Performance Reviews

Questions to Ask During Mid-Year Performance Reviews

June 29, 2020
March 8, 2024
Catherine Tansey
Lattice Team

Mid-year reviews can strike fear in the hearts of employees and produce dread in otherwise confident managers, but they don’t have to. While a recent study by Gallup found that only 14% of employees feel their performance review inspires them to improve, managers can change this with a few simple adjustments.

“Sadly many overstretched managers treat the process as a tick-box exercise, with the conscious or subconscious intention of just getting it done,” said Juliet Adams, UK-based performance management specialist and author of Mindful Leadership for Dummies. But by asking the right questions and following a few best practices, managers can facilitate thoughtful mid-year reviews that motivate and engage employees, and inspire them to succeed for themselves and the team. Here’s how to get started.

Mid-Year Review Tips for Managers

Managers who conduct successful performance reviews ask the right questions and rely on best practices to expand the conversation and encourage employees to reflect on their progress, analyze their performance, and set goals for the coming six months. “The key is to focus on the wins, the misses (or areas to improve), and how one wants to grow,” said Jes Osrow, SHRM-SCP, head of learning and organizational development at Quartet Health, a healthcare technology and services company focused on mental health. 

Questions to Ask

Questions will vary based on the industry, your company policies, and the culture of your organization. But in general, managers should frame the questions around a few key pillars: what went well, what could go better, and how you as a manager can provide better support.

Ask open-ended questions and encourage employees to rate their experiences on a scale of 1-10, explained Lori Scherwin, executive coach and founder of Strategize That, an executive coaching company. “Scaling mid-year helps make qualitative comments more quantitative and actionable. It also helps prompt dialogue on what actionable steps would be needed to get to the next level of performance,” said Scherwin.

Here are the key questions you’ll want to cover:

  • How have you done since our last check-in?
  • What specific accomplishments are you proud of over the last six months?
  • What was a miss, and what did you learn from it? 
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your performance?
  • How can I better support you? 
  • Is there another role you see yourself in at this company? What can we do to get you there?

Why These Questions Matter

With six months down and six to go at this time of year, managers have the opportunity to review progress, re-energize employees, and course correct if necessary.

“The right questions give the employee a chance to reflect on how they’ve done so far this year, and what they can do to make sure their year is a success overall,” said Jenna Carson, HR director of Music Grotto, an online resource to help aspiring artists develop their musical talent.

Kieran King, human capital management expert and founder of go-to-market and enterprise talent consulting firm Statera Insights, noted that mid-year review questions should illuminate company objectives. “The key questions are those that relate to the near-term and longer-range strategic goals of the organization,” said King. 

However, she cautions against having too many areas of focus. “The number of objectives should be reasonable to manage so that some impact is recognizable at the next review period,” said King. “That helps ensure engagement toward the goal and an opportunity for the manager to provide feedback that further amplifies the employee’s momentum, or steers them away from spending time on areas not likely to produce the desired results.” 

Mid-Year Review Best Practices for Managers

Mid-year reviews produce actionable feedback and strengthen your relationship with team members when done properly. Use these best practices to make sure your performance review meetings are as successful as possible.

1. Be prepared.
Prepare in advance so the day of the meeting you’re ready to conduct a thoughtful review and share actionable feedback. Take time to gather your thoughts and think critically about your employees’ performance and their opportunities for growth. “See the potential in your people that they might not see in themselves, and share that with them,” said Morgan Willams, HR manager at Casper.

2. Don’t spring any surprises.
A mid-year review shouldn’t come with surprises. Your relationship with your direct reports should be an ongoing conversation, so employees always know where they stand. “Springing a surprise on an employee during a review changes the respect level and the dynamic between manager and employee,” said Williams. Surprises indicate a lack of communication throughout the year, and when that’s the case, the mid-year review becomes little more than a box to tick. “We get so process-heavy, and it’s not just a process, it’s somebody’s growth and development,” Williams added.

3. Encourage discussion.
Aim to have your employee do most of the talking. Ask open-ended questions and then follow-up questions to dig deeper, and don’t jump in to fill any silences or lulls in the conversation. Be collaborative and supportive by looking for solutions together rather than asking an employee to defend their work. “The right questions shouldn't make the employee feel attacked,” said Carson. “We are looking for honest feedback, and if they feel they are being attacked, we won’t get that.”

4. Give specific feedback.
Provide specific examples of the employee’s work or behavior that illustrate your points so that your employees understand context. For instance, saying, “We see you as a high-potential employee in the organization,” will not resonate as deeply as “Your work coordinating the various internal and external stakeholders on a particular project was very impressive, especially the way you held everyone accountable to the expedited timeline. This is a great example of why I see you as a high-potential employee on our team.” Scherwin added, “Feedback in a bubble is not useful for anyone and can lead to resentment and disconnect.”

COVID-Related Questions

For some companies, mid-year reviews will look a lot different this year due to the pandemic. Williams said their company is scrapping the traditional mid-year review in favor of “a more conversation-focused one-on-one style meeting for their HQ employees.”

Other teams are sticking with their traditional mid-year process. If that’s the case for your company, it’s still advisable to include a few COVID-specific questions, such as: 

  • How has the transition to fully remote been?
  • What’s been challenging for you? 
  • Are there any specific tools or resources that would make remote work easier or more productive for you?
  • How do you feel about returning to the office?

Mid-Year Review Tips for Employees

As the employee, mid-year reviews are an opportunity to get a glimpse into your manager’s mind about where you stand. You have the chance to find out what you’re doing well, what you could do better, and how to position yourself to add even more value to the company. 

Questions to Ask

Your manager shouldn’t be the only one asking questions. Now is your time to gain clarity on expectations or solicit constructive feedback from your supervisor.

Here are the key questions you should ask:

  • How have I met or exceeded your expectations since our last check-in?
  • What specific feedback can you provide on a recent project(s) or deliverable(s) of mine?
  • What training or skills acquisition would make me more effective in my role?
  • How does my performance contribute to our team’s success? 
  • How could I improve?

Mid-Year Review Best Practices for Employees

Beyond preparing for your performance review with a list of questions, incorporate the following best practices to get the most out of your mid-year review.

1. Research training opportunities ahead of time. Reflect on your organization’s goals and consider how you can contribute to successfully reaching them. Research specific learning opportunities, and be prepared to explain how these will benefit your professional growth and help you better contribute to the company.

2. Get a sense of your manager’s goals.
Your manager likely knows all about your professional goals, but you may know very little about theirs. Change this by asking. “Find out a little about your manager and their aspirations and situation in the company, what will help them succeed, and how you can contribute to this,” said Adams. “Remember that your manager is a human, too, with [their own] dreams and aspirations. Finding win-win opportunities will benefit you both.”

3. Gather evidence and think critically. Collect evidence that points to your success. Be ready to draw on specific examples, especially if you feel your efforts haven’t been noticed. Set aside time in advance to think about your performance this year and how you’d like to improve in your current role or prepare for another one.

Despite the fear and dread that can precede them, mid-year performance reviews, when done right, can be a positive, productive, and gratifying experience for both managers and employees alike. Be prepared, ask the right questions, and make the most of this opportunity by using it to review goals and amend them if necessary.

We know that this process can be especially daunting for first-time managers. Join our Slack community today to connect with other leaders in this space to get professional advice on tactical questions today.