Performance Reviews Don’t Have to be Painful: 8 Tips for Giving More Effective Reviews

It’s performance review season again.  

Whether you are a manager delivering a review, or an employee receiving one, performance reviews can be painful – but they don’t have to be. It’s a rare moment in the hustle bustle of our work lives where managers can sit down and discuss the individual progress and goals of an employee.  

As a leader, delivering effective performance reviews is a skill worth developing. Instead of viewing this as a stressful necessity, see it for what it is – an opportunity for connection and collaboration.  

Instead of viewing this as a stressful necessity, see it for what it is – an opportunity for connection and collaboration.  

To make sure you’re a manger who delivers a worthwhile review, it’s worth taking a moment to consider your approach and mindset. Here are our tips for your next round of performance review. 

1. Schedule appropriately.  

Give plenty of warning, set a date and stick to it. We know how easy it is to bump internal meetings when you’re busy, but performance reviews are highly anticipated by employees so delivering on time is important for your relationship.

One of the major complaints about performance reviews is how it’s often a struggle to get them scheduled, how they get delayed, or not delivered at all. People want to know how they’re doing and when to expect their review. A study showed that 82% of employees want feedback – positive or negative.

The stakes are high. Delayed or undelivered reviews frustrate people and can lead to disengagement, drop in performance, and retention issues. Lack of care around performance reviews feels disrespectful, and respect is a cornerstone of healthy relationships.

2. Start by setting expectations.  

Start setting expectations when you schedule the review. This sets the tone. Communicate what would you like your report to have prepared and what they can expect from this meeting. They should know if promotions, potential projects, or raises will be discussed.

If performance reviews at your company don’t involve raises, make sure they know this coming in. If they don’t, also let them know when raises can and will be discussed. Mitigating potential disappointment by being upfront at the beginning will help keep the conversation on track.  

3. There should be no surprises.  

Performance reviews shouldn’t contain surprises. A well-managed employee should have a strong idea of their strengths and weaknesses when they walk in. A performance review should be a strategy session about the future, not a wakeup call.  

A performance review should be a strategy session about the future, not a wakeup call.  

If some feedback in the review surprises your report, take the time figure out why they were surprised – especially if it’s negative feedback. How was the issue initially addressed, and where did the line of communication break down?  

4. Listening.

When you’re delivering a performance review, be curious. Take the time to listen to what they have to say about the wins and loses they’ve had over the year. The workplace is a collaborative space, so understanding your reports views on their successes and mistakes will give you a better sense of how to manage them and your team.

5. Be honest – but kind. 

It’s important to be honest – saving feelings won’t drive your team towards better results. But keep in mind that honesty doesn’t have to be harsh or cruel. Many relationship damaging conversations happen when someone “is just being honest.” Have the challenging conversations, but focus on actionable change instead of listing their failures. 

While being honest about their performance, be sure to be honest about your own. Listen to their feedback and try not to get defensive. If you are expecting people to be accountable for their shortfalls, it’s important for you to be accountable for yours. If an adjustment in your managing style will yield better results, it’s worth it.  

6. Keep the focus on the future.

Keeping focused on the future will help keep the review on track. The purpose of these reviews to help your reports become stronger in their roles. Recognize their achievements and discuss what they can build to. And when going over their weaknesses, focus on how they can improve.

By keeping the future in focus, you can help keep the review out of the weeds and prevent the blame game. Instead of looking to place blame, work with your report to establish next steps.

7. Understand their work motivations.  

What do they want from their career? Performance reviews are a great time to check in on this. You may know what motivated them two years ago when you hired them, but things change. What do they want and what do they prioritize? Title, money, work/life balance? Understanding a person’s motivations will strengthen your relationship and your ability to lead and motivate them. 

8. Consider your biases – before you start the review.

Finally, while preparing, spend some time considering your blind spots and biases. This can be an uncomfortable practice, but it will make you a stronger leader and ultimately build trust with your team.

Consider who you are reviewing and how unconscious bias might affect you. If you’re praising a male report for being “assertive” while criticizing a woman on your team for being “abrasive”, take a moment to consider why this is.

Your feedback should be consistent across your team. If you’re delivering praise to one employee for a behaviour pattern, you should praise all employees for this.


The truth of the matter is you’ll never give a perfect performance review, but with intentional practice you can deliver reviews with lasting positive impacts. Embrace these reviews as a chance to strengthen your relationships with your reports and to grow as a leader.