How to Conduct a Performance Appraisal, from "Great Managers Are Always Nice" by Chip Averwater

Chapter 16

Performance Reviews

Many organizations require annual or semi-annual performance reviews—and most managers despise them. Some of us say the reviews are unnecessary, claiming our regular communication is sufficient. On rare occasions it is.

Far more of us dislike them because we haven’t been communicating and we fear the reviews will be awkward or even confrontational.

Despite our misgivings, performance reviews are excellent opportunities to communicate openly and honestly with each team member about their performance. If we’ve already been communicating, the performance reviews are an easy confirmation of what we’ve been saying. If we haven’t been communicating, the reviews are an opportunity to fix it—to open the channels of communication, create understanding, offer guidance, provide encouragement, express appreciation, and help our team members reach their potential.

Performance reviews are also useful as a basis for salary increases and promotions. And occasionally they serve as a warning for underperformers or set the stage for the termination of an uncooperative or inappropriate team member.


How to Conduct a Performance Review

Our legendary manager, Mike Mitchell, sets up his performance reviews with a note or email.


Scheduling Performance Appraisals

From: Mike

To: Our ABC Team

Re: Performance Reviews


 It’s time again for our performance reviews. Please check your calendar and let me know when during the next two weeks you’re available. The meeting should take about 30 minutes, but we can spend more time if there’s something you’d like to discuss.

I’ve attached a blank copy of the review form. If you’ll fill in your thoughts beforehand, it will make it easier for us to complete the final version together.

Please review your previous performance appraisal and we’ll discuss how you’ve progressed.

Also, give some thought to your self-improvement plan and how you’d like to grow in your job. If there are projects you’re interested in, responsibilities you’d like to take on, or skills you’d like to learn, this is a good chance to discuss them.

I’m proud of our team and look forward to positive conversations.



Performance reviews are more productive when both we and our team members prepare.

As managers, we need to review previous forms and notes, refresh our memories of the team member’s successes and shortcomings, consider what abilities and behaviors the team member could improve, think about how we can encourage and help them, and plan our presentation.

Team members need to think about how they’re performing, where their opportunities are, what goals are appropriate, how they want to pursue them, and what help they might need.

Having team members fill in the review form beforehand encourages them to think carefully and realistically about their performance and what they might improve.


Model Conversations for Performance Reviews

The conversation of a performance review is similar to the one-on-one meetings discussed in Chapter 10, “One on One Coaching,” so it’s abbreviated here.


A Performance Review

Lisa comes to Mike’s office for their scheduled performance review. After they exchange pleasantries:

M:  I know you’ve been thinking about, maybe even worrying about, this performance review. Before we get into it, I want to tell you that I really appreciate your [great attitude, willingness to do whatever it takes, ability to..., reliability, etc.] For example, when....


Mike knows performance appraisals are intimidating. He tries to make his team members comfortable, so they can speak openly.


M:  Let’s start with the notes you made. Which things do you feel you do well?

L:  Well, I think I’m pretty good at....

M:  Yes, you are. And that’s valuable to the team.

     What else?

L:  ....

M:  You didn’t mention.... I think you’re good at that, too.


Starting with positives and successes creates confidence and gets the conversation off on a good foot.

Establishing positives makes it less intimidating for team members to discuss their shortcomings.


M:  And which things do you feel are opportunities for improvement?

L:  I think I could do better at....


Usually their assessment is close to Mike’s and he only has to agree.

But occasionally he needs to dig deeper.


M:  Let’s talk about that for a minute. What do you think a good goal for that would be?

L:  Probably.... [a turnaround time of..., an error rate below..., holding expenses to..., etc.]


If they cite a reasonable goal, Mike can agree.

If they’re new to the job or haven’t seen others do it, they might not realize what’s appropriate or possible. Sometimes Mike offers some guidance.


M:  In the past we’ve been able to.... Do you think you could reach that?

L:  Hmm. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about how to do it.

M:  Would it help to...?

L:  I can try that.


On rare occasions, Mike simply has to disagree with their assessment.


M:  Interesting that you feel that way. I’ve noticed that.... For example, ....


Instead of offering generalized opinions of team members in his performance reviews, he cites specific situations and...


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Next: Firing


Performance Appraisals, from Great Managers Are Always Nice
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