Performance reviews: let them know how they are doing

Neil I. Clark

Performance reviews are vital. Your people need to know how you think they are doing in relation to their targets. It is often surprising to a manager to find out what an employee thinks of their own performance. If there is a wide chasm between your assessment and theirs, don’t wait until you are delivering their final assessment to find this out. Performance reviews can head off some potentially ugly appraisal meetings.

Set the BasicsYou need to set up the basic structure. The employee must understand what they are supposed to do, and what they are supposed to achieve. This is one of the foundation stones of performance management.

In summary:

  1. Work out what the “perfect world” is for the job. How would it look if everything was running perfectly? Remember, this will never be achieved. It is only to set the scene for how it would look in absolute perfection.
  2. Define the end result(s) for the job. What result(s) will be achieved if everything is running perfectly? Spend as much time as you need to with this one. The validity of the whole process depends upon correctly identifying the end result(s).
  3. Define the statistics by which you will measure those results. If you have done the first two steps correctly, the measurable statistics will be obvious. If they are not, there is something wrong with either your “perfect world”, or your definition of the results to be achieved. You will need to go back and revisit these.

Performance reviews are easy if you have done these steps thoroughly.

Plan AheadYou should normally do appraisals yearly and should plan to review each employee two or three times during each year. Set the time aside in your calendar well in advance.

It’s too easy to put off doing reviews. Don’t let them slip so far that they don’t get done. That’s really unfair on the employee.

Performance reviews do not need to be lengthy, but they can be. It depends upon how closely your view of their performance matches their view of how they are doing. If there’s a big difference, you had better fix that sooner, rather than later.


You should have a documented summary of the above steps that defines their job and the results and statistics involved.

  • Get this out and go over it so that the details are fresh in your mind.
  • Look at the employee’s performance statistics. How are they doing? Are the results going up, going down, or level?
  • You are going to address these things during the review.

It’s a Two-Step Process

  1. Make sure there is no great difference between their ideas and yours as to how they are performing.
  2. Discuss ways that will help to improve poor performance, or to strengthen good performance.


1: What’s the Difference?Start performance reviews by outlining the results that were originally agreed for the job. Then, ask the employee how they think they are doing. Don’t tell them what you think... yet.

  • A top performer will generally have a realistic assessment of how they are performing against the required results. You usually find their view of things is very similar to your own.
  • A non-performer will probably be way off in their personal assessment. Alternately, they will know they are doing poorly, but will be ready to bombard you with lots of excuses.
  • The average performer may or may not have an accurate personal assessment of how they are doing.

If the difference between your assessment and theirs is minimal, this first step of the performance review can be very fast. You simply confirm how they are doing and move on to step two.

A large difference in viewpoints, however, needs to be addressed. They either do not understand what results you expect from them, or they have some disagreement with the statistics.

Spend some time to go over the basics with them again, so they clearly see how they are doing.

Don’t assume that your view of things is infallible. Be prepared to discover (sometimes) that you need to actually reassess the basics. Occasionally the job conditions change. You may need to rewrite the perfect world statement, or redefine the results and/or statistics.

2: Performance ImprovementThe second step of performance reviews is to go over the statistics with the employee. Look at how the measure of their results has been moving over the past six to twelve months.

  • If the statistics are generally increasing, find out what they are doing right. What are the successful actions? How can you help the employee to capitalize on these successes? For example, if their sales went up after they did a mail promotion to customers, can you increase their promotional budget so they can do more of the same?
  • If the stats are heading down, you need to find out why. You may need to help the employee remove some barriers. What’s stopping them? What is getting in the way?
  • If the results are more or less level, with no great movement up or down, treat this in the same way as when the results go down. Nothing stays level in this world. If it’s not going up, it’s non-optimum.


Find out what is impeding production. Help the employee to overcome the barriers. If you are looking at a top performer who has reached a plateau, sit down with that employee and have a discussion about their career development plan. The objective of this discussion is firstly to determine which category they fall into:

  1. Are they seeking (and can they handle) promotion to a higher management level?
  2. Or would they would be happier and more productive remaining in their current role, but with additional responsibilities and challenges.


Performance reviews are an excellent opportunity to stay in touch with your people. By doing this you can ensure that they are focussed on the correct results and help them to improve those results.

Reprinted with the permission of Neil I. Clark, an author and performance management expert with extensive experience helping managers get out from under the treadmill. Contact Neil at: Performance-Managemnt-Made-Easy.com; OverworkedManager@bigpond.com


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