Performance Management

A Manager's Guide to the Performance Review Conversation

Typical performance reviews carry a negative stigma and are poorly executed. Instead, use these best practices to show you care AND drive performance.

The reviews are in and now it is time to sit down with your direct report and share the results.  

If done right, this can be an opportunity for you to show that you care while also creating clarity around the areas where they could improve.  If done wrong, these conversations can be a waste of time, confusing and even destroy trust.  

Here is how you do it the right way. 

In this guide we will cover how to handle:

  1. Preparing for the Review
  2. Sharing the Review Results
  3. Creating a Development Plan

Preparing for the Review

In general, we recommend that the subject of the review should receive their results at the same time they meet with their manager to review. 

The Basics

When: Ideally schedule 30 minutes to have the review conversation.

Where: Meet in-person in a quiet, private place. If you have to meet virtually, use video conferencing because reading body language is very important for a conversation like this.

Explaining The Why: Frame the conversation in a positive manner. Communicate with the subject ahead of time, making it clear that you are looking to add context regarding the feedback as well as advise on developmental activities.

Identifying Trends

Review the subject’s results prior to the performance review. Start with looking at high level trends, paying particular attention to the alignment between how the subject sees themselves and how you see them.  

Identify the 4 key scoring alignment attributes:

  • Recognized Strengths – where both the subject and manager ratings were at or above the target proficiency.
  • Unrecognized Strengths – where the manager’s rating was at or above the target while the subject self rated below the target.
  • Recognized Opportunities – where both the subject and the manager’s ratings were below the target proficiency.
  • Blindspots – where the manager’s rating was below the target while the subject self rated above the target.

Other trends to look for include:

  • Evaluator Consistency – how consistent are ratings between you and your direct report?
  • General Comments – are there any themes or surprises?
  • Historical Trends – review any trend data if they have taken this review before.

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Sharing the Review Results

It is important to start the performance review session by setting the stage for the subject before moving on to the actual results. Reviews often include feedback that the subject was not expecting and can be difficult to process in a developmental manner if the conversation is not properly facilitated.

Setting the Stage

Emphasize the purpose of the review as a developmental tool. The goal is to give them the clarity that will help them be successful in their role.

As the manager, your job is to guide the discussion while they need to be open and curious about the feedback. Once you’ve reviewed the feedback together, you will collaborate on creating a plan of action.

Before showing them the results, ask them what a successful review conversation would look like for them.  Don’t be surprised if you get a blank stare the first time since most employees have never been asked this.  This is a trust building opportunity, however, so don’t lose it.  Dig a little.  

Be ready with a few bullets of your own on what success looks like and plan to refer back to it at the end of the review conversation to see if you both achieved success.

Finally, ensure that they understand the evaluation scale that was used.  Ask them to explain it back to you and take the opportunity to make tweaks to their thinking as needed.  


Summary Skill Review

Once you’ve set the stage, open the review and navigate to the evaluation summary page.  Give your direct report a moment to take in the information before working your way through the questions below.      

Discussion points / questions:

  1. How do you read this page? Do the scores seem about right?
  2. Do you see any common themes in the skill levels?
  3. Are you surprised at all between how you and I each evaluated your skill levels?
  4. What is the overall message about your strengths reflected in the summary?

Individual Skill Review

At this point, do a page turn of each skill and spend time reviewing how each party rated the subject’s performance on that particular skill. Below are the key points and trends you should review with your direct report to better understand the story behind the data.

Discussion points / questions:

  1. How do you read this page? Do the scores seem about right?
  2. Share your thoughts as to why you decided on the skill level that you did?
  3. Are you surprised at all between how you and I each evaluated your skill levels?

Share context as to why you (the manager) decided on the skill level that you did.  How does their skill level compare to the target level for this skill?   

If they’re below the target, is that expected?  Or is this an area where they need to show some real improvement in order to do the job properly?  

Discuss any comments for that skill, paying particularly close attention to where each party thinks the development opportunity is.  

Finally, wrap up each skill by asking the subject what they feel is the overall message reflected in the feedback about this skill and decide on a “final” skill rating.  Keep or change the rating to this final score and capture any supporting notes in the manager’s comments section that will be helpful in supporting your decision and their development. 

General Comments

When reviewing these general comments at the end:

  • Note any areas of agreement and celebrate this - awareness is the first step toward development.
  • Dig into areas of disagreement and stay curious  -  everyone has different perceptions and the goal of the conversation is to create clarity, not argue over who’s right and wrong.

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Creating a Development Plan

The final and most important step of the performance review is to inspire your direct report to take action on the feedback. It’s important to land this next step at the point of awareness, before they get sucked back into the daily demands of their job.

Decide Where To Focus

With your guidance, the subject should select one or two developmental activities to work on in the next 30-90 days. It is important that you do not overwhelm the subject with too many development goals or encourage procrastination by setting deadlines too far out.

Questions To Ask the subject:

  • Which skills are most critical to your success?
  • What do you see as opportunities between where you are and where you want to be?
  • Which changes would have the greatest impact on your success and job satisfaction?
  • Are there any immediate quick wins that would be meaningful?

After discussing - flipping back to particular skills for reference if needed - decide which one or two behaviors will make the biggest positive difference if improved. 

Finally, decide exactly how the subject is going to work to improve these behaviors.  Get creative.  These are great opportunities for on-the-job training, coaching from another employee who is an expert in this skill, or even more formal activities like classes, books, online training courses.  

Whatever it is, set realistic expectations around the developmental activity and how you want to see it show up in their behavior.  Use our SMART Goal Worksheet or capture these in whatever system you use to manage goals and development plans at your company.     


Check-In Cadence

Maintain this momentum into the future by establishing a check-in cadence of meeting with your direct report for 15 minutes every 30 days (ideally) to support progress on committed learning activities and pick one or two new ones.  It is best to focus on incremental improvements. 

Closing the Conversation

Check back to the notes that you took on what a successful conversation would look like back in the Setting the Stage section.  Did you achieve them?  

Finish the conversation by congratulating them on all of their hard work to date and committing to supporting them in the development goals that they have set.    


Key Take-A-Ways

Traditional annual performance reviews carry a negative stigma in many organizations because they are so poorly executed. We challenge you to review the summarized list of best practices below and start making incremental changes to how you give performance reviews.

Preparing for the Review

  • Explain that the purpose of the performance review is to support their development
  • Identify the 4 key scoring alignment trends across the skills  

Sharing the Results 

  • Ask them what a successful conversation would look like
  • Review the summary pages, getting the subject to reflect on the patterns that they see
  • Review each skill, with both parties sharing context for their respective skill ratings
  • Review the comments for each skill, taking note of specific behaviors to be developed
  • Review the general comments section, celebrating areas of agreement and digging into areas of disagreement    

Creating a Development Plan 

  • Decide which skills and behaviors will drive the most success if developed 
  • Decide how the subject is going to develop these and commit to supporting them

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