Performance conversations give managers a better understanding of how they can help their people to improve their own performance and overall contribution. They encourage employees to drive their own progress and ask for help when they need it. But the problem is, most managers and employees feel traditional performance reviews simply don’t work. Our 8 performance appraisal tips for managers will help you to run more effective review meetings with your direct reports.

What type of performance appraisal are you preparing for?

A performance appraisal is any 1:1 meeting between you and your employee that’s focused on their performance. That can be a classic performance review, a 1:1 catch-up, a quarterly goal-setting review, or an ad-hoc sit down. When run well, performance reviews tell managers how they can support their direct reports to succeed. And they encourage employees to drive their own progress and ask for help when they need it.

There are 9 types of performance conversations, but here are the 5 most common:

Monthly 1:1 conversations are a time to reflect on high level feedback themes, rather than the detail. Goals can be aligned or re-aligned. And personal and professional development is discussed.

Quarterly goal-setting conversations are big-picture focused. They may be a team meeting with individual actions to set OKRs afterwards. Either way, these meetings are to agree how you will align your contribution to team and business success.

Annual retrospectives or reviews are for reflection and forward planning, rather than information gathering and evaluating past performance.

Underperformance can be tricky, but it needs addressing quickly. Your productivity might fluctuate a little from week to week. But if there’s an underlying issue, it’s better to bring it to your manager’s attention before it escalates.

Overperformance can be a sign of struggling to maintain healthy boundaries. And ongoing overperformance can be bad for business, bad for managers, and most importantly bad for you.

How to have more effective performance appraisal conversations

Whilst a performance conversation takes an hour or less, great managers do the legwork throughout the year to make these sessions effective. Great managers take time to understand performance conversation best practice. Rather than following a tick-box process that your people hate. Supported by the fact that 94% of managers feel traditional performance reviews are ineffective. And 80% employees feel reviews offer little lasting benefit.

Framing and phrasing are really important

Choosing which questions to ask in a performance review isn’t always easy. It’s about much more than just figuring out what you want to know. How managers ask these questions can affect employee responses, and therefore the effectiveness of the performance review as a whole.

Leading questions skew data, so be mindful of how you phrase questions to ensure an honest response. Also, be wary of biases that can creep into questions without us even realizing it.

5 tips for managers preparing to run a performance appraisal conversation

1. Dig into your employee’s feedback history

The Engage365 check-in is a structured way to capture your people’s achievements and challenges as they happen, as well as feedback from their peers through recognition @mentions. That makes it the perfect tool for supporting great performance conversations.

Key to a great performance conversation is a plan. Review your employee’s feedback collected over a the applicable period for red flags or talking points. Build an agenda that encourages discussion rather than one-way questioning.

Share the agenda well in advance of any actual conversation taking place. Remember; the whole point of performance appraisals is to help your people develop and grow. It’s hard for them to feel able to do that if they aren’t involved throughout.

An agenda means things stay on track. Post conversation it’ll act as a useful reminder of the discussion and follow-on actions.

The Perform365 check-in also encourages your people to update their OKR or Goal progress so they’re focused on the things that matter to them, the team and the business. Whether you use Zensai for this or not, focusing on frequent feedback keeps things timely and impactful.

If you’re not using a structured feedback tool to collect this data you’ll need to have a look back through emails and notebooks to prepare.

2. Set goals and review often

Whether you use Goals of OKRs, they should be clear, aligned with larger company objectives, and easily measured. They need to be discussed and agreed during performance conversations. And then reviewed regularly outside of these catch ups.

It’s also important to support your people to develop a plan around how they can achieve them, as well as any support they may need to be successful. Priorities can change at the drop of a hat. Review goals frequently to ensure relevancy and help guide your people.

With Perform365, users can set goals as part of the check-in process. This improves goal-setting effectiveness and powers better performance.

3. Embrace continuous performance

Traditional reviews don’t work. That’s because they’re untimely, based on anecdotal recollections, and are impacted by all manner of biases. Use frequent feedback tools and monthly 1:1 meetings for day-to-day feedback and guidance. These support the more formal performance conversations.

They provide evidence for reviews, remove potential biases, and allow for more timely discussions with your people. They also reduce the probability of nasty surprises to either employee or manager during the discussions. Every company is different.

We recommend a performance cycle that uses:

  • A weekly check-in
  • A monthly 1:1 meeting that includes goal-setting once a quarter
  • A quarterly or bi-annual performance conversation
performance conversation cycle best practice

4. Use 360 feedback to support performance appraisal

You’re only human (we hope). You can’t be everywhere and see everything that happens with your employees. This is even more true in a hybrid, remote, and flexi working culture.

360 feedback helps paint a more detailed picture of the work, efforts, and successes of your team members. Peers, other team members and even suppliers or customers can provide 360 feedback to give a more holistic view of your people’s strengths, weaknesses, and contributions. As a result, the performance conversations are much more effective.

5. Automate performance appraisal processes where possible

Zensai customers have access to performance conversations as part of their subscription, including a tonne of automation. This is a super useful performance appraisal tip for managers with large teams!

You can pull employee feedback, goal progress, or question responses from custom dates into your next performance conversation. All at the click of a button. For Office365 users you can also ask Zensai to talk to your calendar and book the 1:1 meetings for you. This not only makes things stress free when it comes to prep work, but it allows you to build a focused and tight agenda.

3 tips to run a performance appraisal as a manager

Performance reviews should serve not only as a means to gauge how an employee stacks up against the expectations of their employer, but also how the role and its management stack up against the expectations of employees. A problem on either end need to be addressed and so clear two-way feedback is an absolute must.

1. Managers need to ask the right performance appraisal questions

It may sound simple but asking questions that help improve the quality of a performance conversation is an art. How many times have you asked or been asked a question in a performance conversation that felt leading or like a tick-box exercise? Ensure questions you ask during your sit-down are relevant and have a purpose.

Here’s a handy list to get you started:

2. Look forward more than back

A top tip for managers running performance appraisals is to focus on the future. Looking back to learn from past efforts is important. But far too many managers spend far too much of the meeting focused on past performance.

Your frequent feedback is your tool for day-to-day reflections and incremental improvement. Performance conversations need to be more future focused. Aim to spend at least half of the discussion talking about and planning for the future.

3. Don’t just focus on performance

By asking relevant questions, managers can help employees to better explore past performance and the influences on it. More importantly, great questions help set goals and plans that are targeted and achievable.

Ask questions about engagement

These questions tell you how your employee feels about their role and the workplace in general. It’s also your chance to address any workplace obstacles limiting their engagement. Good engagement-based questions include:

  1. What aspect of your performance are you most proud of?
  2. How would you describe your level of job satisfaction?
  3. Is there anything they would change about the workplace?
  4. How aligned do you feel with company objectives?

Explore employee experience

While engagement may be the broadest factor contributing to employee performance, wellbeing is still one of the most vital. There are a few different aspects that make up someone’s overall wellbeing. Your questions will need to address them all if you want to keep your bases covered.

  1. Is there anything I should be aware of regarding your health?
  2. How much stress have you experienced over the last month?
  3. How connected do you feel to your colleagues?
  4. Describe your perfect working environment to be your best self
  5. How do you like to receive feedback from me?
  6. Is there anything I could be doing different to communicate more effectively?

Ask questions to emphasise personal development

Some really great questions to ask in a performance review are the ones concerning an employee’s journey of personal development. These questions can be as blunt as asking about their expectations of promotion. But they can also come in the form of asking about the skills they want to develop, or areas they want to improve. One of the most commonly quotes statistics supporting this approach is that 65% of employees want more feedback.

  1. What do you see as your next role or career move?
  2. Are there any new skills you want to develop?
  3. What can we do to help you meet your goals?