A guide to good performance reviews

Dec 03, 2018
Performance reviews are often thought of as an ordeal rather than opportunity. Dr Gerard McMahon outlines the actions to take before, during and after the review to ensure its success.

For many people, the performance review process is a pain in the posterior. It is up there with a visit to the dentist in the popularity stakes. However, the wide-scale application of formal performance management or appraisal systems serves to underline an employee’s central role in the pursuit of a wide range of organisational objectives. Though performance management is ultimately an ongoing, every-day process, it normally comes to a head at the periodic review meeting. If approached with due consideration, it can prove to be an uplifting and invaluable experience for all. 

Before the meeting

Before you step into the meeting, reflect on its purpose. Most want to increase the employee’s motivation levels, to any extent, in the desired direction. Make sure that’s clear for yourself and your employee. It’s worth considering planning a provisional interview structure and strategy to ensure all relevant matters will be dealt with in an appropriate manner. 

Set a mutually convenient time – a lot of it – and encourage the employee to prepare for the meeting. It is now common for employees to submit a self-assessment form to their manager prior to the meeting. This practice has considerable merit, as it encourages the employee to reflect on all of the important aspects of their performance and development. 

The decision as to what venue to use for such a sensitive meeting is also worth considering. Though the norm is to convene it in the manager’s office, it may be preferable to locate in the employee’s office (if they have one) or to avail of a neutral venue. It helps to ensure that there will be no interruptions, wherever you go.

Having agreed the time and venue, the room’s setting or layout should also be prepared. The manner in which a room is laid out conveys certain messages. For example, the manager can choose to avoid placing themselves behind a desk due to its (physical and psychological) ‘barrier’ connotations. You should also avoid sitting at a confrontational angle. 

Next, it is important to review the employee’s job description and consider what their job entails in practice. You should also be familiar with the review forms from previous meetings, including the objectives agreed. It will be useful to have concrete examples to support the feedback that you intend to give. When forming an assessment of the employee’s performance, other views may be relevant. 

It can also help to check what training/development has or can be provided to the employee. 

Finally, the manager should be aware of the objectives of the organisation, department or division objectives for the next period and the potential role of the job-holder.

During the meeting

Once the meeting commences, it’s important to establish rapport. This entails nothing more complex than breaking the ice with simple questions and quips. After the initial niceties, the review’s objective and proposed agenda can be outlined. The practice of inviting an agenda input gives the employee joint ownership of the process. Of course, the better prepared the manager is, the less likely it is that issues that had not been anticipated will be introduced. 

It is advisable to clear the (discreet) note-taking with the employee and to invite them to take notes if they wish. 

Start the review by giving appropriate, positive feedback. This is the most important part of the review meeting, so don’t rush it. It is also good to encourage the employee to talk about what positives they think they bring to the role.

It is a good idea to get the employee to self-review as much as possible. A good manager should spend up to 85% of the review meeting actively listening, so take your time and don’t be afraid to use silence if and when appropriate. Clarifying and reflecting are also useful techniques for getting the employee to open up and elaborate. It is advisable to avoid arguments and judgement before you’ve heard all of the evidence. 
In a similar vein, an effective manager will focus on facts relating to job performance, not personality. This entails reviewing past performance and SMART (i.e. specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound) objectives, before setting new ones for the coming period. 

As with any important meeting, summarise the key points at the end. However, it may prove enlightening to ask the interviewee to summarise first and then to focus on any important omissions. If it hasn’t been done during the meeting, complete the self-assessment form – or make appropriate arrangements with the interviewee for form completion

Before closing, the manager should look for feedback on him or herself. Performance management reviews should be a two-way street, and if one is big enough to give feedback, one should be big enough to take it. Conclude the meeting on a positive note.

After the meeting

The manager and employee should be satisfied that the completed self-assessment review form is a fair and accurate reflection of the meeting. The draft form should be forwarded to the employee for approval, signature or comment on any appropriate revisions. Afterwards, both parties should endeavour to do what they agreed in the meeting and on the form, and make sure to schedule follow-up reviews or agreed actions. Finally, ensure that the employee and other authorised parties secure copies of the signed form or that the designated online computerised facility is appropriately utilised.

Dr Gerard McMahon is the Managing Director at Productive Personnel Ltd.

Performance review checklist


  • Reflect on the meeting’s purpose: to motivate.
  • Agree a mutually convenient time and place.
  • Ask the interviewee to submit the self-assessment form in advance. 
  • Plan a provisional interview structure and strategy. 
  • Check the meeting venue to ensure an appropriate setting and layout. 
  • Ensure that there will be no interruptions.
  • Review the job holder’s job description and consider what the job entails in practice. 
  • Study forms from previous meetings, including the objectives agreed, and look for concrete examples to support your feedback. Others’ views may be relevant. 
    Check what training or development has and can be provided. 
  • Revisit the department’s objectives and the potential role of the job-holder.


  • Establish rapport.
  • Confirm the interview’s objective and agree the agenda.
  • Enable note-taking. 
  • Give appropriate, positive feedback and encourage the reviewee to talk about their strengths.
  • Actively listen as you allow the interviewee to self-review and self-prescribe.
  • Take your time and don’t be afraid to use silence when appropriate. 
  • Clarify and reflect to explore key issues.
  • Don’t engage in arguments.
  • Focus on facts relating to job performance, review past performance and SMART (i.e. specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound) objectives.
  • Set SMART objectives for the coming period. 
  • Ask the interviewee to summarise the meeting and then focus on any important omissions. 
  • Look for feedback on yourself. 


  • Forward the draft form to the employee for approval and signature.
  • Follow through on what was agreed in the meeting and on the self-assessment review form. 
  • Fill in the diary in regard to follow-up reviews and agreed actions. 
  • Ensure that the interviewee and other authorised parties get copies of the form.