Most people dread job performance reviews (cue ominous music), whether they’re on the giving or receiving end. But you’re not doing yourself any favors by calling in sick to avoid them. Companies have figured out it's worthwhile to devote time and attention to employee evaluations, leading to new performance review tips for managers and their teams.

An OfficeTeam survey shows performance reviews are undergoing changes, with some companies shortening the process, increasing the frequency of feedback, incorporating rating scales, adding peer assessment and having separate compensation discussions.

And the result? Respondents said these appraisals are effective in improving employee performance (86 percent), leading to a variety of benefits, such as staff motivation, identification of needed changes and decisions about merit increases and bonuses.

If you’re an employer or manager looking for performance review tips to help with career progression or company success, scroll down to the next section. If you’re an employee, read on.

Performance review tips for employees

These meetings can affect everything from your career path to your chances for that raise you’ve been asking for, so it’s not surprising if they make you nervous.

But performance appraisals actually can be helpful. The key lies in making the meeting work in your favor. How exactly do you do that? There are several ways, some of which require preparation. Others involve adjusting the way you receive constructive criticism.

For employees, setting a goal to make a good impression at work (followed by a positive review) starts with small, everyday efforts to improve their performance. Here are seven tips to help you prepare for— and rock — your performance review:

1. Show your adaptability. One way to demonstrate this attribute is to become more proficient in the latest software or to attend seminars, webinars and courses. Explain how you’ve shown initiative to build your job skills.

2. Be innovative. This could be anticipating an upcoming task and tackling it beforehand, mentoring or providing assistance to a colleague, or doing something for the greater team, like volunteering to lead a project not yet assigned to someone. Have you had an idea that was successfully implemented, or did you find a way the department’s budget could be used more effectively? Bring it up.

3. Speak positively. Talking energetically about the company and the people you work with contributes to a positive workplace.

4. Listen. Remember, the goal of feedback is not to make you feel bad. Rather, it’s intended to help bring out the best of your abilities. So actively listen to what your manager is saying and consider how you can apply the words to your responsibilities.

5. Dig deeper. If you have questions about the reviewer’s feedback, don’t hesitate to ask them. After all, you can’t improve unless you completely understand what areas need improvement and exactly why you’re not meeting expectations. Also, many managers will see your active interest as a positive sign indicating that you’re planning to act on their feedback.

6. Drop the defensiveness. Nothing good comes of performance reviews if you go on the defensive, trying to offer explanations or excuses. If you do need to explain a mistake or misunderstanding, that’s fine, but make sure you have supporting evidence. Otherwise, you could sound like you are playing a game of he-said-she-said.

7. Be engaged. Performance reviews are a conversation between you and your manager, which is why you need talking points. “Winging it” is rarely effective and could waste the allotted time you have each period for this one-on-one. Here are some things to inquire about and discuss during the review:

  • What could you be doing differently?
  • What new skills and knowledge do you need to become more of an asset?
  • What goals does your employer have for you?
  • How can you be more helpful to your team?
  • What company challenges does your manager predict over the next year?

Performance review tips for employers

The more you put into this task, the more you and your team will get out of it. This is your chance to provide strategic vision, establish goals, clarify objectives, set up expectations and help your employees improve. The performance review also creates space for discussion, allowing you to find out more about the needs and goals of those you supervise.

“Many companies have streamlined how feedback is given and encourage supervisors to check in with staff more often, said Stephanie Naznitsky, executive director of OfficeTeam. “This allows organizations to be nimble in addressing issues, evaluating progress and recognizing good work.”

Here are a few performance review tips that take advantage of the new workplace trends of less-structured and career-focused check-ins to help set you up for success.

1. Don’t wait to offer feedback. If an issue with performance exists, address it right away.

2. Establish clear expectations. Make sure your team members understand their individual responsibilities and how they contribute to achieving the firm’s goals, just as management does. Explain the criteria that you will use for performance evaluations so your workers know what you expect.

3. Be prepared, not scripted. Read through your notes from previous assessments. What issues were raised during those meetings? What objectives did you set? Have those goals been met? Collect comments from other managers the employee works with. It’s important to bring relevant examples and talking points to your job discussion, but the more free-flowing it is, the better. Try for a give-and-take conversation rather than a one-sided one.

4. Uncover key motivators. Knowing what your needs are for this position, in addition to the employee’s expectations and career goals, is a vital step to creating common goals, providing useful feedback and measuring progress at work. Ask questions such as these:

  • What’s been your greatest work accomplishment here, and what do you hope to accomplish over the coming year?
  • Do you have everything you need to perform your job?
  • Where do you feel you need to improve in your role?
  • Are you comfortable with our organizational culture, and are there areas you think that need change?


5. Stay focused on the big picture. Whether you’re praising an employee for entering orders with efficiency or critiquing the way an interaction was handled with a customer, be sure to explain the effect the performance had on departmental (or company) priorities. When people understand the effect of the quality of their work, they’re more likely to feel valued, and as a result, motivated to improve.

6. Strike a balance between positive and critical. Although it’s best to avoid negativity, it’s important not to sugarcoat issues. If there’s a problem with performance, be direct and specific. And remember: Sometimes even the best workers need to receive critical feedback. On the flip side, even those employees with the most room for improvement should be praised for their strengths.

7. Offer potential solutions for performance issues. For every piece of constructive criticism you give, be prepared with a solution. For example, if an employee is having trouble mastering the appointment-scheduling software, suggest specific training that might help. Or if communication skills are the issue, consider facilitating a mentoring relationship with a coworker who excels at customer service or team building.

8. Follow up – frequently. Ideally, you should conduct performance reviews more than once per year. If possible, schedule a time to revisit the issues you discussed with the employee a few months after the review so you can check in on their progress. At these meetings, be flexible; if a training program isn’t helping the employee meet goals, suggest a different approach.

Employees can find performance appraisals intimidating. After all, their work is under scrutiny. That’s why these meetings should be a conversation, not a monologue. If you establish a collaborative environment, you show your staff that you’re invested in them, and they’ll feel more appreciated and more motivated to perform even better in the coming year.

The world of work is changing — as it always has and will continue to do — and direct, open and honest feedback are the watchwords you want to make sure are part of your workplace.

Read the infographic text.


The last time companies updated their performance appraisal process:

Within the past year 29%
1-2 years ago 22%
3-4 years ago 24%
5 years ago or more 6%
Never 8%

No performance appraisal process: 11%

How companies have changed the performance appraisal process:

Made it shorter 39%
Increased frequency of feedback 36%
Added rating scales 27%
Added peer/360-degree feedback 25%
Separated it from compensation discussions 20%
Eliminated rating scales 13%
Made it longer 8%
Decreased frequency of feedback 5%
Eliminated peer/360-degree feedback
Other 3%

(Respondents whose company has changed its performance appraisal process. Multiple responses were permitted.)

How often formal performance appraisals are conducted:

9% Never
10% Quarterly
14% As necessary
28% Twice a year
40% Once a year

How effective performance appraisals are in improving employee performance:

3% Not effective at all
12% Not very effective
24% Very effective
62% Somewhat effective

(Respondents whose company conducts formal performance appraisals.)

The greatest benefit of conducting performance appraisals:

36% Motivates employee by focusing on achievements and goals
19% Identifies changes and resources needed
19% Helps to make decisions about merit increases and bonuses
14% Helps address poor performance in formal way
12% Helps to make decisions about promotions

Source: OfficeTeam survey of 308 HR managers in the United States

Some responses do not total 100 percent due to rounding.

© 2018 OfficeTeam. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.