Leaders: 5 Steps to Deliver Performance Reviews

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Put Down the Megaphone!
Give Annual Feedback the Right Way.

Struggling with a poor performing employee? Use these 5 steps to prepare so you don't give feedback with a megaphone.

Struggling with a poor performing employee? Use these 5 steps to prepare so you don’t give feedback with a megaphone.

As a leader of people, a part of your job description is likely providing feedback to your team about their performance. Ideally, you are providing continuous feedback throughout the year; however, most companies have formal feedback requirements during the year – usually around the December timeframe.

Throughout my career I have found the exercise of formal feedback can be quite challenging. It can even create anxiety among your employees. This anxiety is usually driven off of poor past experiences based on the type of feedback, surprises and unsubstantiated comments, poor delivery, or the lack of a change to rebuke or discuss.

Formal feedback is both about you as a leader and the preparation of your employee. Read more about personal preparation, from Grace Lanuza, on how the receiver can prepare here.

My focus is how you can prepare as a leader to create a safe and constructive space to give your employees feedback on their year.

Here are 5 basic steps to deliver balanced performance feedback with the goal of supporting your team, ensuring your expectations are clear, and helping them realize their potential for growth and development.

5 Steps to Prepare for Performance Reviews

1. Think Annually Not Just Recently

Base feedback on the entire year, not just last month.

“Your reputation is as good as your last win” – this is an often-used expression that, according to me, supports people feeling stressed for a performance review. Sure, if your last win was recent, it works, but what if it was a while ago?

Performance should be reviewed over the entire year as consistent delivery and contributions are equally if not more important than a last minute win.

Pro Tip:

One of the ways I keep track of performance year-round is by keeping a team folder in my inbox. I save emails and notes about a team member’s performance throughout the year. It’s then easy to review this folder when preparing for performance reviews to remind myself of year round wins and opportunities.

2. Get Feedback From Multiple Directions

If possible, solicit feedback from multiple sources – up, down, sideways.

Your team’s performance is most likely dependent on input from others. Conversely, others’ successes might be dependent on input from your team.

It’s important to collect and analyze this information into your performance review. I would highly recommend collecting this feedback, even if your organization does not have any official programs or tools in place to support this effort.

Be careful not to use this feedback in a “he said, she said” kind of way, rather use it to identify trends and patterns in behaviour and provide feedback that way.

3. Measure Performance Against Defined Expectations

The ultimate rating or ranking in a performance review should not be a surprise if you started the year with solid goal setting discussions and have provided feedback throughout the year.

Make sure that you validate your evaluation is fair against the expectations set and that your team understands and defines these expectations in the same way. If not or not sure, start discussions with describing your expectations and validating these are clear. If there are discrepancies, focus on resetting the expectations rather than forcing a performance discussions based on differing definitions.

4. Balance Your Feedback

Don’t take the easy route and focus only on just the good or the bad.

Balanced, meaning, focusing on the “bad”, the “ok” but certainly also the “good” and “excellent.” Balance also means focus on what happened in the past year and also how to move forward.

A performance review is certainly meant to reflect back on the year, but I have never used it as a hard stop. It is a wonderful opportunity to set the stage for the year ahead by providing good insight on improvement opportunities, learning opportunities and more. Use it!

5. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

If you take leadership seriously, you cannot go into performance reviews un-prepared.

You need to do your homework. You need to provide your team with the experience they deserve also motivate them to continue delivering against organizational goals.

A strong performance review cycle lays the foundation for continued success. It strengthens relationships, it encourages and motivates your team to excel, grow and develop, it builds your credibility and authority as a leader. Watch out! This also implies the opposite will be true if performance reviews are handled poorly!

In a Nutshell:

  • Make sure you have all details – it’s not just your opinion that counts
  • Provide specific examples of actions and behaviours – people need to relate
  • Practice your delivery – make sure it comes across the way you intend it to
  • Don’t Forget These Logistics:


    A meeting room instead of your office might facilitate a more focused discussion. No phone distractions, emails pinging etc. Maybe a different floor than your own might be best if you are anticipating highly emotional discussions. Consider set up of the room (a big empty board room might be intimidating, seating opposite sides of the table or not).

    Body Language:

    Remember body language – be open, engaged and interested!

    Get Into the Right Headspace:

    Don’t rush from a meeting directly into a performance discussion. Build time into your calendar to get into the right headspace.

    Wrapping it All Together:

    Performance review time should be a great time to reflect and acknowledge misses, wins, and carve the future path together with your team.

    Helen has more than 20 years of experience in Talent Acquisition working in Canada and Europe in a variety of industries including manufacturing, sales & marketing, and currently in Oil & Gas. No matter how challenging a recruitment project seems, Helen’s ability to break daunting goals into actionable steps have been proven time and time again. Watch for Helen's posts on recruiting tips and tricks. Trust Helen as an expert who has staffed projects targeting Olympic athletes, remote merchandizers, and hired over 1,200 students and new grads annually.

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