How to Give a Meaningful Performance Review, According to 10 Team Leaders

Built In Staff
March 31, 2020
Updated: May 28, 2020
Built In Staff
March 31, 2020
Updated: May 28, 2020

According to a TriNet study on performance reviews, 22 percent of full-time, U.S. employees surveyed said they’ve called in sick because they were anxious about receiving their reviews. Furthermore, a whopping 62 percent of respondents said they felt “blindsided” by the feedback they got from their managers.

A meeting discussing an employee’s performance can be daunting. But performance reviews should be designed to serve team members, not scare them. And they don’t exclude positive feedback. 

So how do managers turn performance reviews into positive results?

We talked with 10 tech leaders about how they prepare for and format their performance reviews. Their advice included, but wasn’t limited to, preparing well in advance, using specific metrics to measure success and giving clear direction on how direct reports can improve moving forward.

Tips for Giving a Meaningful Performance Review

  • Provide feedback throughout the year, not just during reviews
  • Feedback should be valuable and actionable
  • Adapt to the needs of each individual
  • Acquire peer feedback
  • Perform 360 degree reviews
trustradius
TRUSTRADIUS

TrustRadius

TrustRadius’ Vice President of Research Megan Headley starts preparing for her performance reviews at the beginning of the year. She emphasized that having a clear, shared understanding of the review with the employee will help eliminate discomfort. Everyone, even managers and star performers, can benefit from performance reviews, Headley said.    

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it's a meaningful and productive conversation?

The most important piece of preparation is actually at the start of the period (quarter, year, etc.), when the goals are set. The best way to ensure a meaningful and productive review is by having a clear, shared understanding of what the individual set out to accomplish from the very start. To prepare, I re-read their job description to understand where there are any gaps. 

Next, I fill out my assessment of their performance against each goal and adherence to each of our company values. This includes qualitative feedback in addition to the scoring mechanism. I then ask them to self-assess on those same dimensions. After that, I gather 360-degree feedback from their peers (cross-functionally, if appropriate). Lastly, I put all of the information above together in one document, along with their goals for the next period.

 

"While you’re coaching those who need help, also challenge your stars to do more.”

 

What about during the review? How do you format these meetings and why?

During the conversation, I walk through everything in their review, including my assessment, their assessment and the feedback from their peers. The conversation will often focus on areas where my assessment and theirs diverged. I give them opportunities to react and ask questions throughout. For areas where goals were not achieved, we talk about why. Most importantly, we end with clear direction on how the individual can grow. I find that something as concrete as, “To get a higher performance rating next review, I want to see XYZ,” is most effective.

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

Obviously, clarity is important here. What might sometimes be overlooked is that constructive feedback also requires bravery. And while it may be uncomfortable for some of us, the person receiving the review can’t grow without it. So in addition to being clear, be brave. Share your feedback directly and openly and of course, respectfully. Another piece of advice I’ve received is to give just as much attention to your strong performers. While you’re coaching those who need help, also challenge your stars to do more. 

brightpearl
BRIGHTPEARL

Brightpearl

Although performance reviews are a formal meeting, Global HR Director Sarah Looper said the managers at Brightpearl give constant feedback throughout the year. During the review, Looper focuses on an employee’s professional development by creating metrics that can be tracked to improve performance.

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it's a meaningful and productive conversation?

Officially we have biannual performance reviews. However, throughout the year our managers are having continuous conversations on performance so when our performance reviews do come around, feedback shouldn’t come as a surprise to the employee. 

To prepare for these reviews, we solicit feedback from the employee about their own performance prior to the meeting to really get an understanding of how they see themselves in the company and their role. This self-reflection helps their manager to understand different components that would affect the employee's ability to be successful in the role. Does the employee have the tools and resources necessary to complete the work successfully? Has the company provided appropriate training and education on the role? Are there areas of opportunity for the employee to develop skills to grow their role? The answers to these questions will help shape feedback and goals mutually agreed upon with the employee.

 

"All feedback given must have value.”

 

What about during the review? 

The manager should start by having the employee share their thoughts and feedback regarding their performance. The manager’s role is to listen, take notes and further discuss any topics that come up in more detail. Feedback that is given must be clear, concise and be backed up with an example of the behavior exhibited for each area of discussion. The focus is on the employee’s professional development so any feedback given is to help the employee grow professionally.

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

All feedback given must have value. Don’t apologize for giving helpful and direct feedback. Remember, top performers want to know how they can improve and put their best foot forward at the company. 

Work with them to come up with a solution or a set expectation for any areas of concern. Create very specific metrics that can be checked in on to improve performance. One of our vales, “roll with the punches,” signifies that we’re always seeking a way forward; we’re adaptable. The end goal is to make sure they feel supported, encouraged and confident even when facing a challenge. 

 

VividSeats
VIVID SEATS

Vivid Seats

Vivid Seats Senior Manager Nic Roth makes sure that his direct reports understand that performance reviews are action-based and not a reflection of individual character. He accomplishes this by relying on career maps and evaluating outcomes based on specific actions. Advice he’d share with other managers? Always come to the meeting prepared. 

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

I like to begin the preparation at the beginning of the year or when an employee first starts by reviewing the expectations of their role with them. We have an engineering career map that serves as a guide for the skills, deliverables and behaviors expected at every level. It makes it easy to ensure my employees and I are on the same page with how their performance will be measured. I then make sure I’m delivering regular feedback against those expectations in my weekly one-on-ones. 

Once a quarter, we take a comprehensive look at the career map to identify how they are performing relative to each expectation. When it comes time for the actual review, we both have a good understanding of where the employee stands. My only outstanding action is to review the peer feedback they received so we can have a more informed and holistic discussion around their performance.

 

What about during the review? How do you format these meetings and why?

The review is a multi-part discussion that incorporates an employee’s reflection of their own performance, their peer feedback and my overall feedback on their performance. The goal is to have an open and honest conversation that is informed by data and action-oriented. 

We first discuss the individual’s review of their successes and areas they can improve on. I then share a summary of the peer feedback I received for them and my own feedback to ensure we’re aligned on their accomplishments, strengths they should leverage and the two or three development areas we both agree they should focus on. We wrap up the conversation by identifying some concrete actions that will help them progress in those areas.  

 

"The goal is to have an open and honest conversation that is informed by data and action-oriented.’’ 

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

Prepare in advance. Constructive feedback is always challenging. Being prepared ensures that you’re able to navigate the conversation. My focus is to make the feedback clear and timely. I make sure my feedback is action-based by delivering feedback in a three-step format. We first discuss the action and the resulting impact it had. I then explain what I expect to see going forward and we work together to agree on a plan. This model transforms feedback about negative behaviors or poor performance into concrete areas of improvement.

 

Aptitive
APTITIVE

Aptitive

At Aptitive, COO Jason Maas said managers and executives alike are action-oriented, particularly when it comes to performance reviews. The company’s review process involves oversight from a board so that all feedback is personable, specific and as intentional as possible.  

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

Aptitive uses our APS (Aptitive’s Performance Standards) to help gauge the performance of all of our employees every six months. During the review process, each employee will write a self-review based on our APS. In addition, mentors also reach out to the employee’s peers, clients and leadership to gather feedback and provide a 360-degree view of the employee’s performance during that time. 

 

What about during the review?  

Based on the feedback received from our 360-degree performance review process, each mentor writes a review that is then seen by a performance review board. The performance review board meets over several days to discuss each review and ensures the review and the feedback promotes the employee’s career advancement. After the performance review board, each mentor will meet with their mentee to discuss the review, provide feedback and develop action items to address career development.  

 

"Be sincere, listen and give praise when it is due.’’ 

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

Be sincere, listen and give praise when it is due. Focus on the future. Don’t dwell in the past. Make sure you are giving each employee concrete examples of their behavior and action items to address those career development areas. Doing so will help the employee grow and progress their career. 

 

Bounteous
BOUNTEOUS

Bounteous

For Heather Gantz, director of business analysis at Bounteous, the conversation doesn’t end once goals are set during a performance review. Gantz schedules a follow-up at the conclusion of each review so her team members feel supported beyond their designated evaluations.  

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

I believe that constructive feedback should be continuously provided throughout the year so that nothing that comes up is new or surprising for someone at the time of their review. I like to stay in regular contact with my coachee on progress, quick wins and milestones and proactively identify and advise on any hurdles.

Ahead of a formal performance review, I gather peer feedback from a handful of colleagues that each coachee has worked closely with the prior year. I take this feedback and turn it into an actionable plan for my coachee, reflecting on the past year’s goals while outlining opportunities for growth in the year to come.

 

What about during the review? 

The review is a time to celebrate successes from the prior year as well as look forward to growth opportunities. I try to focus on behaviors and their outcomes to make sure it doesn’t turn personal. I like to keep reviews conversational and ask for my team member’s perspective and thoughts along the way.

I end the review by giving my team member the opportunity to add their final thoughts and perspectives and to ask any questions they have. I also offer up thoughts about possible stretch goals for the coming year and make sure to have a follow-up conversation on the calendar to review and finalize those goals.

 

"Don’t feel the need to over elaborate or fill up the time.’’

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

Keep it simple. Don’t feel the need to over-elaborate or fill up the time. I focus on the outcome of a behavior so that my team member understands the impact that the behavior is having on others or the project. It is important to not make reviews personal and keep emotion out of the process.

 

Billtrust
BILLTRUST

Billtrust

Feedback is regularly exchanged at Billtrust, where employees participate in a quarterly review cycle. Vice President of Professional Services Christy Green said that she asks direct reports to come to performance evaluations prepared with challenges they’ve recently faced and personal accomplishments they’re proud of. 

Once they identify areas of development together, she focuses on how the team members can continue to improve the following quarter. 

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

We are fortunate that Billtrust’s formal review cycle is quarterly, so our “look back” period is much shorter than companies with annual reviews. To prepare, I consider three things: metrics that we track around specific performance related to our jobs, customer survey feedback we receive for each of our projects and empirical evidence around how I see the individual doing in areas such as interacting with other team members and contributions to the greater good. These three things are equally important and will factor into any performance discussion.

 

What about during the review? How do you format these meetings and why?

These are items we also discuss less formally in our weekly one-on-one conversations, so the formal performance meeting is not a surprise. The employee will schedule a review meeting where they are asked to have put some thought into their performance over the last three months and bring examples of things done well and specific challenges faced. We discuss how they plan on progressing toward specific goals documented in our human resource management system, what successes they achieved during the quarter and what areas of development they have identified. We then wrap up with a conversation about new items that we’ll focus on in the coming quarter. 

This is typically the natural flow of the conversation, as talking through successes sets a positive tone and is a great reminder of how far we’ve come. This naturally flows into the “what’s next” conversation. Even your rock stars want things to work on. So it’s not a hard conversation to have if you frame it correctly. 

 

"Even your rock stars want things to work on.’’ 

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

I believe the most important thing when providing constructive feedback is to remember your audience. Not everyone will receive feedback the same way. Some people handle blunt conversations well and need the message to be delivered that way in order to really hear what you are saying. Others’ feelings will be hurt, so they will stop listening. It’s not always easy, but it is important to adapt your style to the individual if you really want the conversation to result in change.

 

Funding Circle
FUNDING CIRCLE

Funding Circle

Performance reviews don’t exist in a vacuum. People Partner Katrina Bilella said that in addition to annual check-ins, Funding Circle offers training sessions managers can take throughout the year. Bilella shared how she provides constructive criticism rooted in mutual respect.  

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

Throughout the year, we hold several different training sessions around feedback, such as “Delivering and Receiving Feedback” and “Managing the FC Way.” In addition, we coach managers on how to have productive one-on-ones, including quarterly deep-dives focused on individual employee development.  

 

What about during the review? 

Since managers are already conducting quarterly development-focused one-on-ones, the beginning of the year allows us to look back, summarize and provide annual feedback. These annual check-ins are simple by design, consisting of just three main areas: what the employee achieved, how they achieved it (using Funding Circle values to drive their goals) and an overall performance descriptor.

 

"In order for feedback to be constructive, it must involve solutions.’’ 

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

In order for feedback to be constructive, it must involve solutions. Therefore, we encourage and empower managers to offer at least one solution when providing employees with feedback. We also encourage managers to have employees come up with their own solutions. Collaborative problem-solving can unlock potential.

 

Cloudvirga
CLOUDVIRGA

Cloudvirga

 

Ahead of a performance review, how do you prepare to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

Performance reviews and in particular, continuous performance improvement, ensure that a company is getting the best from the employee and the employee is getting the best from a company. At Cloudvirga, we have weekly one-on-ones with our direct reports so we stay current on previous accomplishments as well as new goals. 

Establishing regular and consistent feedback makes it easy to look over the past several months and document and celebrate the wins while identifying areas of improvement or growth. A big part of helping my direct reports grow is understanding where impediments may lie within the company that stall or inhibit success.

 

"A big part of helping my direct reports grow is understanding where impediments may lie within the company.’’

 

What about during the review? How do you format these meetings and why?

At this stage, we like to keep performance reviews simple. We ask a few basic questions like, “Does the company recognize my value?” and, “Name one thing that would impact my ability to do better work.” 

We combine these questions with a discussion about what the employee does well and areas for improvement, submitted by both the manager and the employee. We confirm areas of alignment and focus on anything a manager and employee may not view similarly.

We also set individual bi-annual goals that are tied to the department, division and company goals. This creates a sense of accomplishment because we are united in our purpose and direction.

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

It’s hard to have a conversation with an employee who’s not meeting expectations. But really delving into the “why” will uncover reasons that are inhibiting someone’s success. For example, if your customer support advocate has a daily goal to handle 20 customer calls but consistently falls short, you could assume this person is an underperformer or not engaged. 

Upon deeper investigation and asking the question, “What one thing affects your ability to do your best work?” you might determine that 50 percent of that employee’s day is spent supporting other team members because they are the subject matter expert in a particular domain. 

In this case, the employee may be a superstar. And as a manager, you need to remove the impediment (cross-training the team) to work in partnership with your direct report so they realize their potential. On the flip side, it’s best to be honest and direct with an underperformer and work on a plan of correction so they can be a successful contributor and feel a sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction.

 

YieldStreet team working
YIELDSTREET

YieldStreet

YieldStreet Chief People Officer Nicole Keller said managers should approach performance reviews with their conclusions in mind.

“Start with thinking about what the outcome of the discussion should be,” said Keller. 

Keller, who has worked at the investment platform for nearly a year, said outcomes should be centered around determining next steps for an employee: how they can continue their success, create future wins and advance toward their professional goals.

Using Kim Scott’s best-selling management book Radical Candor as a reference point, Keller said feedback during reviews should be open and contextualized, giving the team member clear examples of wins and areas for improvement. Keller also emphasized the importance of completing performance reviews by giving direct reports goals and action items.

Nicole Keller

CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER

How do you prepare for a performance review to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

I always encourage managers to prepare by taking a step back and thinking about the big picture. Think about the most important messages you want to get across. What are the person’s top two or three accomplishments? What are a few areas, that if they improved on, would result in a meaningful difference in their results or overall impact?

 

"Share the written review before the meeting so that they can digest the feedback and themes.”

 

How do you format these meetings and why?

I usually like to share the written review before the meeting so that they can digest the feedback and themes. This way the conversation is focused on the areas of highest impact, clarification and discussion. This also usually allows some time at the end of the conversation for me to ask how I can better support the person and to talk about forward-looking inspiration for what’s ahead. 

We end each written performance review by moving onto development. We start a conversation around how to better leverage the individual’s strengths and discuss areas they’d like to invest in developing.

 

RADICAL CANDOR BY KIM SCOTT

Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling book about effective management and communication strategies for leaders. The book has been translated into 20 languages and has been a resource for leadership teams around the world. The success of the book led to the creation of Radical Candor LLC, which helps businesses improve their managers' skills and company culture.

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

Kim Scott says it best in her book Radical Candor: “Care personally, challenge directly.” 

Start with thinking about what the outcome of the discussion should be. Usually, you’re sharing constructive feedback to help the person achieve better results and be successful in their role. Give that context and share the feedback directly. But then focus on what causes it and how you can support their improvement efforts and development. 

Navigating Cancer team

NAVIGATING CANCER

Navigating Cancer

Companies that deliver feedback to employees regularly experience 14 percent lower turnover, according to Officevibe. Additionally, 42 percent of millennials say they want feedback every week. 

Providing continuous feedback is something Clara Behnke, director of human resources at healthtech company Navigating Cancer, said is important for the success of individual employees as well as the business. 

“Managers should be giving feedback throughout the year during their regular one-on-ones around goals and performance so that employees can adjust to continuously changing targets,” said Behnke.

With almost 15 years of experience as an HR leader, Behnke said continuous feedback is key preparation for performance reviews. Regular check-ins keep employees from being blindsided during formal reviews and create opportunities for open dialogue around goal-setting and addressing challenges. 

 

Clara Behnke

DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES

How do you prepare for a performance review in order to ensure it’s a meaningful and productive conversation?

Preparation for a successful review is a continuous process. Managers should be giving feedback throughout the year during their regular one-on-ones around goals and performance so that employees can adjust to continuously changing targets. Business priorities are constantly shifting in today’s agile environment, so performance reviews need to follow suit. The days of the singular year-end annual review are long gone. 

 

"Goals need to be clear and specific with milestones and expectations set in a measurable format.”

 

How do you format your reviews?

If the manager has done the proper preparation, the actual content of the review meeting should not be a surprise to the employee. The meeting should be a two-way conversation about what has been successful and what has been challenging. It should also address any blockers to achieving the employee’s objectives. 

The remainder of the meeting should be focused on setting future goals aligned with the overall company objectives. Goals need to be clear and specific with milestones and expectations set in a measurable format for the next feedback session. 

 

What advice do you have for delivering constructive feedback in a performance review?

Always start off with the positive and focus on the strengths an individual brings to the situation at hand. Then follow up with the gaps and areas for improvement. This will help the individual be more receptive to constructive feedback. Also, leave personal attributes out of the feedback and focus on objective situational items as much as you can. Lastly, make sure just as with goals, the feedback is specific and actionable.

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