance with deadlines, etc.).
    • Seek peer feedback (what do team members think about the employee?).
    • Looking at customer/client reviews (i.e., external stakeholders).
    • Ask for feedback from co-workers who have dealt with the employee (internal stakeholders).
    • 360-degree feedback where the employee also has an opportunity to share their thoughts about your equation. It’s a great source of insights into how you’re managing your employees.

Q: Which questions should be asked during a performance review meeting?

  • A: Here are a few examples of questions you can ask your employees to get insights into how your employee sees their role and where they see room for improvement:
    • What do you like most about your role?
    • What would you like to change about your role if you had the opportunity?
    • Where do you think you did well this year?
    • What areas do you think you could do better in or need extra support in?
    • Are there any challenges or concerns you want to discuss?
    • What do you expect from me to help you do your job better?
  • The more open-ended, the better, as it encourages the employees to talk and ideate while they talk.

Q: How can managers provide constructive feedback to employees?

  • A: You can provide constructive feedback by recording performance throughout the year with special reference to what they did well and where they can improve. Review past performances to gauge how far the employee has progressed from the last time you talked. Provide specific examples and step-by-step action plans. Last but not least, practice active listening – approach the employee from a space of empathy and be willing to look at things from their side of the fence.

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