A Manager’s Checklist For Effective Performance Reviews

6 min read
Oct 12, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Navigating a managerial role - with its own unique challenges, potential, rewards and end goal of seeing both your team and your organization grow and flourish - can be a challenging task to take on. 

A shift in perspective in the way you lead could mean a change in your team’s overall retention and improve the quality of work you do. But as an executive or HR director, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start. 

One of the best markers of progress is an annual review with your team members - but only when it’s done consistently and serves as a debrief point and reflection of an entire year of feedback. We think this begins with a critical distinction: a focus on people development versus people management.

But it’s not always easy to change the conversation around the staff review meeting themselves - they come with their own history of employees dreading them and their historical use for various purposes, including firings. It is possible, though! Changing the narrative around what a review meeting should be - and how it could actually transform your team’s goals and future at an organization - is a process, though, so be patient and take the time to reflect. 

The 5 Questions That Can Transform Your Annual Staff Reviews

We recommend starting with a couple of questions as you take apart your own processes to see how effective they really are. Here are five great questions to get you started on changing the conversation around review meetings: 

Consider culture. 

1. What are our company values and culture around employee/manager communication and performance? 

Is there internal employee support for the existing system or is it viewed negatively? Too often, the conversation around annual performance reviews is rooted in fear and anxiety - mainly of the unknown. If your team isn’t sure what to expect from a discussion during a yearly review, you should start there. Consistent, honest, and helpful one-on ones regularly over the year means your team can join an annual meeting excited to recap all they’ve accomplished and open to a productive conversation about what areas they can grow in. 

The annual review must be just one part of a consistent growth plan with each of your employees. Regular one-on-one meetings should still be the place where most development and feedback happens. When you consistently give your team feedback in the moment, they can take that and apply it, test it out, and see themselves improve over time. Not only does this communicate long-term investment in their future at the company, but it also allows for better work sooner. 

eBook: effective one-to-one meetings


When trust and rapport are built into the organization, it allows employees a certain degree of honesty in having conversations around challenge, opportunity, failure, or progress. This is critical because it examines the way your communication and feedback are given. It’s not just about what you say - it’s also about how you say it, which is a foundational part of company culture.

Does your team truly feel like you have an ‘open-door’ policy where it's safe for them to bring a range of work-related experiences to you? An atmosphere that encourages this means your team is constantly exposed to opportunities to reflect on their own growth and performance, which is key to a shift in the annual review. It shouldn’t be anything new to them! 

Question your processes.  

2. What is the frequency of our current system, and is it effective? 

Take this checklist as an opportunity to question every process around performance reviews. When you avoid asking the tough questions about what processes might be outdated or need adjusting based on what your team looks like, you stunt growth opportunities. 

Maybe this looks like ‘recency bias’ when it comes to reviews  - for example, an employee has completed a dozen great projects; however, just prior to their performance review, there was a project that ran late that colors your feedback. Because of the low frequency of traditional performance reviews, recency bias might mean a manager tends to focus on the most recent projects instead of viewing an employee’s whole contribution.

But what is the real purpose of a performance review? Not to document everything someone did right or wrong, and then give them a grade. Instead, it should be an opportunity for candid reflection and conversation about the future - big picture goals, potential for leadership opportunities, and how someone can grow in the future on this team or in their role.

Consider as well if your performance review process is linked to employee compensation. We think these should be separate conversations, and this might be an excellent time to consider what that might look like if you remove the connection between the two. Separating these conversations communicates clearly that an employee’s worth is far more than just how much money they can make the company or how many “numbers” they can exceed.

When you focus on the unique strengths and values of your team, you see that they offer you expertise, gifts, learned experience, natural ability, or personality traits that bring depth and richness to their teammates and the work they do overall, and when they’re in the proper role or have the right opportunity to be developed, they’re far more content and stable in their job. Again, those can’t be measured with dollars - but your team is a worthy investment. 

Evaluate your perspective. 

3. Are we focused exclusively on the past in our reviews? How can we make these more future-facing?

When it comes to reflection to become more future-facing, Deloitte does this really well

As they revamped their review process, they asked: what is performance management actually for? 

They came up with three objectives, chief among them to stop asking what has this person already done and start asking, “what can we do with them in the future?” Of course, a review should serve to recognize performance, particularly through variable compensation. But an effective manager should also strive to see each person’s performance clearly, from an individual perspective. This led to Deloitte’s team asking only that team member’s immediate leader rather than many people who had worked with them. Most importantly, they discovered this required changing the kind of questions they were asking during reviews. 

“People may rate other people’s skills inconsistently, but they are highly consistent when rating their own feelings and intentions,” they noted. So, “to see performance at the individual level, then, we will ask team leaders not about the skills of each team member but about their own future actions with respect to that person.” 

When you focus on the future, you naturally move towards people development, not people management.

Your Guide TO Building A Comprehensive Leadership Development Program

Shift into a growth mindset. 

4. If peer-review is a part of our existing process, are we ensuring that competition and suspicion between peers aren’t damaging overall trust and productivity? 

Having a growth mindset within your team means you need to identify and correct things like unhealthy competition and suspicion between team members as soon as you see it and before it becomes toxic to your team. There’s nothing that will kill a team faster than a team member who constantly feels on edge that something - a project, a key part of their role - will be taken away from them and given to someone else as a form of punishment if their performance suffers. Of course, this impacts their productivity and quality of work as they constantly focus on worrying and competition.

You should be willing to have tough conversations with team members when the quality of work falls or the work isn’t getting done. But when you’re focused on developing others, each team member should feel like they can trust their manager to put them in the right role or develop them into the right place for them - sometimes that means the job overall isn’t the right fit. Still, more often than not, it just means they need an adjustment in responsibilities that fit their natural strengths and gifts.

They can also trust that their teammates see them this way too and that each person can admire and rely on the strengths of another without comparing themselves. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to open the door to these opportunities and conversations. Ask your team members to offer and ask for feedback frequently from each other to build this solid team trust.

Vineet Gambhir, a Contemporary Leadership Advisor with Forbes, puts it like this: “Criticisms of past mistakes are not as valuable as lessons learned and their applicability to the future. A question I always ask in a review is what the employee’s next job should look like and how we get there. Perhaps it’s time to call them “potential” reviews.” 

Customize the conversation.

5. Are we balancing our focus between addressing weaknesses and encouraging and building on employee strengths? 

This question takes you back to a foundational part of your culture - do you know your team’s strengths, skills, and weaknesses? Does your team know these things about themselves and others? Make this a part of your regular, consistent conversation when giving positive and constructive feedback and in building and developing your team. Reminding employees that they’re unique people who bring something necessary to the team that only they can offer goes a long way in navigating the inevitable challenges. And it will foster solid interpersonal relationships that will genuinely help each person work as a team. 

These five questions are just a starting place, but we encourage you to dive deeper! This week, how can you reflect with your team leadership about how your review process could look in the future? It could be as simple as grabbing a coffee and setting a goal just to start the conversation. We can’t wait to hear what you discover! 

This is a summary of one section of our ebook, Your Comprehensive Guide To Effective Performance Reviews - access the complete guide packed with data, case studies, and trends moving forward for free.

Revamp Your Performance Reviews

Request a Demo of Leadr


Get Email Notifications

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think