HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

How to Conduct a Performance Review and Keep It on Track

Manager and employee engaging in conversation

Performance reviews can help improve productivity and motivate your employees. They can also help you make informed decisions regarding training needs and disciplinary actions, and can help prepare you for promotions and pay increases. For these reasons, it’s a best practice to provide regular performance feedback to all employees. Here is a checklist to help you get the most out of your performance reviews.

Prior to meeting

check_approved Review feedback already given during the review period.

The performance review shouldn't be the first time the employee has heard about a problem (or their good work). Performance issues should be addressed at the time they occur and reiterated during the review.

If you have communicated performance concerns in the past, such as in a written or verbal warning, the performance review is an opportunity to remind the employee of past discussions and provide documentation.

check_approved Apply a standardized rating system.

Use a standardized performance appraisal form and system to rate employees on their pre-established objectives and goals for the review period. For example, many employers use a 1-5 rating system.

When rating the employee, determine how successfully the employee is performing each of their assigned objectives and goals. Include detailed comments and examples to support the rating.  

Whatever system you use, make sure the criteria are valid, job-related, and applied consistently to all employees. Ensure that the feedback and ratings are accurate and don't reflect conscious or unconscious biases. 

Never fault an employee for activity that is protected. For example, many federal, state and local laws give employees the right to job-protected leave and prohibit retaliation against employees who exercise their rights to take leave. If an employee takes protected leave, you may not count this time against the employee when assessing their attendance or performance. There are a number of other laws that protect employees for engaging in other types of conduct, such as lawful off-duty activities. 

To help keep performance appraisals in line, many employers require them to be reviewed by company leadership or human resources prior to being delivered to employees.

check_approved  Reduce distractions.

When scheduling the performance review meeting, choose a mutually convenient time and a private location. Think about the employee's workload and try to schedule the meeting after a major project or deadline. 

Also, when merit increases are coupled with performance reviews, employees may focus solely on the pay increases and may be disengaged from the performance discussion. To avoid this, some employers have two separate discussions, one dedicated to performance and one to communicate any merit increase. 

Regardless of how you handle the situation, encourage the employee to focus on the performance evaluation, so they can understand their ratings, learn what they need to do during the next review period, and ask any questions they have.

check_approved Consider steps to encourage a two-way conversation.

The performance review should be an interactive discussion between you and the employee. To help promote a dialogue, you can ask the employee to evaluate their own performance prior to the meeting. 

During the meeting

check_approved Open the meeting.

Start the meeting off by explaining that the purpose of the review is to improve performance and foster professional growth. Focus on the exchange of feedback and collaborate on action plans for the future.

check_approved Lead with the positive.

Even though an employee may receive a positive review overall, they may get wrapped up in the negative. To help, start the conversation with positive feedback before delving into areas where the employee needs to improve. 

While you should acknowledge the positive aspects of every employee's performance, don't avoid or dance around negative feedback — be clear and straight forward and provide examples of performance issues. Additionally, provide strategies and suggestions for ways to improve performance.

check_approved Review progress toward SMART goals and set new ones.

The performance review should address the employee's progress in meeting current goals and establish goals for the next review period. To the extent possible, include the employee in the goal-setting process. Goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. 

If an employee was unable to meet their goals or believes new goals are unattainable, discuss the specific reasons why. Be flexible and adjust goals impacted by resource constraints or other circumstances beyond the employee's control.

check_approved Be ready to re-focus the conversation.

The performance review should be a constructive conversation, not a debate. If the employee presents new information that is relevant to the performance review (e.g., they claim to have made more sales than indicated in the review), let the employee know that you will look into the new information following the meeting. Avoid making any promises that would change the performance rating and schedule a follow-up meeting if necessary.

Note: During the meeting, the employee may reveal information that can trigger certain obligations. For example:

  • If the employee discloses that the reason for their change in performance is because they’re a victim of sexual harassment, launch a prompt investigation into the allegations.
  • If the employee reveals they have a disability, you may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee.
  • If they reveal symptoms of burn out, offer company resources that may help, such as an Employee Assistance Program, and help them develop a plan for improving.
  • And, if they are having difficulty working with another employee, guide them through resolving workplace disagreements.

check_approved Ask the employee to acknowledge receipt of the review.

At the end of each performance review, ask the employee to sign the written review. If the employee refuses to sign, explain that the purpose of the signature is to confirm that the employee received the information, not that they necessarily agree with it. 

If the employee disagrees with the performance review, give the employee an opportunity to provide a written statement explaining why they disagree with the review. If the employee still refuses to sign, note that on the performance record and then date it. Retain a copy of the performance review in the employee’s personnel file.

After the meeting

check_approved Follow up.

Check in with the employee regularly to discuss their progress and offer assistance as needed.


Train supervisors on the importance of accurate, objective performance ratings and hold them accountable for following the process consistently. Additionally, have checks and balances in place where performance evaluations are reviewed by upper management or human resources.



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