How to make the most of employee performance reviews

performance reviews

If you run a growing business and are beginning to take on new staff, it is important to think about staff performance reviews, sometimes called appraisals.  In this blog, Heidi Roper from  ViewHR shares some top tips for managers to be able to get the most out of the performance review process with their employees.


Give effective feedback

When giving feedback, this should provide the employee either with an opportunity to improve, or the reinforcement they need to keep doing the right thing.  As such, beware of the following traps that can be easy to fall into:

  • Generalisations – e.g. “You are always late with your project submissions” or “You never empty the dishwasher in the staff room”. Rather, it is best to give specific examples and focus on those events.
  • Personal comments – e.g. “You are lazy” or “You are a bit slow”. These are personal comments, and it is very unlikely that calling somebody lazy is going to lead to a sudden burst of enthusiasm!  Rather, focus on specifics again, e.g. “I am concerned that you have arrived for work late at least three times in the last fortnight”.
  • Negativity – You are worried that the employee needs to improve in certain areas, and are keen to get that bit of the conversation out of the way. However, remember to deliver some strengths-focused feedback also, to encourage the employee to continue the things that are going well.
  • Talking too much – By asking an employee questions and encouraging them to reflect, they may be able to identify the things they need to work on and are then more likely to take ownership of them. This is much more desirable than simply telling them everything you are worried about without pausing for breath – in this situation, they may go away from the meeting feeling resentful.



SMART is a very well-known business acronym, and yet there has been debate over the years about what all the letters stand for!  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound are possibly a better way of thinking about it, (because Achievable and Reasonable are a bit too similar).

When setting employees targets, it is important to think SMART.  Otherwise, there can be a risk of setting targets which are unclear and lead to disputes (e.g. “I have improved by absence levels since last year – in 2021 I was off sick for 23 days, and this year it is only 22” is not a helpful thing to hear from an employee!)


Remember the person

You have three other performance review meetings to undertake this morning alone, and that report you need to finish is bothering you too, not to mention all those emails.  Sound familiar?

Under these circumstances, it can be tempting to try and rush through a performance review, especially if the employee performs well and you are happy with how they are doing.  However, don’t forget that a review meeting is an important opportunity to check in with the individual and their well-being.  If somebody is struggling, they may have been waiting for this meeting as an opportunity to have a proper one-to-one discussion with you.

As such, it is important to ensure that you have scheduled a good amount of time for the review, and between meetings.  If the meeting is done sooner, it doesn’t matter – after all, you have that report to write!  But if the extra time is needed, you don’t want to keep the next employee waiting.

Take time to ask the employee how they are – at least twice because they are more likely to respond in more depth the second time because they know you really want to know.  If you are aware that something has been difficult for them (e.g., an unwell relative), then take the trouble to ask about this.  Ensure you ask lots of questions and actively listen to their responses, considering things like their body language as well as what they are saying, rather than just rushing through the form to try and get every box ticked.


It isn’t just about the annual meeting…

Is an employee always forgetting to do something and it is causing a problem?  Or did they do a really exceptional job with a particular project?  Many employers think that they need to “save” things like this for the appraisal, to ensure that they have something to talk about.

However, feedback given in a timely manner is more valuable.  Otherwise, how is the employee supposed to improve if they don’t know that there is a problem?  Or might they feel deflated if they don’t receive feedback after completing that project?  You can revisit the feedback at the appraisal, but an appraisal shouldn’t be full of surprises for the employee.  Rather, and ideal appraisal discussion may start with something like this: “A few months ago I was worried you kept forgetting to log details onto the CRM, but as we have discussed since, you are much more consistent with this now.  Well done, and please continue to focus on this.”.


This article was written by Heidi Roper of ViewHR

WSX Enterprise 

A non-profit organisation WSX Enterprise runs a wide range of projects delivering business support in the UK as well as working with partners in Europe. As some examples, our projects support access to financedigital skillsstart-up guidance, and general business advice. Our team includes a wide range of business advisors from a breadth of industry experience supporting small and medium-sized businesses across our region.

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