Advice/Resources on Performance Reviews for Employees


We're getting ready to formalize our processes around employee reviews and I wondered if anyone had some great advice and/or links to articles/resources that are valuable on the subject. I've never personally liked reviews - the system itself seems almost fundamentally flawed, but I also recognize that they become a necessity at a certain size and we're probably there (23 people).

Thanks much for the help!

Culture Employees

asked Nov 25 '09 at 04:30
1,001 points

7 Answers


Reviews can be fun if you have the right attitude:

  1. Don't call them "performance reviews." Call it "Checking in: Making sure we're on the same page."
  2. Do it over lunch instead of in a formal setting, but keep the conversation on track.
  3. Given them time to reciprocate questions, concerns, problems, good stuff.
  4. It's not a rubric, it's a discussion.

If there really is a problem with someone, the way to address it is NOT in a formal, scheduled review, but immediately. So that's not the point of a scheduled review.

answered Nov 25 '09 at 06:46
16,231 points
  • +1 for the comment about formal reviews are NOT the place to deal with issues. Issues should be dealt with immediately. Right on. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago


I'm not an HR person so am sure there will be lots of better answers than mine but as a person who's given and gotten a lot of reviews over the years, some thoughts:


Best advice I can give is to be honest and be prepared. I know of way too many managers over the years who don't feel comfortable communicating negative feedback to their employees...or just communicate some but gloss over much. In some cases it's because they don't like conflict or confrontation and it just makes them feel really uncomfortable. In some cases it's because they get intimidated by employees who are defensive or confrontational. But you have to do it.


Because the employee will never improve if you're not completely honest with them. This is about learning.

And if you ever have to fire an employee, having a trail of positive reviews can be a real problem. Again, seen that many times.

Another reason is other employees. It will get around if somebody got a good review when others feel they're a poor performer and vice versa. So be honest.


As you're doing, find a good template for an employee review and be thorough in filling it out. Make sure to have examples for both positives and negatives. Take a few days to fill it out because things will keep popping into your head to include in the review. If you do it all the night before you're going to miss a lot and do a disservice to your employees.

Be constructive when talking about areas to improve.

Don't just talk "at" the person, talk with them. Let them provide feedback and input while making sure to communicate your points. You might have a particular project they screwed up on, for example. Ask them how they felt about it first, let them talk, then share your perspective. Often that creates a much more productive dialog than just dumping on them. But you still get the same point across.

Have an action plan at the end for what you want them to do to address weaknesses and continue their positives. But make it constructive and positive. This should be something they're happy about because it's helping them develop and contribute to the company.


There shouldn't be surprises in the interview. If you know somebody really has performance issues and it's going to be a negative review, make sure you've given them feedback and counseling and such before. And if it's a rave review, they also should have received recognition previously. An old adage - you should never be surprised when you get fired or promoted. Same with reviews, should never be surprised if it's a negative review or a positive review.

All that said, lots of people think reviews are a total waste of time. To each their own. If you're doing them, make the most of them. I think they can be real helpful.

I'm done spewing...see what others say.

answered Nov 25 '09 at 04:55
4,214 points


I am not a fan of performance reviews, as what you measure will decide what is important, and so be what people focus on, as they want to get a good performance review.

I prefer Deming's view that people will work better if fear is removed.

At that point you would just look at making certain everyone is focused on what is going on, so, you could point out how your competitors are doing and track the company toward being the best, for example.

Why do you need performance reviews? What is the purpose?

If you have people that are not doing well, either find out what they will excel at and have them do that, or, just have a paperwork trail to document when they get fired.

I find that reviews don't help, at least in my experience, as someone should know what they are doing well and where they lack.

You could read "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge, and get an idea about what a learning organization is, and if you focus on developing the company that way, and ensure that everyone can add to the quality of what you do, and everyone is able to continue on self-improvement/education, then I am not certain what you will benefit from doing these reviews.

answered Nov 25 '09 at 05:59
James Black
2,642 points
  • +1 except for the part about "someone should know what they are doing well and where they lack." No one is so introspective that they always know this, nor can you always have the perspective necessary. – Jason 14 years ago


A couple of thoughts from perf. reviews I've done in the past:

  1. Once a year is NOT often enough, especially if it's tied to salary increases. Quarterly is better, but 15 minutes of "special time" with each direct report once a week is ideal.
  2. Yes, giving feedback in the moment is optimal, but sometimes we don't have time or perspective in the moment. So having time set aside that's "normal" means you can not only get good feedback from the employee, you can also use that time to share things that aren't in the heat of the moment.
  3. If your company does standardize on quarterly, semi-annual, or annual reviews, then at the very least, I'd suggest tying them to goals or criteria relevant to the person's actual job. Often HR departments come up with a one size fits all ranking system that ignores the nature of a specific role.
  4. Also, my favorite of the many we tried is the "360 degree" perf. review, where you get a list of people that the employee serves (internal customers), or works with (peers/colleagues in other departments), and have THEM rate or provide input, versus just a manager's opinion. Managers tend to see things differently (either more positively or more negatively) than other people in the company who work with an employee.
  5. Finally one more (slightly controversial) technique I like is to have a team rank it's own members in different areas (again relevant to the job they do). For example, a development team of 10 might rank the top 3 people (everyone but themselves) in technical wizardry, teamwork, customer service, ongoing learning, leadership, etc. It's a great way to get a feel for how things REALLY are. You don't need to use this as a basis for salary increases, but it's great input when discussing areas that someone can improve in. If employee A wound up being rated in the top 3 for leadership, but didn't make any lists for customer service, you can guide them in improving there without being negative (because no one is saying they are BAD, just not in the top 3).
answered Nov 25 '09 at 07:15
Dave Churchville
71 points


Performance reviews are better done in incremental chunks (like once a quarter). Doing a mini-review or quarterly goal review seems to work well for us. I was exposed to this at a former employer and thought it was a bit much initially, but found that over time, the feedback intervals are natural. It also allows me to remember what they did in shorter intervals -- thus not having to rely on the last couple of months impression.

Part of the naturalness of the quarterly review was the notion of quarterly goals. Setting and reviewing goals every quarter was a great way to adjust expectations as conditions changed. It was also a great way for employees to know what is important and how they are doing toward the overall companies goals.

answered Nov 25 '09 at 08:35
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points


Here are my four suggestions on this topic...

  1. Keep it Simple - (Especially if you're still small) keep the reviews as simple and as informal as possible. The more formal you get, the more time they will require (which makes them much less likely to be done well). Buying an employee lunch and having a good discussion is a great first step. If you need a record of the discussion, follow up with an email summarizing what you both took away.
  2. Honest Feedback - Of much greater concern than the format or process is management's preparedness to give honest and constructive feedback. Most reviews become ineffective because management doesn't take the time (and the risk) of giving direct, honest feedback about performance. When people are your most valuable asset, there is significant pressure to 'sugarcoat' the message and make sure that they still feel loved. It's tough to find that balance of "we appreciate you" and "you can do better." Of course, in the long run, not giving good feedback actually does your people a great disservice since they will never reach their true potential.
  3. Goals, Goals, Goals - The most mature formal review processes that I've seen almost always end up focusing on specific employee goals that support the company's larger goals. This is not easy... it takes time and effort and true commitment to align your employees' objectives with those of the organization. When done well, it is amazingly powerful (far better than rating people on a scale of 1 to 5 for their various skills). Done poorly and you might as well not do it at all (go back to having lunch once a quarter... it's much less painful and a better value).
  4. The Golden Rule - "If anything is a 'surprise' to an employee during a review then management has failed." Whatever the schedule (annual, bi-annual, quarterly), make sure that real feedback is given frequent enough so that there are never any surprises. It's tempting for people (especially those who shy away from confrontation) to simply save up the feedback for the official review. Bad idea.
Final Warning - Many companies that I've encountered put so much time into a formal review process that they simply don't get enough value at the end to justify the massive effort. In the end, the feedback is watered down and the reviewers don't see the point in putting in so much time for such little return. They end up just pushing paper and not helping their employees grow. Thus, stay vigilant in making sure that whatever review process you adopt that it adds real and significant value for your employees and company. Anything less is simply not worth the trouble.

Hope this was helpful. I'd love to hear dissenting opinions on this.

answered Nov 25 '09 at 12:22
Chris Hagner
881 points


HR is something that many companies, especially startups, don't give the proper attention to. While you could read a few articles about it, it is a complicated process to do right, and something that you should do professionally if you want it to have the right effect.

If you don't do it the right way, it could damage the company, since people will feel less secure about their jobs and less motivated, since as you said, " the system itself seems almost fundamentally flawed".

If you want to do it right, by getting a specialist, thats great. If not, then it may not be a good idea.

answered Nov 25 '09 at 04:47
Ron Ga
2,181 points

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