Performance Reviews

The Difference Between Developmental and Performance Reviews (And Why You Need Both)

August 9, 2021
June 23, 2022
  —  
By 
Manasi Patel
Lattice Team

Performance reviews have widely been accepted as a standard practice at most companies. They’re a way for HR teams and managers to evaluate employees’ work and keep them on track for achieving business goals. But as useful as they are for boosting individual and team success, performance reviews aren’t a complete reflection of the employee experience.

Today’s best workplaces prioritize employees’ long-term success and career growth as part of the review process. Survey data from LinkedIn shows that corporate investment in career development programs is at an all-time high, which raises an important question: Are developmental reviews a must-have for forward-thinking organizations?

Developmental Reviews

Successful management is about much more than ensuring that employees are working effectively and productively. If you want your employees to reach their full potential, you need to support their continual growth –– both professionally and personally. One of the best ways to do this is by having regular developmental reviews.

Creating space for development-focused conversations shows employees that you’re invested in their long-term success. In fact, studies show that when companies give employees room to grow, they tend to be rewarded by higher engagement metrics and more creative outputs. They also tend to retain top-performers, because employees are more likely to feel satisfied and committed at work when they are supported by a company culture that fosters career growth.

Effective Developmental Reviews

Making employee development a priority in your organization begins with having open and constructive conversations with employees about their personal goals. But holding effective developmental reviews doesn’t always come naturally to managers, which is where management training comes in. For starters, successful developmental reviews are:

  • Ongoing: An employee’s goals, ambitions, and career trajectory will change over time, so managers need to be having development conversations on a regular basis.
  • Employee-led: Employees should have ownership over defining their career development goals, while managers should provide structure and guidance on how to achieve those goals. 
  • Tailored: There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all developmental review. Every employee’s development journey is different, from where they’re starting to where they’re trying to go.
  • Actionable: Effective developmental reviews should break larger goals into smaller, manageable steps that can be achieved and measured over time. Competency matrices can help connect growth goals to actionable development plans.

Sample Developmental Review Questions

 For Employees

  • Which 1-3 of your strengths would you like to build on in the next six months?
  • What would you like to try or do differently in the coming months?
  • How can your manager best support you in the coming months?

For Managers

  • Which 1-3 of this person’s strengths would you encourage them to build on in the coming months?
  • What aspect of this person’s work will most help them grow in the company/department /team?
  • What could this person do in the next six months to advance their progress on personal development goals?

Sample Developmental Action Items

  • Attend 3 training workshops per quarter to build soft skills (public speaking, time management, conflict management, etc.)
  • Complete 1 certification program this quarter to build technical skills (digital marketing, software, project management, etc.)
  • Attend 2 conferences this year to build professional network 
  • Present 1 project or new idea this quarter to the leadership team
  • Shadow a mentor for 2 weeks to gain industry knowledge

Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are the cornerstone of a good people management system. As a benchmark for overall employee performance, performance reviews give organizations important insight into the type of work employees are doing and the value they bring to the company.

Apart from providing a structured method for identifying top performers and struggling ones, performance reviews allow companies to gain data-backed insights that can inform key decisions around talent management and compensation. For employees, these reviews give them a chance to share and receive feedback, as well as understand their impact on their team and the organization as a whole.

Sample Performance Review Questions

For Employees

  • What have been your top 3 accomplishments in the last six months (or since you joined the company, if you’ve been here less than six months)?
  • To what extent did you meet the expectations communicated to you in the last six months? Give specific examples.
  • Which of our values do you feel like you most embody in how you work? Give 1-3 examples. 

For Peers

  • What are 1-3 examples of how this person helped you achieve your goals in the last six months?
  • What are 1-3 things this person could have done differently in the last six months to be more effective in working with you?
  • What do you think is the most valuable contribution this person has made to the company in the last six months?

For Managers

  • What 1-3 strengths did this person exhibit in the last six months? Give concrete examples. 
  • To what extent did this person meet the expectations communicated to them in the last six months? Give concrete examples.
  • To what extent does this person embody the value of ABC in how they work? Give specific examples. 

Sample Performance Review Action Items

  • Secure 5 media mentions in the next three months
  • Increase brand engagement by 50% over the next year
  • Redesign and launch website by October 1
  • Boost customer ratings from 3.0 to 4.5 by Q4
  • Set up a formal onboarding process for new hires by October

How Do Developmental and Performance Reviews Differ?

Developmental and performance reviews serve unique purposes that benefit companies and employees in different ways. While developmental reviews are a relatively newer practice for most businesses, performance reviews have established their value in the workplace. To summarize the key differences between developmental and performance reviews, we put together the chart below:

Developmental Reviews Performance Reviews
• Aspirational

• Employee-led

• Development-focused

• Content is tailored to each employee

• Not tied to compensation

• Ensures employee progress on personal objectives

• Identifies skill/competency gaps


• Reflective

• Led by managers, employees, and peers

• Measurement-focused

• Content is standard across all employees

• Often tied to compensation

• Ensures employee alignment to the organization’s strategic objectives

• Identifies high-performers

Why You Need Both

Employees today expect reciprocity from their employers. Developmental reviews don’t just help employees identify strategies for reaching their full potential. They also instill employees with a growth mindset and encourage businesses to stay accountable for personal development opportunities. This is essential for building fulfilling, authentic careers, but it’s only part of the equation.

Performance reviews are necessary for keeping businesses competitive and innovative. Without them, it’s easy for organizations, teams, and employees to grow misaligned over time and miss the mark on crucial goals. Both types of review should work hand in hand to ensure employees are equipped with the opportunities, resources, and feedback they need to be successful

Scheduling Developmental and Performance Reviews

Performance and development are two different areas of focus for review cycles, but in reality there is no such thing as a purely developmental or purely performance-focused review. So how can HR teams create a balanced review schedule?

The breakdown of how much focus should be placed on developmental vs. performance conversations depends on how often a company conducts reviews. 

If your organization has one review cycle per year, then the breakdown of time spent on development and performance should be 50/50 – otherwise employees will be unmotivated to grow or confused about how they are assessed.

If your organization has two review cycles per year, it could adjust the amount of focus spent on development versus performance in each one. The review cycle connected to promotions and compensation could consist of 80% performance-related content and 20% developmental content, while the developmental review cycle could follow the opposite structure. However, if your organization is growing quickly, you may want to be able to make promotion or compensation decisions in each cycle. If this is the case, performance needs to be considered in both review cycles, so the breakdown would be 50% performance and 50% development.

If your organization has quarterly review cycles, the most common approach is to spend one cycle focused on performance (during which promotions and compensation are considered) and the other three focused on development, with continuous touchpoints for feedback dispersed throughout the year. Another option is to alternate between performance and development with each cycle, so that both are equally prioritized throughout the year.

To learn more about structuring effective review cycles, check out our guide to People Program Models.

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Developmental and performance reviews both deserve a spot at the table when it comes to your People strategy. Developmental reviews drive progress on employees’ personal goals, and performance reviews drive improvements on employees’ overall work. But while both serve essential purposes in the workplace, it’s important to remember that these reviews are less about the questions they ask and more about the conversations they spark.

Over 2,000 organizations use Lattice to drive performance, engagement, and growth. Schedule a product tour today to see how we can help your organization.