From small start-ups to the giants of the world of business, companies live and die by the performance of their people. Managers play a huge role in that. And frequent performance-focussed reviews are a cornerstone to an effective manager-employee relationship. What you talk about and the questions you ask in quarterly reviews can make or break the effectiveness of any sit down.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of sticking just to the traditional topic of past performance. What went wrong, why, and how to avoid it moving forward, you know the drill. This is all relevant stuff of course, but we know it’s unlikely to be the most effective strategy.

Focussing on additional areas such as building rapport, growth and your own performance all add depth to your reviews. It’s also easy to forget that reviews are not meant to be one-way affairs where you as a manager take the mic. Reviews are best thought of as a performance conversation – a two-way discussion where employees get at least their share of time to speak.

Here’s 10 great questions to ask in your next employee’s quarterly review. Deep dive into key topics and get your people speaking freely about performance.

Questions for quarterly reviews that build rapport and trust

The basis of a strong manager-employee relationship is trust. If your team don’t feel like they can trust you they are unlikely to be motivated to work hard for you. If your team doesn’t feel like you care about them and trust they can come to you, there’s almost zero chance they’ll be engaged at work. So, what review questions can you ask that build trust?

1. How are things going generally?

Performance conversations don’t have to be 100% all about work. Great managers take an interest in their people. There’s a fine line between caring and prying obviously, but don’t feel you can’t ask your people how life is treating them every now and then.

2. How do you feel your work-life balance is right now?

Now more than ever work-life balance needs to be a focus for managers ad their people. The rapid rise of hybrid and remote working practices means the boundaries between work and home have blurred heavily for many and that can be a problem.

Questions for quarterly reviews about career growth

Know what the top employee perk according to research from the best and brightest at Google, Deloitte, and Gallup is? It’s not free lunches, private healthcare, birthdays off, or ping pong tables. It’s career growth.

Quarterly reviews are a great time to talk about their growth because, let’s be honest, with everything going on, adding another meeting ad hoc to “talk about your career” falls into the “best intentions, but never happens” bucket. Switch things up with a few simple questions focussed on employee growth.

1. What skills would you like to develop over the next quarter?

This is a great question for unearthing not only where you can help your team members develop but what their future at the company might look like. By understanding the skills your people are looking to improve you can start to see how else they may benefit the team moving forward.

2. What additional training, responsibility, or visibility would you like?

Giving your employees the power to ask for the support they need is a vital element of running a great team. It’s no good just assuming your people will speak up if they hit a blocker that needs your support, so make sure to ask every few months, if not more often.

3. Do you feel challenged at work in your current role?  

Key to employee motivation is striking a balance between being challenged by your work without things becoming overwhelming. If an employee answers “no” here, then you can look at ways to up the challenge by adding new responsibilities or setting more ambitious goals. These can also align with future aspirations to aid development.

Questions for quarterly reviews about management style

Managers have a huge responsibility to their teams. They are there to lead, to coach, to support and to champion their people. It’s a lot to take on. Very few managers are perfect from the start. It’s a learning process that will be filled with ups and downs. But what the very best managers do is use their team’s feedback to help them become better managers.

Part of any sit-down performance conversation with your people should focus on how you can better help your people. Not only is it great for building trust and getting better results sooner, but it also helps you become a better manager.

1. How can I better help you over the next quarter?

As a manager a big part of your role is to support and coach your team so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. It’s essential then that you ask them how you can best help them. You might not be able to action everything they ask for and certainly shouldn’t if it’s going to lead to you being overworked. But simply by asking this question and discussing any points raised you will be building better connections with your team.

2. How do you like to receive feedback? Do you feel you are getting enough?

How you communicate with your people is just as important as what you communicate. That’s because employees will have different preferences. And where possible it’s important to provide feedback in the best format for each.

The stats don’t lie when it comes to communication. 86% of executives, educators and employees believe that poor communication causes project failures. 97% of employees agree that communication impacts work on a daily basis. And more than a quarter cite poor communication as the main reason they fail to meet deadlines.

Questions for quarterly reviews about employee performance

Obviously, performance is an important topic in any review, particularly quarterly and annual. But try not to make all your question too performance-focussed, as this makes what should be an open and honest conversation feel like a grilling. Here are some good questions to consider when it comes to unpicking performance.

1. What recent achievements are you proud of?

This gives your employee the chance to big up all the great work they have done recently. It also allows you to better understand what work motivates and engages them and what tasks are perhaps less appealing.

2. Reviewing the last quarter, how do you feel your work has impacted the team?

Purpose is a key motivator for great work. By exploring the perceived impact of efforts made by your people you help them to better see the big part they are playing in the success of the company. Asking this question allows managers to better assess the perceptions and attitudes of staff around their role as well as their current performance level.

3. Are your goals and the team’s goals for the next quarter clear?

Setting, aligning, and amending goals should be a part of every performance conversation you have with your people. This question gives you a gauge of how well you have set, and they have understood, upcoming targets. Clear up anything that isn’t crystal clear and help steer your people by shaping plans for achieving goals if required.