Dreading annual performance reviews

Bob Little can help, with some tips to help turn performance reviews into positive experiences for everyone involved.

Performance reviews are notoriously unpopular – both with those who carry them out as well as those who are being appraised – but they still form a key part of understanding how workers are doing. They’re also a great way to let staff know how their efforts at work are valued and appreciated (or not).

These reviews provide a mechanism for workers and, typically, their line managers, to discuss their performance and development. It’s also an opportunity to explore the support that workers need. Reviews can assess recent performance but also focus on future objectives, opportunities and resources required.

As the CIPD points out, effective performance management is a process, not a one-off event. An appraisal is just one of a range of tools that can be used to manage performance, that collectively contribute to effective people development and organisational performance. The process is strategic, in that it’s about broader issues and long-term goals.

Appraisals and wider performance management should feel like a positive experience, with no surprises. Ideally, they should be honest and open discussions between manager and worker, to develop a balanced perception of performance, improvement and development needs. It’s a two-way process, so managers can learn during that process too. Since everyone can improve their performance, effective management training is crucial. 

Managers should be constantly looking at their teams, staff strengths and development opportunities. They should provide regular feedback, provide coaching opportunities and support to deliver great performance. Reviews are simply a formal part of this process, where longer term objectives and development plans are set out. They’re also a chance for staff to contribute to organisational goals, team objectives and meet their own career aspirations too. 

Ten tips for successful performance reviews:

1. Be a leader, creating the right atmosphere to encourage two-way communication. This will help you get the best out of the interview for everyone involved, especially the business. Create an atmosphere where both parties dare to be vulnerable. If anyone wants to become better at what they do – including leadership – they should be keen to receive feedback. Engaging in 360-degree feedback with bosses, peers and customers helps to validate that feedback.

2. Have regular conversations with staff to ensure there are no surprises when it comes to appraisals.

3. Make enough time for the interview. Otherwise, you’re giving staff the message that they’re of no significance to you or the business.

4. Prepare for an appraisal – or for any other part of the performance process – as professionally and thoroughly as you would do when meeting clients. Make sure that you know all the facts.

5. Use open (rather than leading) questions. Using the words ‘how, when, why, where, what, which’ and even ‘who’ get to the heart of what’s really going on.

6. Allow silence to happen. Don’t feel that you must ‘fill the void’. Nancy Kline’s work on Time to Think is interesting to refer to. Meg Peppin ran a very popular workshop at a Charity Learning Consortium event based on Kline’s approach.

7. Listen, carefully and attentively, to glean all the valuable information you can. Listening is a skill which can be improved.

8. Stay calm and non-defensive in the face of any provocative and/or deflective behaviour.

9. Keep control and, if necessary have a courageous conversation with the interviewee. Be brutally honest with yourself in answering such questions as: “What conversations am I hoping will go away by themselves?” and “Which are the courageous conversations I’m not having?” 

Avoiding courageous conversations is unprofessional and a business disaster waiting to happen. It’s vital to call to account behaviours that are out-of-character with corporate values. Otherwise you’re not acting with integrity, you can lose clients and employees and damage your organisation’s reputation.

About Bob Little

Bob Little is a communications professional (a writer, editor, commentator, speaker and broadcaster) specialising in the field of corporate L&D, who works internationally.



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