Preparing for a performance review, whether you're an employee or a manager, can stir up those pre-review jitters, no matter how seasoned you are. You can ease those butterflies with a dynamic and purposeful performance review framework that places employee development at its core.

These days, the spotlight is on agile and continuous performance management, underscored by a steady stream of feedback. That means managers and employees no longer need to deal with the disorienting process of remembering and discussing matters that happened months before the annual performance review. Embracing more frequent employee performance reviews streamlines the process and ensures relevance and promptness for all involved.

Pair this rhythm with a crystal-clear and concise performance review template and you'll be primed for success from the get-go.

The goal? Empowering a performance review system that fuels constructive, enriching, and engaging conversations between managers and employees.

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The importance of performance reviews

A lot can happen and change in a year, especially for growing teams. That's why performance review meetings are such an important performance management practice for managers. They're designed to help you and your teams take the time to look back, reflect, redirect, talk about opportunities ahead, and even lay the right setting for more sensitive conversations.

Perhaps most importantly, they help keep your team aligned, especially as the team grows and evolves. When done right, a performance review can be an amazing tool for aligning your employees around their goals.

Performance reviews shouldn’t replace regular communication with your team, of course. However, they do offer a unique opportunity to dig deeper into impactful topics such as their aspirations, professional goals, insecurities, and pain points, and give recognition for their hard work.

From providing clarity on expectations and aligning employee and business goals to encouraging growth through constructive feedback and enhancing employee engagement, there's an abundance of benefits that come from proper performance management and well-conducted performance reviews. Here are a few more, for good measure:

  • They help improve communication
  • They help identify strengths and weaknesses
  • They facilitate goal-setting
  • They help strengthen employee-manager relationships

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

We also offer a go-to guide for efficient one-on-ones designed to help managers and employees align on goals, discuss action items, share feedback, and drive employee productivity and job performance.

Tips for creating the perfect performance review framework

Before diving into the practice of conducting performance reviews, it's important to establish the proper framework to ensure you're adequately prepared and able to get the most out of each meeting. To help guide you, we've put together a checklist of things to keep in mind along the way.

Before the performance review: Getting prepared

A little preparation can go a long way in ensuring a productive and constructive discussion for both managers and employees. Managers should come to the table with notes on things like performance goals, employee strengths, areas for improvement, and specific examples of their performance.

They should also be prepared to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for growth, as well as be open to listening to the employee's perspective and addressing any concerns they may have. Thorough preparation enables managers to have productive and meaningful individual performance review discussions with each employee on their team, so let's go a little more in-depth.

1. Keep track of goals and progress over time

One of the main purposes of a performance review is to evaluate progress and growth over time, so it's important to properly set and track goals along the way. Setting goals is a key part of driving employee engagement, boosting team performance, and helping your direct reports reach their full potential.

There are a number of employee goal-setting frameworks managers can use, like OKRs and SMART goals, for example. Having a handy tool like Officevibe can help make setting and tracking them even easier, and help pave the way to success!

Our goal-setting guide can also help you raise your game to get better results!<

2. Get a full picture of your employee's performance by collecting 360 feedback

In a remote culture, you might often experience a lack of visibility into an employee's emotions and performance. That's why getting a 360 view of their improvement, teamwork, and collaboration is crucial. A 360 feedback loop can provide a well-rounded assessment of an employee's performance, as it gathers feedback from different sources, including peers.

Managers can gather feedback from any individual who works closely with the employee through surveys, interviews, or even informal discussions. Employees should also be given the opportunity to reflect on their own performance, strengths, areas for improvement, and career goals (which is great for helping employees take ownership of their development!).

Managers must of course do their own assessment as well, to evaluate performance based on their observations, interactions, and knowledge of their employees' work. This valuable combined feedback provides diverse insights, helping managers better understand every employee's performance and growth potential. It promotes self-awareness, encourages collaboration and teamwork, and even fosters a culture of continuous learning and development within the organization.

3. Get in the mindset of conversation

Prepare for a conversation, rather than an evaluation. A conversation is two-way. It’s an open dialogue that encourages people to share how they feel they've 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.

It's no secret that healthy communication has a massive impact on performance and engagement. While some are better than others at finding ways to connect effectively, there's no shame in recognizing that there's always room for improvement!

Conversations can be especially tricky to navigate when emotions get involved. Consult our guide to managing your emotions at work for tips on how to regain control.

4. Prepare your performance review agenda

Just like you'd use a recipe to make a dish just right, preparing your performance review agenda can help steer a one-on-one meeting in the right direction. It'll help you hit all the necessary talking points that need to be covered, follow up on action items, and even create continuity from one conversation to the next. Sending it ahead of time can also help your employee arrive prepared with their thoughts on each point, making everything flow better for both parties.

Since we're on the topic, why not take advantage of our handy templates when preparing for your next one-on-one meeting? The right performance review template will help make every conversation focused and productive, and we're happy to help with that!

During the employee performance review: Navigating tough conversations

In a performance review, it's perfectly normal for some employees to feel nervous or unsure about certain topics. It may not be obvious on video calls, but performance reviews can be daunting for many people, so learning to navigate tough conversations is key.

5. Call out the elephant in the room

While it may not always be comfortable, it's important to be upfront about your awareness. Acknowledge that discomfort is normal, especially when discussing negative outcomes, and try to approach the conversation with empathy. This helps employees feel supported as you guide them through the review process. Try to remain open to employee concerns and respond in a solution-oriented way. Let them know that you are there to support, guide, and coach them, and you'll both feel a lot better for it.

6. 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, and sometimes there’s more than meets the eye. The only way to really get the results you're looking for from an employee is to provide them with constructive feedback that can ultimately help guide them towards their goals, and the goals of your organization.

When giving performance feedback, try to discuss factors like effort, expertise, resources, and collaboration, and always keep the conversation specific so that it's easy to follow. You can then tie it back to the 360-degree assessment. This way, you can find concrete examples that demonstrate their strengths and areas of improvement so that they have the guidance and tools they need to shine!

7. Take this time to give recognition

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: never underestimate the power and value of employee recognition! Whether big or small, achievements deserve to be recognized. In fact, when you take the time to recognize and reward employees’ hard work, you also improve employee motivation, boost their loyalty to the company, and create a more positive company culture.

When giving recognition, make sure your kudos are genuine and impactful. And be sure to make recognition a regular occurrence. Find out what kind of recognition resonates with your employees, and go from there. Some prefer more personal interactions, while others are happier with more public shout-outs. Either way, it'll no doubt be well-received and appreciated!

Need more tips on creating a culture of recognition in your workplace? We've got your back!

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

When it comes to big-ticket items like promotions and raises, it's always best to be transparent about why or why not these things are occurring. Get all the information you need from HR in advance and be open about how decisions are made. This is crucial for building trust in both the review process and the manager.

Note that for companies who are navigating big changes, the focus may not necessarily be on financial rewards, but rather on perks designed to improve retention. Let employees know these aren’t personal nor are they based on performance alone.

After the performance review: Keep it continuous

Once the performance review process is complete, it's time to look ahead to what comes next. After all, this isn't a one-and-done scenario, but rather an ongoing process that will continue to benefit employee alignment, growth, and success. Here's what comes next:

9. Establish clear next steps

Once you've had the one-on-one conversation and gained your insights, it's imperative to establish clear next steps and action items. This gives employees a clear view of what's expected of them moving forward and enables managers to set new goals, which they can then assess in the next performance review. This gives everyone a clear sense of direction, which is beneficial on both sides!

Be sure to follow up on a regular basis in order to support employee improvement and performance.

10. Make continuous feedback a regular habit

As we touched on at the beginning of this article, performance management doesn't just hinge on the outdated annual performance review. Scheduling frequent one-on-one meetings with your employees allows you to discuss objectives and outcomes, and clarify what’s progressing and what’s required to complete tasks. Ensure continuous feedback, and establish transparent, ongoing conversations to stay aligned and achieve long-term success.

11. Remind employees that you’re there for them

As a leader, your employees appreciate your coaching, mentorship, and guidance. Providing them with concrete advice regularly helps them advance in their roles and allows them to swiftly enhance their work and leverage their strengths.

A coaching model has proven to be a great way to achieve success and build trust as a team, so it's worth taking the time to learn how to implement it into your managerial leadership style.

12. Use a performance management system to facilitate continuous performance

We already know that you shouldn't wait for the end of the year to give feedback on performance, and should make discussions on performance a regular thing. By making this a constant conversation, employees can develop and grow perpetually over time.

Tools like Officevibe can really help establish performance management systems through handy features like continuous performance management, performance reviews, and structured one-on-one meetings. They also allow you to set and monitor goals, store action items, and follow up in a timely fashion.

Enhance your performance framework with Officevibe templates

As a manager, Officevibe's performance development templates for manager-employee one-on-ones really do come in clutch when making performance management more efficient. Here's how:

Career development

Part of your responsibility as a manager is to help provide employees with a clear trajectory for their career path. Having career development talks is a crucial part of understanding what they aspire to achieve, and how you both envision them reaching their professional goals. This template is designed to help guide these conversations.

Goal setting

Goals give everyone a sense of direction, so knowing how to properly set and track them is essential. When you set individual goals in collaboration with your team members, you really get to see them grow in their roles. This template is a great resource for doing just that!

Poor performance

While we all strive to encourage and achieve great performance, it isn't all sunshine and rainbows all the time. Navigating conversations with team members who are struggling can be tricky, and uncovering what's affecting their performance and engagement at work isn't always easy. This guide can help with these kinds of conversations.

Common performance review mistakes to avoid

Nobody is perfect, and sometimes mistakes happen. What's important is that you recognize and acknowledge them, and take steps to change the course so that they don't happen again next time. Let's take a look at some key things to keep in mind to ensure performance reviews can go on without a hitch.

Performance reviews are not presentations

Perhaps the most pertinent part of performance reviews is the feedback you give your team members. How you deliver this feedback also greatly matters. It should never come out as the ultimate truth of their work. Performance reviews are about trying to understand the motivations behind behaviors, and should therefore always be a two-way discussion.

If an employee remains silent during a review, it doesn’t mean that they agree with everything you’re saying. That's why it's up to you as a manager to continuously ask your team members questions during their reviews so they can also share their opinions on the feedback you are giving them. While not all employees will be comfortable sharing their own feedback in return, there are ways to encourage employee feedback.

Performance reviews are not all about numbers

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

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. And the cherry on the cake? These kinds of discussions only serve to strengthen communication, trust, and the relationship between a manager and their employee.

Read on to find examples of performance goals for employees that aren’t related to business numbers.

Performance reviews don’t have to be negative

Performance reviews can have a negative connotation as employees often expect negative feedback from their manager. As we mentioned at the start, this can spike stress for team members, so your performance reviews should always include recognition where it’s due! As a manager, make sure you add points of positive feedback during performance reviews to make them well-rounded and well-received.

It's possible that for some team members, there’s little positive feedback to give. In these cases, make sure you provide constructive feedback and ask your employees where they think they can improve. This will help you continue building meaningful goals together.

Developing a performance review framework to nurture success

Now that we've explored all the facets of crafting an effective performance management plan, it serves to highlight once again how continuous performance management, open communication, and regular feedback are the keys to making performance reviews consistent, effective, and ultimately successful.

Want to take it to the next level? Dive into the role data plays in keeping every performance review fair and constructive every step of the way.

Equip HR and managers with tools to engage, recognize, and drive performance.