A perfect performance review framework for managers

Written by: Erika Khanna
Updated on: Published on: November 19, 2020 |  Reading time: 11m

Nerves run high the day before hosting an employee’s performance review. For both managers and employees, it’s common to feel overwhelmed. With many teams going remote, this can feel even more strenuous and uncertain. That’s why we’re introducing a more relevant, constructive performance review template in cooperation with an employee’s development.

It’s disorienting to discuss instances that happened a few months previously. They’re hard to recall, and don’t account for shifting benchmarks. The annual performance review template, while helpful for information analysis, is outdated.

Our team noticed that keeping reviews continuous versus annual was a key first step. In times of high change, it’s important to keep a performance review template clear and concise.

We’re applying a performance review framework that allows conversations to be constructive, interesting and beneficial for both managers and employees.

The importance of performance reviews

A lot can happen and change in a year, especially for growing teams. This is why performance review meetings are such a common practice for managers. They help you and your teams take the time to look back, reflect, redirect, talk about the opportunities ahead, and even set the right setting for more sensitive conversations.

Performance reviews shouldn’t replace regular communication with your team. However, they do offer a unique opportunity to dig deeper on impactful topics such as their aspirations, professional goals, insecurities and pain points, and recognition on their hard work.
But if you ever feel like leading performance reviews can be stressful for you and your team members, there are simple practices you can implement before hand. These practices will help you build better relationships, reduce stress, and relieve tension.

  • Give feedback regularly. When you practice giving regular feedback, you prevent coming in with an overflow of constructive comments. Grow the habit of giving feedback on the spot and during your regular 1-on-1 meetings.
  • Ask for feedback from your team members. When feedback goes both ways, you build trust. When you have a good relationship with your team, talking about their performance gets easier. If you are not sure of how or when to ask for feedback, you can use a tool such as Officevibe.
  • Hold retrospective meetings. By holding team retrospective meetings, you can tackle issues quickly and address team-wide opportunities for improvement. You’ll see that by the time you get to individual performance reviews, everyone will effortlessly focus on individual performance, and less on team related issues.

We know that performance reviews are very important for organizations to thrive and one of your key responsibilities as a manager. That’s why we put together a framework to help you navigate through them in a seamless way.

We also put together a comprehensive list of employee feedback examples to help you through any situation during your performance review.

The perfect performance review framework

Before: Prepare in advance

1. Use a tool that helps you keep track of goals and progress over time

Rather than attempting to recall the details of the past, Officevibe helps you keep a record of your 1-on-1 meetings. Our 1-on-1 tool gives you a centralized space for all of your 1-on-1 notes, with Action Items that track your employee’s commitments – and what they’ve followed through on. It gives you a full picture of their growth throughout the year, meaning when it comes time to prep their review, you’ll have perfect recall: no need to remember it all yourself, or go through disjointed notes.


2. Do your research and get a full picture of your employee by collecting 360 feedback

In a remote culture, it’s common to feel as though you don’t have visibility on how an employee is feeling and performing. Getting a 360 view of their improvement and collaboration is crucial. Find out how employees have been contributing to others. Be sure to highlight how they can help parts of the company. As a result, you’ll gain an unbiased view of their improvement, technical skills and leadership abilities. 

In a recent case study conducted by the Harvard Business review this was exemplified by a manager Sirmara and her employee, John. 

“Sirmara needed more data to identify the reason behind the performance dip, so she spoke with John’s direct manager. She learned that John, who is a father, suddenly became a both full-time employee and a full-time parent when his children’s schools were closed due to the pandemic. “John’s manager and I were empathetic about the situation, understanding John and other employees are experiencing things now that no one planned for.”
-Cited from the Harvard Business Review

3. Get in the mindset of conversation rather than confrontation or evaluation

Prepare for a conversation, rather than an evaluation. A conversation is two ways. It’s an open dialogue that encourages people to share about how they felt a project and dynamic has evolved, or not. An evaluation is simply an appraisal, a critique that does not take into context key elements that contributed to the positive or negative outcomes of a project. Disarm feelings of intimidation and nervousness by keeping an open mind and structuring your conversation.

Quick tips on how to prepare: 

  • Be clear about how performance reviews are on-going.
  • Schedule regular 1-on-1s throughout the quarter. 
  • Keep track of progress and encourage a strong sense of trust
  • Use your agenda to indicate points you will be discussing. 
  • Apply learnings for the future, just as much as you focus on the past. 
  • Send your agenda ahead of time.
  • Encourage employees to come prepared with their thoughts on each point on the agenda. 

Officevibe’s centralized one-on-one software enables managers to track discussion points. making prep a lot easier and much more fair!

Avoid winging it.

Instead of: “I thought I could let you lead the conversation and we can go from there.”

Try: “I have a few key points for us to discuss, let me know if there are any you’d like to add to make sure we’re making the most of this time.”

During: Navigating tough conversations

In a performance review, notice that employees may feel nervous or unsure about certain topics. It may not be obvious on video calls, but the context of a review can feel daunting to employees during times of uncertainty.

1. Call out the elephant in the room

Be upfront about your awareness. Acknowledge that discomfort is normal, especially when discussing negative outcomes. This helps employees feel supported as you guide them through the review process. Remain open to employee concerns and solution-oriented. Let them know that you are there to support, guide, and coach them.

Officevibe’s team performance and development tool is a resource that helps managers navigate a two-way conversation. Using the shared 1-on-1 agenda, you can jot down the points you’ll be discussing, so you both come prepared. Your employee won’t feel blindsided and can add their own talking points to the review creating a more productive conversation.

2. Consider the contribution of the employee beyond numbers and results

We tend to look at employee performance with a black and white approach: what worked, what didn’t work, and how that affects salaries and benefits. It’s important to know that employee competency can be gauged in many ways. There’s more that meets the eye. Discuss elements such as: effort, expertise, resources, collaboration, and of course, uncertain circumstances. Keep the conversation specific. This way, you can find concrete examples that demonstrate their strengths and areas of improvement.

Officevibe’s Action Items help you track both numbers-and-tasks achievements, and the more intangible things employees do like: collaborate, train, seek and give counsel, etc. 

Schedule, collaborate and wrap up your 1-on-1s with Officevibe
Officevibe helps you schedule, collaborate, and wrap-up 1-on-1s efficiently

3. Discuss compensation and promotions with care, and be informed on how it works

When it comes to big-ticket items like promotions and raises: be clear about why or why not these are occurring. Get all the information you need from HR in advance. This is crucial in the review process. Note that for companies who are navigating big changes, the focus may not necessarily be on rewards, rather on retention. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that in order to keep things moving forward. Be transparent about how decisions are made. Let employees know these aren’t personal nor are they based on performance alone. 

Quick tips for helpful conversations: 

  • Be clear. Employee performance reviews mean more than the bottom line. 
  • Consider effort, leadership skills, and collaboration. 
  • Know that employees deal with change differently, and there may be external factors to their need for mentorship. 
  • Let them know that you value them
  • Highlight their strengths. 
  • Be specific.
  • Give actionable, tangible ways they can improve job performance

Avoid blame language.

Instead of “You did this and you didn’t do that.”

Try: “I noticed your leadership skills here, however, your strategy skills might need some work. How can we support you with that going forward?”

After: Keep it continuous

1. Use simple tools like Officevibe to facilitate continuous performance conversations

Don’t wait for the end of the year to give feedback on performance. Make goal-setting habitual. By making this a constant discussion, employees can develop and grow continuously. With Officevibe, you can set and monitor goals, store action items, and hold structured 1-on-1 meetings.

2. Remind employees that you’re there for them, especially in a remote context

In a remote context, casual water cooler conversations are tough to come by. This is especially true for managers who are low on time. Ensure that your employees know they can book your time for quick conversations. Encourage them to ask you for frequent feedback, and establish trustworthy, on-going conversations. Format employee reviews with objectives and outcomes. Clarify what’s in progression and what’s required to complete tasks.

As a leader, your employees value how you routinely give them tangible tips. With these, they quickly learn how to improve upon their work and draw upon their strengths. Not only will you notice how you’ve nurtured their potential, you’ll contribute heavily to their evolution, lifting your team up towards their highest potential. 

Quick tips to keep it going: 

  • Wrap up your employee review with clear next steps.
  • Schedule follow up meetings at the end of each review.
  • Use Officevibe’s collaborative 1-on-1 agenda.
  • Set talking points ahead of time, and let employees share theirs.
  • Keep feedback loops active in your day-to-day.
  • Keep track of constructive feedback with an appraisal form when applicable. 
  • Communicate with empathy and transparency.
  • Draw parallels between individual goal setting and project requirements.
  • Nurture employee growth by assigning work that contributes to their development.

Avoid stopping the conversation.

Instead of: “Let’s book some time together again next quarter.”

Try: “Which habits can we adopt to help each other address this feedback?” 

Common performance review mistakes to avoid

Performance review are not presentations

At the core of performance reviews is the feedback you give your team members. How you deliver the feedback matters. It should never come out as the ultimate truth of their work. Performance reviews are about trying to understand the motivations behind behaviours. They should always be a discussion.

If an employee remains silent during a review, it doesn’t mean that they agree with everything you’re saying. You need to continuously ask questions to your team members during their reviews so that they can also share their opinions on the feedback you are giving them.

Performance reviews are not all about numbers

A common misconception about performance reviews is that they are all about business metrics. However, the overall performance of an employee goes beyond business numbers. You should also take into account your employee’s attitudes, leadership, and development, and progress. These factors should be included in the conversation of your employee’s performance.

Here are a few examples of performance goals for employees that aren’t related to business numbers:

  • Mentor a new employee during the next 6 months
  • Work in collaboration with another team on a new project this quarter
  • Improve your leadership skills by attending a seminar

Don’t be afraid to mix different types of goals. These will greatly help your employees get holistically better on their profession and roles, and develop meaningful purpose in their work.

Performance reviews don’t have to be negative

Performance reviews tend to have a negative connotation as employees often expect negative feedback from their manager. This can spike stress for team members. Your performance reviews should also include recognition where it’s due. As a manager, make sure you add points of positive feedback during performance reviews.

According to our data, there is a strong link between how much people enjoy their workplace and the amount of recognition they receive.

It is possible that for some team members, there’s little constructive feedback to give. In these cases, use the performance review to ask your employees where they think they can improve. This will allows you to continue building meaningful goals together.

Take a deep breath and relax. The build-up to your annual performance review may have been the norm in the past, and as workplaces evolve, so are we.

Performance reviews can be made consistent. All it takes is open communication and focus.