How to prepare for the perfect performance review

I’m really looking forward to the next round of performance reviews – said no manager, ever.

Endless form filling and the task of fitting appraisal meetings into an already packed diary can make performance management feel like a real chore.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Handled well, the formal appraisal is a great opportunity to re-energise yourself and your staff, and make sure your team is fulfilling its potential. It’s a chance for you as a manager to build rapport with your team, find out what makes them tick and how you can support them to be the best they can possibly be.


So what do you need to do to make sure you are setting your performance reviews up for success?

1. Think ahead

Launching into an appraisal meeting completely unprepared is never going to achieve a good result. You won’t be in the right frame of mind to have a meaningful discussion – and your direct report will know you haven’t prepared and will feel under-valued as a result. However busy you are, set time aside to think about your main objective for the meeting, the key topics you want to discuss and any underlying issues you think might come to light. Think carefully about the setting for the appraisal too. Find somewhere that’s both comfortable and private (probably not your local Costa, where I recently overheard an entire appraisal discussion taking place at the neighbouring table).

2. Plan for dialogue

If your company has any kind of formal performance management process, you will probably have a standard paper or on-line form to complete before and during the appraisal discussion. While it’s great to have a template to guide your discussion, make sure the appraisal doesn’t become too rigid or descend into a box-ticking exercise. Performance reviews should be a two-way street where both parties have an equal opportunity to have their say. Research from PwC has found that employees actively welcome appraisals, provided the conversations are well thought through and not rushed or formulaic. Plan to invite your direct report to contribute early in the conversation – and prepare to be surprised at what might come up.

3. Look forward not back

Appraisals often focus on how the individual has performed in the past. But at a time when markets are moving fast and priorities can change overnight, there’s little point dwelling on what’s gone before. Plan to give your performance reviews a forward focus by looking at where the business is heading and what the objectives will be in the near future, and further out. Ask people about their aspirations and how they see their career panning out with the company. Think about how individuals can use their skills to help the team meet its goals or how they can quickly develop new competencies which will be helpful to the business going forward.

4. Be positive

Get yourself into a positive frame of mind before the appraisal and avoid falling into the trap of only talking about what’s gone badly or needs fixing. There’s nothing more demotivating for an employee than coming out of the appraisal feeling that their manager has overlooked all the good things they’ve done and focused in only on the few small things that might not have gone according to plan. You are more likely to see an uplift in performance if you focus on what the individual is good at and how they can do more of it, or on what they can learn from a project or task that went particularly well. Make sure you have plenty of examples up your sleeve which will allow you to give praise as well as constructive feedback.

5. Don’t dodge the difficult stuff

If an individual’s performance has been under par, it’s important not to brush it under the carpet. But if you are planning on giving negative feedback, make sure you prepare thoroughly in advance. Be ready with some specific examples, so that there is no room for confusion and the employee is absolutely clear about what’s gone wrong and how you are going to support them to improve. If you have an HR software system, this will help you make sure that any actions that are agreed are recorded in a central place where both parties can access them. Do give people a chance, however, to add their perspective. People generally want to do a good job and please their manager and if someone’s work is not up to scratch there may turn out to be an underlying reason you weren’t aware of.

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