A guide for managers: how to prepare for an employee performance appraisal

As with most things, the more you put into it, the more you’ll both get out. From setting expectations to creating an agenda and providing constructive criticism, here’s how best to prepare for your employees’ performance reviews.

Talent & Hiring
Company Culture

⋅ min read

Whether you hold performance appraisals on an annual or more frequent basis, it’s important that you feel prepared to have an open and honest discussion. As with most things, the more you put into it, the more you’ll both get out. From setting expectations to creating an agenda and providing constructive criticism, here’s how best to prepare for your employees’ performance reviews going forward.

What is an employee performance appraisal?

It’s a performance review; a meeting where you have the chance to share feedback on how the employee is doing and set goals for the future. Here, you can also determine compensation and discuss pay packages or offer a promotion if performance has been particularly impressive.

Remember that these discussions are a two-way street. They’re also an opportunity for the individual to provide feedback for you, which can improve your working relationship, open up the lines of communication and result in better output.

Performance reviews are a crucial asset to talent management – they’re beneficial to managers, employees and the company. Here are just a few reasons you might want to consider holding performance appraisals on a regular basis:

  • Employees are 3x more engaged when they receive daily feedback from their managers vs. annual feedback, meaning you’re likely to get the most out of them if you offer a constant and reactive feedback loop.
  • 74% of millennial workers think they aren’t receiving enough feedback – which goes to show it’s the more, the merrier!
  • 72% of people in this survey thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback. There really is no time like the present to start helping your employees help themselves.

Top tips for preparing for an employee performance review

As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. So it’s in your best interest to put some work into your employee reviews. The amount of time you dedicate is up to you, but this study found that managers can spend up to 17 hours preparing

It’s worth noting that appraisals can be just as challenging for managers as they are for those receiving the feedback, especially if performance isn’t where it needs to be. These are our top tips for having a productive and positive conversation.

  1. Gather evidence of employee performance

First things first, find out how your employee has been performing. Collect plenty of evidence from the past year (or however long it’s been since the last performance review). There are plenty of ways to do this, from chatting to their peers or people they work closely with to measuring the output of a recent campaign they worked on, for example.

When reviewing a person’s performance, make sure to remove any bias from your approach. We wrote about the damaging impact of unconscious bias in hiring processes, but it can also affect review processes. For instance, make sure you’re not discriminating based on age and that you’re being fair and inclusive when you consider other employee reviews you’ve done.

  1. Set clear goals and expectations

Before the meeting, make sure the employee knows what to expect from the goal-setting session. You might want to ask them to reflect on their own output and bring with them any questions they might have about how their work relates to the business’ objectives.

Ready to set some goals? Make sure they’re SMART:

  • Specific - Be clear on what you want to achieve. Vague objectives are difficult to stick to and evaluate.
  • Measurable - This helps the employee stay motivated and the manager to track progress.
  • Achievable - There’s no point setting unrealistic goals, as this is simply setting the person up for failure.
  • Relevant - Make sure the employee understands how each goal is relevant to the success of the business.
  • Time-bound - Give every goal a target date so you have something to work towards.
  1. Have a list of questions you want to ask

Of course, the questions you ask each employee will differ based on their role, performance and future plans. But here are some things you might want to ask:

  • What would you say your key achievements have been? 
  • What do you feel could have gone better? 
  • How have I helped you to achieve your goals? How could I have done this better?
  • Are there any tools or support you need to achieve your goals? 
  • What do you want to achieve in the upcoming year? 
  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  1. Send an agenda ahead of time

No one likes being caught off guard. And you don’t want to forget your train of thought halfway through the meeting, either. Send an agenda along with the calendar invite to give the employee some time to digest the information and prepare for the meeting. Make sure you leave enough time for a thorough discussion – don’t rush it. 

Just be wary of including any specifics ahead of time in case it creates cause for concern, for example, if a colleague has given some poor feedback that needs addressing. It’s best to outline the rough points you want to cover and dive into specifics when you’re face-to-face.

  1. Be prepared for any questions they might ask in return

As we mentioned earlier, performance appraisals are a two-way street. They’re also a chance for the employee to reflect on your performance as a manager. Don’t neglect this, as it’s a prime opportunity for you to boost your leadership skills and understand how others perceive you. 

It’s a good idea to have a think about any questions they might ask that haven’t been covered above. For example, many employees will want to know their strengths and weaknesses for their own personal development. Others might want to know what the right career path is and what opportunities exist at the company.

  1. Agree on next steps

Once you’ve both shared your feedback, it’s time to wrap up the conversation by setting clear next steps. Maybe the employee has asked to do a course and you’ve agreed to check the budget and see if it’s affordable. Or perhaps you’ve decided it's a good idea for the employee to shadow a more senior employee to give them more experience. Whatever it is, make a note of the plan and be sure to share it with your employee so you’re both on the same page.

  1. Know what makes a successful appraisal 

Ultimately, there’s no point having a performance review if both parties don’t get something out of it. You want it to go as smoothly as possible and for the employee to feel like they have the resources and direction they need to keep improving and learning.

One of the best ways to ensure a positive and fruitful chat is to avoid saving up feedback for the meeting – especially if it’s negative. There shouldn’t be any surprises, particularly unpleasant ones. If you’re unhappy with the performance of anyone in your team, this should be addressed before the appraisal, and the appraisal should simply be a time to address any progress made since.

Similarly, people generally respond better to feedback with a positive spin. And giving recognition when it’s due is a great retention tactic for businesses. In fact, this research found that employees who are praised for their strengths are nearly 15% less likely to churn than those who don’t. So if you have to give feedback that’s less than glowing, make it constructive by being specific, offering suggestions for improvement and inspiring them to make certain changes.

Last but not least… don’t forget to record the discussion, whether that’s on paper or a voice or Zoom recording. This will come in handy at the next appraisal when you’re measuring any progress made, or if you want to refer back to any comments that were said.

That’s our guide to preparing for employee performance reviews to give you a head start. Need some inspiration or feeling overwhelmed by the amount you need to cover? We’ve created a free template to help you get your head around appraisals. Download it here and remember to give yourself plenty of time to fill it out ahead of your employee’s review. Given that a whopping 95% of managers are dissatisfied with their traditional performance management, now’s your chance to transform the way people receive feedback at your firm. Best of luck!

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