The Leadership Blog

Conducting Great Performance Reviews

accountability career goals courageous leadership leadership performance reviews Feb 04, 2024

Today’s blog is about a topic we usually don’t like to talk about…performance reviews. Why do we hate them so much? Perhaps you’re like me and have some scars from past reviews.  I’ll never forget the time a supervisor told me in a review that I didn't write like he did. When I asked for specific examples of how I could do better, he couldn’t give me any.  He just reached into his desk and tossed an old script of mine from six months earlier at me and said, “this is bad.” It would have been more helpful if six months earlier, when I wrote the script, he had given me specific feedback about what he didn’t like and explain how I could have done it better.

Performance reviews are a crucial aspect of professional development, providing an opportunity for both employees and managers to reflect on accomplishments, set goals, and address areas for improvement. 

After spending nine years in commercial television and getting no real tangible advice in reviews I decided I would NEVER do that to someone else when I was in charge.  I can tell you in over 20 years of leadership I never have.  First of all, the concept of providing feedback to an employee only once a year is absurd to me. My direct reports get feedback weekly.  If an employee is surprised by your feedback in a review, then you’re doing it wrong.  When it’s time to officially fill out the written review there should be no surprises.  Here are three of my time-tested tips for creating great performance reviews.

1. Make sure employees know you believe in them and appreciate them.  This is how I begin reviews.  Thank you for all your hard work.  I truly appreciate all the effort you put into your job.

2. Give specific feedback regularly.  Note I said regularly and not just at their review.  I work with writers a lot and will share a few examples.  Of course, feedback varies according to the situation.  Here's how I might help someone improve a script in a review. I can see how hard you've been working to improve your writing. Thank you for that. I've got a few more strategies to share that I think will help you get to the next level. Your lead needs to pull me into the story and make me feel something.  What you wrote doesn’t paint a picture.  Give me examples of why the person is having trouble at school.  Don’t use weak verbs “is, are, was were" those are "be verbs."  Younger employees don’t seem to know what “be verbs” are so I need to define them.  Use action verbs like run, leap, jump.  They’ll help people engage with your story. Also, it’s more impactful to develop a descriptive writing style by writing to your video.  Example…The cottony clouds dotted the azure blue sky as they rode their bikes.

3. Talk about Growth Opportunities not what they did wrong. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.  How would I like to be told to improve?  They're not bad or broken, they just haven’t developed the skill YET to do what needs to be done in the most effective way.  I use the phrase GO for your growth opportunities a lot.  We all have growth opportunities.

Here are a few more suggestions from Harvard Business Review to create impactful performance reviews.

Convey Positive Intent: Begin the performance review by setting a positive tone. Clearly communicate that the purpose of the review is to support the employee's growth and success within the organization. This fosters an atmosphere of collaboration and openness, encouraging the employee to engage in the discussion with a receptive mindset.

Specifically Describe What You've Observed: This falls in line with my number two above.  Instead of offering vague generalities, provide specific examples of the employee's performance. Referencing concrete instances makes feedback more tangible and easier to understand. This approach allows employees to see the direct connection between their actions and the feedback provided, facilitating a more meaningful conversation.


State the Impact of Their Behavior: Describe how the observed behaviors positively or negatively impact the team, department, or overall organizational goals. This step helps employees understand the broader implications of their actions, reinforcing the importance of their role within the organization. It also provides context for improvement and growth.


Ask the Person to Respond: Encourage a two-way conversation by inviting the employee to share their perspective. This step is crucial for fostering open communication and ensuring that the employee feels heard and understood. By actively involving them in the discussion, you not only gain valuable insights into their viewpoint but also strengthen the working relationship.  You’ve got to be careful to try and help them avoid giving excuses for their actions.  If an employee is regularly late to work and tells you they can’t help it because they have kids.  You can say many members of our team have children and they aren’t regularly late.  Accountability is important.


Discuss Next Steps: Performance reviews should not be viewed as a one-time event but as part of an ongoing dialogue. Collaboratively establish clear and achievable goals for the upcoming performance period. Discuss the necessary support, resources, or training that will aid the employee in reaching these objectives. By outlining actionable next steps, you empower the employee to take ownership of their professional development.

Conducting effective performance reviews requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. By incorporating these eight tips, leaders can create a positive and constructive environment that promotes professional growth. Remember, a well-executed performance review not only benefits the individual employee but contributes to the overall success and growth of your organization.

I hope these tips help you take your performance reviews to the next level.