How to take performance reviews to the next level

by Tammy Buckley20 May 2014
Performance reviews – they’re one of the most bothersome procedures for employees so how can HR turn the process on its head?

For Lisa Hunter it’s about taking a page out of the book of motivational managers. Hunter, who has more than a decade of HR experience and is the National Business Manager for Elephant HR, explained that a performance review should be made up with a third of the time spent summarising the year and two-thirds looking forward  – planning what needs to be achieved and development.  But motivational managers do things slightly different.

“Motivational managers have performance conversations  all year round and cover off  recognising achievements when they happen,  feedback for improvement at the time the employee can actually use it, discussing the manager can remove road-blocks, updating goals and objectives regularly and looking at ongoing development now and for the future,” Hunter told HRM. 

Additionally they look at the whole picture, taking into consideration what their employee does (goals and objectives), how they do it  (competencies, values, behaviours) and the contributions they make to the workplace (roles they play in the team, ideas for improvement, contributions made to other parts of the organisation). 

Another key trait of motivational managers is adaptation. Hunter explained that they think about their employee and adapt their style and the review to recognise their potential and where they’re at.

“For example, high achievers want to come out of their reviews knowing what challenges are coming up and that their performance has been recognised.  Sold performers want to know why their contributions to the team and company are valued as well and want certainty about what they’ll be doing in the coming year. New starters want to feel they’re making progress and are on track and feel motivated to keep on track,” she said.

The line of questioning can also help give a bigger sense of purpose to the review process. According to Hunter open questions are best for having a productive conversation as they allow the employee to talk from their perspective.  Examples of open-ended questions include:
  • What are the achievements you’ve most proud of this year in relation to your role?
  • What are the things you’ve enjoyed the most – within your role?  within the team?
  • What are your strengths and how have you been able to use them this year?
  • What have you learnt from the things that haven’t gone as planned?
  • What road-blocks or challenges have there been? How have these impacted on your year?
  • What could I have done differently to help you manage these road-blocks?
  • What development would help you keep on track? Improve?
  • What type of support would we be able to give to help you with your career plans?
Questions not to ask:
  • Closed questions (except to clarify something)
  • Questions that hone in excessively on one problem that has occurred
  • Ambush questions where you try and catch the employee out
  • Covering feedback about problems that you haven’t raised prior
  • Questions that show you haven’t prepared for the review or don’t know what they do
Hunter offers the following additional tips on enhancing the performance review process:
  • Make sure your managers really understand the purpose of the performance review and they are equipped to explain the link to development, remuneration or talent management to their employees;
  • Train your managers on how to give feedback and remember that for many New Zealanders indirect methods are far more effective;
  • Ask managers and employees prepare examples of achievements and where things could be improved that can be discussed ;
  • Have the manager read the self-assessment the employee has prepared before the review meeting;
  • Make sure the review is held in a private place and turning off phones so you’re not interrupted; and
  • If the employee works remotely seek feedback from others for example, customers, other people in the office.
Related articles:
Performance reviews all about development
It’s that time of year
Three ways to improve HR’s most-hated process


  • by Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP 20/05/2014 8:36:31 PM

    I can give you instructions on how to drive a car with two flat tires but why? Better off replacing the tires.. Same with the typical performance review. Replace it. With all respect, HR should start talking about how to replace this dysfunction with something consistent with systems thinking.

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