How to handle a performance review meeting with an employee

Written by: Deanna deBara | Edited by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe
Updated on: Published on: August 26, 2021 |  Reading time: 6m

The annual performance review can be seriously stress-inducing, both for managers and their direct reports. An employee might spend weeks dreading it, thinking that it’s going to be nothing more than a laundry list of all the things they’re doing wrong. Meanwhile, their manager might be worried about treating every team member fairly and giving appropriate feedback.

A performance review meeting doesn’t have to feel so fraught. When managers and employees approach them with the right mindset and proper preparation, these conversations can build employee confidence and strengthen manager-employee relationships.

What is the purpose of a performance review meeting?

Performance reviews are a key part of employee development. They’re a chance to look back on an employee’s performance, highlight their progress, and celebrate all the ways they make your team (and your organization) better.

“Performance reviews are a moment to look back at what an employee’s done and where they are right now. It’s a time to assess how well things are going and acknowledge the impact and the value that they’re bringing to the organization.”

Carmen Bossé, Employee Experience Researcher & Designer at GSoft

For example: during a performance review, you might commend your introverted employee for the steps they’ve taken to become more engaged with the team and discuss which of those steps have been the most effective.

Why have more frequent performance reviews?

Because performance reviews give employees clear benchmarks on their progress, you want to have them on a regular basis. Ideally, you’ll have a performance evaluation every three to six months, but at the very least annually.

  • Frequency reduces any stress around the process. The more often you host performance reviews, the better acquainted everyone will be with the process, and the less intimidating they’ll be.
  • Performance reviews are part of a broader employee performance development strategy. These meetings go alongside one-on-ones, goal setting meetings, feedback sessions, and employee engagement discussions to help you keep up with how people are progressing.
  • An employee performance review is an opportunity to celebrate your team member. “Sometimes we take for granted that people know that they’re valued, and this is an opportunity to go a level deeper into someone’s impact on the team and the organization,” says Carmen.
  • Performance reviews open the door for growth and salary conversations. Performance reviews are often a time to discuss salary, roles, and potential promotions, which can add to the stress of them. Having them more often means lightening the weight of these discussions and creating more opportunities to have them.

Performance review meeting tips for success

These tips are sure to help you have the best performance review meetings possible, so you and your team members leave on the same page.

Make sure you understand the process…

Having a clear process ensures that you cover everything that needs to be discussed in your meeting. It also removes the potential for any surprises in how the conversation will unfold and allows both you and your employee to properly prepare for the review ahead of time. For example, you might compile some specific examples and data to back up your points.

Ask your manager, supervisor, or mentor to walk you through the company’s process. If a process doesn’t exist, you’ll want to find a performance review framework so you have a clear agenda template to use for your meeting.

…and use the same process for all employees

It’s important that you ensure that the performance review process is uniform for every employee on your team. This will help you be clear in every evaluation because you have a standardized structure. Plus, consistency is the best way to treat everyone fairly, which will inspire trust, both in you and the process.

Just make sure that your framework can be applied to every member of your team and account for different competencies. You shouldn’t need a separate performance review process for a graphic designer or content marketer or administrative assistant, you want to be able to apply your process to all types of employees, regardless of what or how they contribute to the team.

Manage expectations

Just because you understand the performance review process doesn’t necessarily mean your employees understand it. And if you don’t explain it to them ahead of time, they might feel overwhelmed, unprepared, upset, or even blindsided.

Prior to a performance review, make sure you:

  • Take the time to explain the process to your team, and walk your employees through what you’re going to discuss during the meeting.
  • Let employees know what they should come prepared with, whether it’s a self-evaluation, talking points, questions, notes, or examples.
  • Give everyone the opportunity to ask any questions about the process, in a group setting or one-on-one.

Come prepared

Just like you would show up to an important one-on-one meeting prepared with talking points and relevant meeting questions, you also want to show up to your performance review prepared with notes, data, and specific examples that speak to your employee’s performance.

Why? Because notes, data, and examples will elevate the conversation. You’re not just giving your opinion — you’re sharing facts.

Need a note-taker for employee performance conversations and goal discussions? Officevibe’s one-on-one software keeps track of all your meeting notes in one place, so planning annual reviews is a breeze.

Connect with your peers

Syncing with other managers at your company helps create consistency within the organization. And reaching out to your network outside of your company can bring you perspective on how other people do performance reviews.

“[Managers] should connect with each other and discuss what different terms or levels mean to them. That way when managers say ‘autonomous’ or ‘performing’ or ‘thriving’, it means the same thing. And the tone and the approach in these conversations are similar.”

Carmen Bossé, Employee Experience Researcher & Designer at GSoft

Make every review a two-way conversation

You want to have an agenda when you walk into a performance review meeting. But a performance review isn’t an opportunity to talk at your employee for an hour straight. For the review to be effective and productive for both parties, it needs to be a two-way conversation.

Once you’re done sharing with your employee what, in your view, they’re doing well and where you see opportunities for improvement, give them the opportunity to share their perspective. This can help you both get a broader view of the employees’ performance, and ensure you both walk away feeling heard and understood.

“It’s not so much that an employee needs to prove to their manager that they’re doing all of these things — it’s an opportunity for them to highlight things that their manager maybe overlooked. And vice-versa, a manager can point out things that they’ve seen the employee doing that maybe the employee didn’t see in themself.”

Carmen Bossé, Employee Experience Researcher & Designer at GSoft

Walk into your next performance review with confidence

Performance reviews can be stressful — but they don’t have to be! And now that you know how to manage the performance review process, you have everything you need to walk into your next performance review with confidence. In turn, you’ll inspire that same confidence from your team.