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How to Host Better Performance Reviews (+Template and Questions)

How to Host Better Performance Reviews (+Template and Questions)

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to performance reviews. What works for one team or organization may not work for another.

For example, the Chief Financial Officer of Goldman Sachs said the organization would likely reinstate annual performance reviews in 2023. Meanwhile, Adobe has been without annual performance reviews for almost a decade. They scrapped it in favor of “a system of ongoing and flexible check-ins” and have been making continuous improvements to the system ever since based on the feedback they receive from employees and leaders.

Whether your approach to performance reviews looks something like this or something completely different, the purpose of hosting performance reviews should be “to have ongoing performance and development conversations and provide a record of past performance and expectations for work moving forward.” (MIT)

As such, here are six things you can do to host better performance reviews and make the experience feel worthwhile for everyone involved.


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1. Use a Performance Review Template to Create Structure

Research has shown that for performance reviews to be perceived as effective, they need to be as fair and unbiased as possible. However, many performance reviews take on an “open-box” format that asks broad and ambiguous questions to “apply to everyone regardless of level or function.” According to Harvard Business Review, this is a problem because “When the context and criteria for making evaluations are ambiguous, bias is more prevalent. Without structure, people are more likely to rely on gender, race, and other stereotypes when making decisions.”

Performance Review Template from Niagara Institute

Fortunately, a performance review template will not only provide said structure but will also prompt you to provide specific observations and examples to support your evaluation.


2. Send an Email In Advance That Outlines What to Expect

Performance reviews tend to cause anxiety and stress, which can, in turn, lead them to experience the flight or flight response. According to one Forbes author, when this happens, “Our brain cannot take in further information as it is already preoccupied with preparing us to react. One’s ability to listen and process new information drastically diminishes when the brain goes on high alert.”

This is something that you want to avoid, as it can make it that much more difficult to have a productive two-way conversation with an employee about their performance. Fortunately, one way to ease some of that performance review anxiety is to email employees in advance that outlines what to expect and what to prepare. To give you an idea of what this looks like, below, you will find an example of a pre-performance review email template.


Hi [Employee Name],

In preparation for your performance review on [Date] at [Time], I want to give you an idea of what to expect by sharing my agenda for the meeting with you.

  • [Insert Meeting Agenda Item #1]
  • [Insert Meeting Agenda Item #2]
  • [Insert Meeting Agenda Item #3]

I also wanted to outline exactly what I need you to prepare for our meeting to make the most of our time together.

  • [Explain What Needs To Be Prepared and Provide Link or Attachment]

If you have any questions or need clarity on anything, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m here to help!

Talk soon,

[Your Name]

Pre-Performance Review Email Template from Niagara Institute


3. Choose Your Performance Review Questions Beforehand

If you’re talking at your employees during performance reviews rather than talking with them, then you’re missing out on an opportunity to have a productive two-way conversation that feeds an employee’s sense of motivation and accountability. You can initiate this type of conversation by selecting questions that are open-ended, intentional, and specific beforehand. Some examples of good performance review questions to ask include: 

  • What achievement have you made since we last met that means the most to you and why?
  • What is standing in the way of your performance? Do you have any ideas about what we can do to fix that?
  • Why do you think you are struggling with [Name area]? What would you do if you were me to help you improve?
  • Have you received any feedback that you disagree with? If so, help me understand why that is.
  • How do you feel about your current professional goals? Do you think any need to be updated or reformulated?
  • What could I do as your leader going forward that you feel would help you succeed?


4. Celebrate Achievements

According to one study, nearly half of millennials (47%) say they feel like they can’t do anything right after receiving their performance reviews. If you want to host better performance reviews, then your first goal should be to ensure your employees do not walk out feeling this way. That means that you need to balance out your necessary negative or constructive feedback by recognizing achievements, celebrating successes, and providing positive feedback.

As Gallup explained, “All too often, performance reviews feel punitive rather than constructive and often demotivate employees. By defining what excellence in a role looks like during the review, managers call attention to employees' strengths and what they can achieve in the future. Plus, focusing on successes makes negative feedback easier to deliver because it pushes employees to envision and take ownership of what their best can look like.”


5. Show Empathy and Compassion

While performance reviews are about improving performance and driving results, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact you are dealing with people who have lives and feelings. People who make mistakes and have their own struggles.

Given this, it’s essential to show empathy and compassion when appropriate. As one Harvard Business Review article noted, “The well-being vs. performance trade-off is a false dichotomy, particularly in the long term. Well-being is enhanced when managers show compassion and provide support, and well-being, in turn, enhances all sorts of measurable, performance-related outcomes.”


6. End By Looking Forward and Setting New Goals

Performance reviews shouldn’t only look backward at what has happened. They should also look forward to the future and what is possible. In fact, research by Gartner found that performance reviews that are forward-looking can increase employee performance by up to 13%.

So, the next time you host a performance review, make time at the end of the meeting to discuss the next steps and either set new goals or update old ones. This type of conversation will make an employee feel more positive and optimistic about their performance going forward.

Performance Management Toolkit PDF for Leaders

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