The Ultimate Guide to Performance Reviews

performance review

Individual performance drives organizational performance. A job performance review is a chance to make sure that each individual is contributing to the overall performance. As you inspect each part of the engine, you’re able to find the weak links, add a little grease to the squeaky wheel, and make sure your machine is working as it should. 

If you’re planning to implement performance reviews for the first time, or you are ready to overhaul your current approach, we’ve created the ultimate guide to performance reviews while keeping your positive company culture. 

The Purpose: 

Performance reviews have been shown to have long-term positive outcomes across the company. The purpose of each review should be to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of your people. A performance review is also an opportunity to offer constructive feedback for skill development in the future and assist with goal setting. This is also a great opportunity for questions and answers, increase communication in the workplace, and to show gratitude for your people. 

The Who:

A manager or direct supervisor should conduct the performance review. Almost 90% of human resources (HR) heads report that their PM systems do not yield accurate information. This is especially true when the evaluation is handled by HR. The closest supervisor will know what is going on day-to-day and will be able to conduct a more effective evaluation. 

The When:

There are several different ways you can conduct performance reviews. No one way is better than another, the most important element is to choose when and then to be consistent. 

  • Weekly: These are typically fast check-ins that aren’t particularly goal-oriented but better for record-keeping positions or for keeping fast-moving projects on track. 
  • Monthly: This is great for new hires, short-term contract employees, or freelancers. It can also be helpful for those who are moved from one project or department to another to help new employees stay on track and meet their goals.  
  • Quarterly: The business year is typically divided into quarterly goals, targets, and budgets. For this reason, it makes sense to make performance assessments coincide with these benchmarks as well. Three months is a good amount of time for an employee to achieve their goals and enough time for managers to gather reports of progress. 
  • Annual: This is a more traditional and formal review process that tends to be long and often has too much information to swallow in one sitting. Annual evaluations should be supplemented (if not completely replaced) with more frequent reviews. A full year is far too long for employees to go without feedback.

The What: 

So, what do you cover in your employee reviews? It comes down to six main areas of discussion. Regardless of industry, most employee reviews include an assessment of these skills: 

  • Communication
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Quality and accuracy of work
  • Attendance, punctuality, and reliability
  • The ability to accomplish goals and meet deadlines 

How you address each one depends on your company culture and what seems appropriate. Some organizations use a grading system of A through F, numerical scoring, percentages, or simply written descriptions. 

The Approach: 

There are endless opinions, literature, and statistics that show the best approach to employee evaluations. No two managers do it the same. Some use a grading system; some have a formal interview format while others are just a casual conversation over lunch. Your approach should match your company culture. The problem is, that it seems that most methods are problematic. According to research reported in the Journal of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 95% of managers are dissatisfied with their PM systems, and more than half of employees feel like they are a waste of time. 

The solution? Well, for starters it’s time to move towards continuous feedback rather than a focus on past performance. Traditionally, performance evaluations are basically annual manager ratings on past performance and leave employees feeling defeated and frustrated.  Instead, continuous feedback allows both the employee and manager to work together to share goals, develop performance goals for the future and check-in frequently rather than just once a year. 

Providing feedback with clear, positive language is the key to keeping the review goal-focused and productive. Writing performance reviews requires managers and other raters to be specific with their feedback, stay constructive, and provide solutions needed to help the employee grow.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Evaluations 

A great evaluation can nurture an employee’s potential and build a trusting relationship between managers and employees. A thoughtless one can damage an employee permanently. Carefully consider these Dos and Don’ts of evaluations: 

  • Don’t Keep Everything Positive. 

Telling an employee, they are brilliant and wonderful, and you have no feedback for them only shows you haven’t bothered to look at their work in detail. It’s a clear sign you didn’t put any thought into the evaluation at all. 

  • Do Clear Your Calendar

Make sure you won’t be distracted or interrupted by other priorities during the meeting. Try to minimize commitments to reduce the risk of being late or having to postpone. Make this time a priority so employees know that the review is as important to you as it is to them.

  • Don’t use “If-Then” Statements. 

Saying something like, “If you double your targets this year, then we might look at promotion to the C-suite next year” is an empty promise you may or may not be able to back up based on somewhat unattainable goals.

  • Do Prepare for Curveballs

Performance evaluations are often a good time for employees to discuss personal matters with their boss, ask for a raise, or turn in their notice. These private one-to-one discussions often bring up curveballs you weren’t expecting. Be receptive and listen to whatever they say, if it’s not something that can be remedied during the evaluation, make a follow-up meeting to discuss further. 

  • Don’t use “Never” or “Always” 

Phrases like, “You’re never in the office on time.” Or “You’re always taking time off” are opinions, not facts, and aren’t likely isn’t fair or true. Absolutes like “Never” and “Always” always leave the other party defensive. 

  • Do Get Ready to Take Feedback

Leave plenty of time for the employee to give you feedback as well. They should feel open to discussing your management style and share things that you should do differently. Take notes, stay open, and don’t get defensive. 

  • Don’t Rely on Hearsay 

Including office gossip in a performance, evaluation is never a good idea. Don’t start any sentence with “I heard you…” You are criticizing before allowing the employee to tell their side. Instead, ask them about a situation and stay open-minded. 

  • Don’t Compare Others

Leave others out of the conversation. There’s no need to compare work from colleagues or co-workers in a performance review. Focus on only one person during each evaluation. 

  • Do Keep Emotion at the Door 

There is no constructive feedback when you’re emotional or upset at the performance of an employee. Anger or frustration will likely drive the employee to look for another job. Make sure you can stay calm and objective before you schedule the evaluation. 

  • Don’t Be Condescending

Phrases like, “You’re lucky to have this position.” Or “Don’t waste the opportunity” are undermining and begrudging. Instead, choose praise and encouragement. 

Performance reviews are often the most helpful way to share and collect employee feedback. But that doesn’t mean they are a one-size-fits-all solution. New methodologies are emerging. The key is to find one that matches your company culture. 

  • 360 Feedback

This program allows staff members to receive feedback from managers, peers, and junior staff members on an ongoing basis. This information can be helpful for development, but usually isn’t a great indicator of overall performance.

  • Casual and Continual

If the formal nature of a performance evaluation seems too structured, consider a method to share feedback on a continual ad hoc basis. This is a great option for small businesses and start-ups. 

  • Pulse Reviews

This is sometimes the happy medium between casual continual feedback and a big once-a-year review. It’s a smaller-scale review conducted on a more frequent schedule designed to simply “take the pulse” and share feedback quickly and easily. 


Employee performance reviews are important for every business, but they don’t all have to look the same. The effectiveness of a review depends on how they are conducted and whether or not they fit within your company culture. A poor experience could drive them away and damage relationships while a positive discussion can empower any employee to reach new heights.