Although many people dread constructive criticism, it remains one of the best ways to improve someone’s performance. And organizations know it too! That’s why they’ve implemented annual performance reviews to try and make good employees into great ones. 

In a perfect world, performance management would work 100% of the time. But when you go about them wrong, these meetings can seriously dampen employee morale. You can stay on the right track with the below tips on how to conduct a performance review meeting.

What is a performance review meeting? 

A performance review meeting is when you review successes and areas of improvement with a team member. Typically, these meetings are a jumping-off point to crafting a long-term plan to help that team member build on their strengths and better their weaknesses. Maybe it sounds a bit one-sided, but really, a proper performance review is a dialogue that gives team members the opportunity to be directly involved in their growth. They can help identify areas of improvement, address ongoing issues, and leave employees feeling like their work is noted and appreciated.

Kameron Jenkins, Content and SEO Lead at Shopify Retail, explains the value of performance reviews for both you and your team really well. “Emphasize that it’s for them,” Kameron says. “[Say that it’s] for their professional growth and that it can be the catalyst for promotions and raises in some cases. It’s also a two-way conversation, so it can serve as a time where they can get performance-related concerns off their chest as well.”

Come prepared

A performance review meeting requires preparation and collaborative talking points. Use a tool like Fellow so everyone can contribute to the conversation and show up prepared.

Who is typically invited to a performance review meeting?

Often, performance reviews are one-on-one meetings. Sometimes, though, one or two more people are in the room. Inviting too many people may be a little intimidating for a team member to feel like they’re up against a group. It may also get in the way of addressing individual employee needs. That being said, the people you’ll typically invite to employee performance reviews are:

  • The employee. Both high-performing employees and low-performing employees get performance reviews.
  • The managers who oversee the employee (that includes you).
  • Occasionally, the human resources manager.

6 tips for conducting performance review meetings

Armed with the “what” and the “who” of employee evaluations, it’s time to tackle the “how.” Below are a few helpful tips, and here’s the big thing underlying all these tips: Make your meeting a conversation. Honing in on an underperforming team member’s faults without giving them airtime can discourage their growth and make it more difficult for them to feel like they can be involved in their future.

1 Prepare ahead of time 

A performance review is most effective when everyone involved is on the same page. Your team members might come into their performance appraisal with frayed nerves and feel like saying the wrong thing will put their job in jeopardy. Sharing a plan beforehand (or better yet, building it together) can help create a less intimidating environment.

You can also give the team member a more active hand in the meeting. Your evaluation should be a conversation, so try creating the talking points collaboratively. You could even let the employee pick the location so they’re in an environment where they feel comfortable. 

2 Look to the future

Reflecting on the past is key to performance reviews. It’s how you highlight where a team member can improve. But if all you focus on is past successes or failures, you don’t pave a path for them to improve their performance. That’s not to say you can’t talk about their previous performance at all! Just try to nest that conversation into a goal-setting process so the employee knows how to do even better.

3 Ask the right performance review questions

A common mistake that managers make during performance reviews is approaching the whole thing as an “evaluator.” Yes, questions are key, but make them too pointed, and the review can start to feel more like an interrogation. That’s a bit too combative for what’s supposed to be a conversation. You should be on the employee’s side – you want them to improve because you care about them.

So, before coming into the meeting, try and write down some questions that shift your mindset from judge to coach. For example:

  • What are your work goals for the next quarter?
  • What obstacles are holding you back?
  • What workplace accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How can I improve as a manager?

4 Be intentional with what you say

Being unclear and wordy can complicate performance reviews. It’s just as bad for an employee to leave a meeting confused as if they left discouraged. Miscommunication can cause the employee to try improving in areas where they’re already great without addressing the actual issue.

Getting into specifics without being long-winded helps to avoid this issue. When setting employee goals and expectations, include timeframes for improvement so the goals are clear. Additionally, when going over strengths and weaknesses, provide clear examples so the employee knows exactly what you want.

5 Practice active listening

Conversation requires more than just letting the other party speak – you need to listen to what they say. Admittedly, since you’re the one who called the meeting, it’s easy to end up dominating the discussion, especially if the employee is nervous. But two-way communication drives employee productivity, especially after a performance review. It keeps employees engaged and gives them an active hand in their growth. 

To listen more actively, make sure the employee is comfortable enough to share their opinions. From there, just show genuine interest in what they have to say. Ask questions that let them lead the conversation, then delve further into their answers with follow-ups. Then, reiterate what they’ve said to clear up any misunderstandings and work together toward better performance.

6 Discuss next steps 

A performance review isn’t just about encouraging employees to improve. It’s also how you lay the foundation that allows them to do so. Think about it like this: It’s easy to talk about improving an employee’s performance. It’s a bit harder to make that improvement without a clear path. 

Once the review is complete, go over the notes you’ve taken and put together some actionable goals for the employee. Then, make yourself available to help the employee through any challenges as they continue to grow.

Do’s and don’ts of an efficient performance review

While the above tips will help you run better evaluations during your company’s review period, there are some universal guidelines to keep in mind too. The below do’s and dont’s of efficient performance review basically rules that can guide all the above tips. Keeping them in your pocket should help you make all your performance reviews a smashing success.

  • Do hold performance reviews frequently. Your review meetings should align an employee’s performance with company values. That said, most businesses schedule performance reviews once a year, and over this long period, it can be difficult to track progress. Planning more informal performance reviews monthly or quarterly can help employees stay on course.
  • Don’t focus on the past. Employees shouldn’t be evaluated based solely on their past performance. While looking back is important for the review process, nobody can change what’s already happened. That’s why you should use the employee’s past as a foundation for their future. Pinpoint where they excel and where they should improve.
  • Do make your performance reviews more like conversations than meetings. A performance review is at its best when everyone participates equally. When the manager dominates the conversation, it can become a lecture about how an employee failed to meet company standards. An evaluation like that often hurts employee morale and productivity. Instead, your reviews should be dialogues where employees are comfortable speaking their minds.
  • Don’t hold back, but do be kind. A performance review is meant to help employees improve, so holding back constructive feedback doesn’t do anyone any favors. However, the keyword here is constructive. Pointing out an employee’s mistakes is closer to ridicule, and it should come as no surprise that that’s a severe drain on company morale. As a manager, you should ultimately want all your team members to improve, and anything besides kindness runs counter to that goal.
  • Do stay objective. It’s easy to get accurate data on employee performance with productivity tracking software and other tools. Before these tools existed, managers relied on observation and their opinions to determine how an employee could improve. So it’s not surprising that bias and simple human error have informed a lot of performance reviews. Today, however, managers can stay more objective thanks to peer feedback tools and other metrics.

From critic to coach

Performance reviews can be challenging to run even if you’ve done them a bunch. It’s easy to criticize an employee’s performance, but doing so in ways that help them grow can be tougher. The above tips are great first steps, but it never hurts to stack the deck. That’s where Fellow comes in. With its note-taking features, meeting agenda creation and sharing tools, and real-time feedback options, Fellow can help you turn any employee into a high performer.