Employee performance review

A Manager’s Guide to Employee Performance Reviews

For managers, employee performance reviews can seem like a formality—a time-consuming, bureaucratic process involving way too much paperwork. For employees, they can be anxiety-inducing, especially if they’re not sure what to expect.

If, like most people, you dread this yearly event, you’ll find some suggestions on how to make them better in this article. We’ll discuss:

  • The goal of employee performance reviews
  • Problems with performance evaluations and the movement toward more frequent check-ins
  • How to conduct better employee evaluations
  • A suggested timeline for performance reviews
  • Your next round of employee appraisals

The goal of employee performance reviews

In performance reviews, managers let employees know how they did throughout the year. They generally assess employees on their communication, collaboration and teamwork; on the quality and accuracy of their work; on their attendance, punctuality, and reliability; and on their ability to accomplish goals and meet deadlines.

Performance reviews serve a variety of purposes, including:

  1. Defining and understanding responsibilities, so management can keep track of changes as jobs evolve over time. 
  2. Providing criteria for performance evaluation, so employees understand what’s expected of them moving forward.
  3. Delivering constructive feedback, so employees and managers can brainstorm ways to make things better.
  4. Identifying interests and goals, so managers can identify career growth opportunities for employees.
  5. Setting goals, so managers and employees can track achievements.
  6. Establishing a basis for awarding compensation, so that there is no question that the distribution of bonuses is based on merit.

Problems with performance evaluations and the movement towards frequent check-ins

Critics of employee performance reviews complain that performance reviews place too much emphasis on rewards and punishments, or extrinsic motivation; focus on past action, not current or future output; and involve numerical scoring, which is subject to bias and is disliked by most people. As a result, there’s a movement towards replacing annual performance reviews with regular check-ins, instant feedback, and short-term goals. 

More than ⅓ of US companies have adopted this approach. Influenced by the Agile Manifesto, which favors responding quickly to change, it works well in fast-paced industries such as tech.

How to conduct better employee evaluations

  • Prepare for them in advance. This requires collecting quantitative and qualitative data, making notes, and brainstorming next steps ahead of time. It also involves scheduling meetings in advance, creating meeting agendas, and communicating with employees so they know what to expect and how to prepare. Preparation is key to making performance evaluations worthwhile and effective for everyone involved.
  • Strive to turn them into productive conversations. They shouldn’t be sermons or interrogations: Performance evaluations are conversations in which managers and employees speak openly about goals, identify challenges, and brainstorm ways to change course as needed. They’re meant to be helpful and motivating.
  • Give positive feedback. Employee performance reviews shouldn’t just focus on what needs to improve. Employees should leave knowing what they’re doing right as well as what they need to work on.
  • Provide next steps. Don’t just hold employees accountable for past actions. Make sure they know what’s expected of them and how they can grow.

A suggested timeline for performance reviews

Amy Adams, Career Center director at Pepperdine University, suggests starting to work on employee performance appraisals as early as 11 months prior to the date when you’ll actually meet face to face. Her suggested timeline looks more or less like this:

January (or 11 months before performance appraisal)

  • Meet with the team and individually to set goals and expectations using the SMART framework.
  • Put them in an email or a Google Doc so you and the employee can refer to it throughout the year.

Every month or every three months

  • Touch base regularly to track progress and provide feedback. It helps to schedule these meetings in advance. Make sure to create agendas for each of them. 

Two months before the big review

  • Ask employees to prep by writing down their responsibilities, the projects they are working on, what their goals were for the year and what they have achieved—you may want to provide a template for self-evaluation. 

Six weeks before

  • Gather quantitative and qualitative feedback (clients, teammates)
  • Make notes
  • Decide: Are they meeting your expectations? If so, what cool projects can you give them? Are bonuses available? If not, how can you work together to change this?


  • Compile evaluation forms, letters, and notes with talking points that include positive feedback, areas of concern, and next steps.
  • Hold the in-person review

Your next round of employee appraisals

Performance appraisals should start many months before you actually sit face-to-face with an employee. Delivering comprehensive, constructive feedback requires planning in advance. Decide when the best time to do performance appraisals is at your company—better when things aren’t so busy and when there’s an opportunity to hand out bonuses—then build a timeline and share it.

Experts agree that it’s important to have regular check-ins and provide feedback throughout the year even if you conduct annual employee performance reviews. This gives employees a chance to correct course as needed and takes the surprise element out of employee performance reviews, making them less stressful for them.

Although it may not seem important, a negative experience with performance evaluations for employees is relevant in a competitive market. In a market where there is a shortage of talent, companies may choose not to do employee performance reviews, or to do them differently, as a way to attract and retain talent. 

How does your company do employee performance reviews?

Looking for more tips on attracting top talent in a competitive market? Check out our article.