As the end of the year approaches, many companies are getting ready for performance reviews.

Performance reviews get a bad rap. Employees dread them. Managers loathe the extra work. The press likes to call for an end to the practice altogether.

But hold on a minute. If done well, performance reviews provide an excellent time for leaders and employees to align, plan and share feedback.

Employees benefit from performance reviews

Employees should recognize that they benefit from knowing how they are doing. If the leader is unhappy with the employee’s work and it is not discussed, the problems will continue and might spiral downwards.

The meeting can also be an opportunity to hear great feedback and discuss career goals and interests.

In many companies, reviews also drive the pay process – including annual bonus and pay increases.

Take advantage of this dedicated time to focus on things important to you as an employee and to plan for your future.

Managers fulfill their key responsibility via performance reviews

For managers, the process creates some extra documentation, discussions and meetings.

But managing people is the most important part of a leader’s role. Let me say that again, so it really sinks in. Managing people is the most important part of a leader’s role.

Coaching, feedback and performance reviews don’t add to a leader’s workload – they should be the leader’s primary focus.

Performance reviews provide a formal opportunity to check in, share feedback and cap off the year.

Five Tips for Effective Performance Reviews

Managers often fail at doing effective reviews. Here are five tips that can help you be successful:

Tip 1: Prepare

If done well, reviews can clarify priorities and debrief the year and set the employee up for the coming year.

To have a positive impact, you as the manager need to prepare – and that means doing more than filling out the forms.

Steps for preparing:

  • ​Look back over the whole year for successes and opportunities
  • ​Seek feedback from co-workers who interact with your direct report
  • ​Consider “what” got done but also “how” the work got done
  • ​Compare your direct report to expectations for the level and job description
  • ​Think about the value or pain that the person brings to the team dynamics
  • ​Come up with concrete examples of good and bad behavior
  • ​Fill out the paperwork so it reflects the message you want to send

Tip 2: Reinforce your daily coaching

Coaching should happen regularly throughout the year – not only once a year at performance review time.

If you are coaching in the moment all year long, you should be continuing those conversations. That means that there should not be any surprises in the final review.

There should not be any surprises in performance reviews.

If you haven’t been coaching all year, then this is the place to start. Set firm expectations for the year and continue the conversation all year long.

Tip 3: Have the difficult conversation

Honest and constructive feedback is kinder than pretending everything is okay. Employees deserve to know how they are doing. If problems exist, the employee can work to improve or choose to find a better fit.

Have mercy by being tough but honest.

To prepare for a tough conversation:

  • Share concrete examples of behavior (instead of saying “you are not a team player” you can say “you were asked to assist Sally with a critical deadline last month, but you refused to help because it was not a normal part of your job”)
  • ​Think about how you will phrase the feedback – having a script makes it easier if you are nervous
  • Anticipate emotion – your direct report might get angry or cry – you should give them time to calm down and then continue
  • Work with your HR Manager if you need some coaching on how to give tough feedback

Tip 4: Remember the positive

Many managers struggle with giving direct, negative feedback. With that said, don’t forget the positive. Reinforce the behaviors he or she does well.

Re-state your confidence that he/she will continue to improve and be a valuable member of the team. Unless someone is in serious trouble, try to leave all reviews on a positive, future-focused note.

Tip 5: Follow-up

Remember to extend your conversations throughout the year. This is especially important if someone is on an improvement plan.

One common mistake is that managers put a direct report on a plan and then never follow-up. The performance does not improve or is not sustained, but the manager is not paying attention anymore.

Put a note on your calendar for check-in points. If you don’t hold your direct reports accountable, you lose credibility as a leader.

Managing people can be rewarding as you help your direct reports develop and improve.

Performance reviews and giving feedback are key parts of your role as a manager. Do it well!

This article was originally published at Science of Working as ‘Five Tips for Effective Performance Reviews


  • Ann Howell

    Executive Coach

    Howell Leadership Science

    I write about research-supported workplace topics and improving workplaces. I'm also experimenting with humor writing in my Level 50 Life series. Be warned - this is an experiment, and explosions, or at least bad jokes, could occur at any time.