Executing a Performance Review: The Best Return On Investment for Your Time

Over the last three weeks we have looked at the yearly review process from the viewpoint of the person being reviewed.  This week I will look at the review process from the other side of the desk.  If you have been invested in your career for several years you likely have at least one direct report.  That means you are in a small way responsible for helping them progress in their career through effective feedback that allows them to advance in their career, find their focus, and improve their weaknesses.  This week we will look at the “management” side of the review process to ensure you are doing your job to improve the performance of those who work for you and improve the organizations overall performance and effectiveness.

I break this down into two separate types of reviews.  First, the review of an employee who is not fitting into the organization, is performing poorly, or is on the way out for one reason or another, even if it has nothing to do with you individually or your department.  Second, we will look at the employee who is meeting and exceeding expectations, advancing in their career, possibly up for promotion, and is a strong member of your team.  Essentially, the “bad review” and the “good review.”

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To preface this discussion, I would like to state a few standard items for you as a supervisor:

  • Your organization, company, or firm likely has specific canned requirements and processes in place for you to follow during the review process.  You should always follow these requirements and standard procedures.  The human resources policies exist for a reason in each environment and should not be taken lightly.

  • Do your reviews in a timely manner.  Make sure you set aside the time you need to complete the review and give the review.  Completing reviews late or not dedicating sufficient time to it can be seen as disrespectful and create a very negative environment as your employees wait for their review.

  • Make sure you are taking time throughout the entire year to write down specific performance markers (good and bad) for your employees.  Often the best way to do this is simply to keep a document or file that notes accomplishments, compliments, struggles, and specific work throughout the year.  Your employee will know immediately if you simply write their review without preparation, because you will address only recent issues and won’t be able to give a comprehensive review.

  • Remember that this is a critical time for each employee.  The review process can create animosity, frustration, excitement, anticipation, and stress among your employees.  How you do your job is critical to making this process the most efficient and effective process it can be.

  • I contend that every review falls into one of the two categories because you owe it to your employee to think of their review in this way.  There is no purpose for an “average” review.  If the employee is “average” make it your job as their manager to mold and improve their performance.


First, let’s look at the employee who is performing poorly or has proven to not be a good fit for your organization.  Clearly the review is important.  If there has been a firm determination (perhaps above your pay grade) that the employee is on their way out, it is important to exercise caution by following human resources’ directions closely, ensuring that you are documenting the issues that have created the employee’s situation, and making sure that you are communicating with the employee effectively.  This can be helpful to make sure they understand the gravity of the situation, can effectively plan for their future, and can make their landing as soft as possible.  More likely than not, this is not the case.  Typically, there are simply issues that can be resolved through the review process, and you owe it to your employee and your organization to make sure you effectively communicate the substance of the issues and help the employee improve their performance and overall career trajectory.

Negative reviews are often very difficult to complete.  The conversation is not comfortable for the manager or the employee.  Listed below are a few specific points to consider.

  • Remember that the point of your discussion with your employee is to identify a weakness and then PARTNER with the employee to offer ways to improve.  Go into the review assuming the employee wants to improve and succeed and be prepared with specific ways the employee can improve.

  • It is more likely than not that the employee knows they are not meeting expectations.  It is difficult to come to work every day and not get a sense you aren’t succeeding.  Use the review as an opportunity to create a sense of relief for the employee by getting the unspoken out on the table and ensure them that your job as their manager is to partner with them to resolve the issue.

  • Be prepared, though, in case the issue at hand IS a surprise to your employee.  Make sure you have specific examples of the issue from the entire review period and not just from the last week.  Make sure you present these in a manner that will be received as convincing evidence and not a “gotcha.”  Your tone in giving these examples is as important as anything else in the review.  You don’t want your employee thinking you are keeping a “rap sheet” on them; you want the employee to understand that you thoughtfully reviewed their performance and are giving them evidence that things may not be as clear cut as they seem, but that it is YOUR job as their manager to ensure their success and their improvement.  Remember that nobody likes to be told they aren’t good at something.

  • In case the review discussion doesn’t go well, take that opportunity to take a break and come back to the meeting after a few days to let your employee put their thoughts together.  The goal of the review is to improve your employee’s overall performance and organizational fit.  If there is any confrontation or animosity, this goal will not be achieved.  Take the time to do this right.

  • Don’t forget that every employee is successful at something.  Even if the review isn’t stellar, make sure you take time to emphasize some positive aspects of their work.


Let’s turn to the high achieving employee who might just be better than you were when you sat in their office.  This may be the most important review you will conduct this year.  Unfortunately, this review is often the review that receives the least time, energy, and effort.  I would like to suggest that the return on the investment of your time for the employee getting a good review is probably the best you will get from a meeting in your office.  You have a proven quantity in front of you and you can use this yearly opportunity to truly grow the relationship between the employee and your organization and grow the professional development and ability of the employee in a way that simply completing a, “you did a great job, keep it up” review will simply not create.

So here are a few ideas to ensure that this “ideal employee” gets the review they deserve:

  • It is your job to make sure that the review isn’t just about getting a high ranking on the review form or an above average merit based raise. You are looking to take a great employee and give them the tools to be a leader in their profession.

  • Again, make sure you review specifics for the entire review period. Then take the extra step to make sure you create a nexus between those achievements and how they can become stepping stones to something even better. Perhaps use experiences you have had or observed in your career to make sure the employee understand why their achievement is important.

  • Consider going beyond the review to create a professional development plan for the employee, offer a mentoring relationship, and make sure you find out what aspects of the career truly excite your employee. Then look for ways to stoke that enthusiasm.

  • Often the high achievers in an organization are those who get a lot of extra work dumped on them because they are who they are, high achievers. Make sure to take time during the review to find out if there are issues that are affecting their performance, areas of frustration, or specific issues that they have identified that need to be addressed. This can be an incredibly important treasure trove of information to improve the organization.

  • Remember, in most organizations the most valuable resources are the human resources. Great employees will follow a great leader/manager, and will become great leaders and managers themselves. The review process is your opportunity to help a great leader and manager in his or her development

In an age of team-based environments with interdisciplinary work and cross department working relationships, a yearly review can be a hierarchical process that can create tensions in normally strong and productive working relationships.  Taking this process seriously and using the review process to its full potential can pay incredible dividends for you as their manager, for the organization, and certainly for the employee.  

Too often good management techniques are overlooked or not provided in training for new managers.  If this is the case in your organization, or if it is time for a refresher course for those conducting performance reviews, consider contacting Apochromatik for assistance.  We will make sure your team has the tools necessary to take your employees to the next level.