A key element of performance management, performance reviews help HR teams gain holistic insights into employee performance. Companies that implement comprehensive employee evaluations can learn valuable information about members of their workforce, such as who exhibits leadership potential, who is great at defining scalable processes, or who has exceptional industry knowledge that can help drive business. Apart from highlighting top performers, performance reviews also help managers and HR teams identify struggling employees who need support or performance improvement plans.
A successful review cycle can provide HR teams with visibility to discover workforce skill gaps, missing resources, and outdated or misaligned goals when done correctly. But getting performance reviews right takes careful planning and coordination across an organization. Here’s what you need to know before building out your performance review process.
Before You Start: Questions to Ask Yourself
Data collected from employee evaluations will help leaders, managers, and employees work together on key decisions regarding advancement and allocation of responsibilities. As with any good data collection process, effective performance reviews start with being thoughtful about the intention and methods for obtaining information. For HR teams, this means thinking critically about the objective, structure, and overall theme of every review cycle.
Before rolling out your next performance review, take a moment to consider the following:
1. What is the objective of your performance review?
There are two common objectives for performance reviews: evaluation and development. Most companies alternate between these objectives with each review cycle, but for companies that haven’t scaled beyond the single annual performance review, both objectives will have to share the stage. (Read more about our performance management recommendations around reviews, goals, and feedback here.)
If the objective of your review cycle is to evaluate employees, the main focus of your company’s performance reviews should be to check in on goals and assess performance over a certain period of time. These assessments should typically take place 1-2 times per year, and should play a role in informing key decisions around promotions and compensation. However, it’s important to note that performance shouldn’t be the only consideration on whether or not an employee receives a raise. While bonuses are often performance-based, compensation should be determined by a variety of factors, including tenure, title, and overall impact.
If the objective of your review cycle is to facilitate employee development, your company’s performance reviews should be focused on driving the flow of constructive feedback across the organization. Development-based reviews usually take place 2-4 times a year and should provide employees with insight on where they are delivering outstanding results and where they have room for improving performance. At the end of the review cycle, employees should know what steps they need to take to be successful and should have an action plan for progressing both in their role and their career.
Keep in mind that while it may sound counterintuitive, it’s okay for your performance review cycles to have two objectives. For some review periods (i.e. annual reviews), you may want to gather information that will both help the employee (development) and the company (evaluation). As long as you’re thinking critically about the structure of the review and know what information you want to gather ahead of time, you’re on the right track; you can also look up performance review examples to help you discern which approach will be most useful for your company.
2. Who should participate in your performance review?
Your objective will help you determine which employees need to participate in each review cycle. But to get the most comprehensive perspective of an employee’s performance, you’ll need to rely on more than one source of information. That’s where 360-degree performance reviews come in. HR teams can use this type of review to provide meaningful guidance to employees based on feedback from teammates, managers, direct reports, colleagues, and sometimes even clients (A recent study showed that a quarter of performance reviews use customer feedback as a source of evaluation for reviews.)
If your review cycle is using 360-degree performance reviews, you'll need to seek participation from the following parties:
On an employee self-evaluation form, employees perform self-assessments by reflecting on their projects and sharing what they want to accomplish at the company and in their broader career. Sample self-evaluation questions include:
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- To what extent did you meet your goals for the year?
- What are three areas in which you would like to develop to continue growing at this company?
- What do you think you should do differently next year and why?
- What elements of your job do you find most challenging that you would like to work on?
- What elements of your job interest you the most and the least?
- What is the company value you most exemplified in the last X months? Give examples of how.
On a peer review form, colleagues highlight the strengths and areas of opportunity in an employee’s performance over a certain period of time. Coworkers can also reflect on successes and challenges in past projects they have worked on together. Most importantly, they need to contextualize their responses with examples. Sample peer evaluation questions include:
- How has this person demonstrated more or less effective communication with you? What impact did that have?
- How has this person’s work impacted your ability to deliver on your goals?
- To what extent does this person follow through on goals and expectations? Please provide examples.
- To what extent and how does this person involve the right stakeholders in their work? Please provide examples.
- How well has this person set and met deadlines over the last X months? Please provide examples.
- What have been this person’s successes and challenges over the last X months?
- What is one piece of constructive advice you would share with this person? How would this change impact your work?
On a direct report evaluation form, managers have an opportunity to discuss competencies, communicate expectations, and course-correct when an employee is headed down the wrong path. Sample direct report evaluation questions include:
- What is an area where you’ve seen this person excel in the last X months? Please provide examples.
- What’s an area in which you’d like to see this person improve? Please provide examples from the last X months.
- To what extent did this person meet their performance goals in the last X months? Please provide examples.
- How well did this person manage their workload in the last X months? Please provide examples.
- How well did this person adapt to changing priorities in the last X months? Please provide examples.
- How well did this person communicate with others in the last X months? Please provide examples.
- What is the company value that this person most exemplified in the last X months? Please provide examples of how.
On a manager evaluation form, employees have an opportunity to communicate their needs, validate things that are working well, and make suggestions for how the team can approach challenges or roadblocks. Sample manager evaluation questions include:
- What is the most valuable thing you have learned from this person in the last X months?
- To what extent and how did this person hold you and your peers accountable for producing quality work in the last X months?
- Is this person more action- or outcome-oriented? How has this impacted your work in the last X months?
- How well did this person support your professional and personal growth in the last X months?
- How well did this person accept feedback in the last X months?
- To what extent did this person follow healthy communication practices in the last X months?
- What is the company value that this person most exemplified in the last X months? Please provide examples of how.
3. What should you measure in your performance review?
Before drafting review questions or creating a performance review template, start by determining the broader categories of employee performance that you want to measure. The exact mix of employee qualities that are featured in a review is dependent on what your organization identifies as important for its decision-making processes. But most companies are interested in measuring skills, strengths, behaviors, and outcomes.
- Project Management:
- How well has this person set and met deadlines?
- To what extent did they demonstrate the ability to balance assignments?
- Problem Solving:
- How has this person approached challenges?
- To what extent did they employ creative ideas in solving problems?
- Communication Skills:
- How effectively did this person share knowledge with others?
- To what extent did they provide constructive feedback regularly?
- How well did this person handle conflict?
- To what extent did they exhibit a strong ability to motivate others?
- Was this person involved in any committees or ERGs?
- To what extent did they help organize any team or company events?
- How effectively did this person anticipate problems?
- To what extent did they take initiative versus wait for guidance?
- How did this person reflect the company values?
- How did they represent the company externally?
- To what extent was this person considerate of the needs of others?
- To what extent did they demonstrate helpfulness towards coworkers?
- To what extent did this person follow through on commitments?
- To what extent did they demonstrate respect for the opinions of others?
- To what extent did this person achieve their set KPIs?
- To what extent did they deliver on the team’s expectations for their role?
- To what extent did this person contribute to any major initiatives?
- To what extent did they raise the standard of quality through work?
- To what extent was this person invested in learning new skills?
- To what extent did they demonstrate a desire to grow as a professional?
While skills and behaviors are most often tied to competencies, strengths and outcomes are commonly tied to goals. A good performance review aims to measure all four in ways that are observable and objective. Just remember to be specific about your time frame and to ask for examples or evidence for each open-ended question!
4. What questions should be in your performance review?
It can be challenging to decide which questions will best enable you to evaluate performance. Employees benefit most from performance reviews that yield a variety of feedback on different aspects of their work. To ensure that employee performance evaluations provide a well-rounded perspective, HR teams should incorporate two types of performance review questions: quantitative and qualitative.
Businesses scale by being data-driven. When performance review questions rely on quantitative data, they eliminate room for misinterpretation and provide a more precise understanding of performance patterns. This takes a significant amount of planning from business leaders, HR teams, and managers, who need to set clearly defined benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring progress. Quantitative performance evaluations also need to be supported with the right technology for tracking team- and employee-level goals transparently across the organization. Sample quantitative questions include:
- What percentage of their goals did this person achieve?
- How much direct impact doid this person’s work have on revenue?
- How did this person’s output compare to the company average?
- How many assignments did this person complete on time?
- What benchmarks would you like to see this person meet in 3-6 months?
Harnessing data to evaluate performance is useful, but in reality success for most roles is more abstract than arbitrary. While certain aspects of performance can be measured numerically, others add intangible value to the company and should be considered when evaluating an employee’s overall impact. If someone exhibits qualities that help make the organization a great place to work, it’s important that their contributions are recognized as part of their performance. Qualitative questions give employees the opportunity to grow in more ways than one. Sample qualitative questions include:
- To what extent was this person detail-oriented?
- To what extent was this person capable of working independently with little to no supervision?
- What was the level of quality of the work this person produced?
- To what extent did this person help improve the skills of the people around them?
- To what extent did this person own the solution to problems?
Rating questions should always be accompanied by open-ended, qualitative questions (although the same doesn’t necessarily apply vice versa). In either case, it’s always important to ask for evidence and examples.
Effective review cycles enable businesses to be informed and in touch with their people. They also allow employees to continuously verify and adjust their career trajectory and empower managers to build stronger relationships with their direct reports.
The performance review questions posed throughout this article can be used to drive comprehensive employee evaluations in various categories. As you leverage these examples, be sure to tailor them to fit the unique needs and priorities of your business and its employees. For more guidance on how to run successful performance reviews that work for your organization, check out some of our reviews and feedback templates or get in touch with Lattice’s Advisory Services.