Performance reviews are designed to help managers and their direct reports have focused discussions about performance and career growth. Too often, people approach these conversations with the goal of “checking the box” – they use the time to share performance ratings, but not much else. Performance reviews are an opportunity to have valuable conversations, share meaningful feedback, align on performance expectations, discuss career goals, and create an action plan to make those goals a reality.
Covering all of these topics in a 30-minute or hour-long meeting is no small feat. “Just winging it” won’t work. Your managers and their reports can make these meetings more effective by thinking about their answers to performance review questions ahead of time. When people come prepared for their performance review, they’re better able to communicate their needs.
How can your HR team help your employees conduct effective and engaging performance conversations? By providing them with a list of probing questions to promote discussion and make the most of their time together. In this article, we explain why performance review questions matter and share nine performance review questions your HR team can use to guide your talent through the review process.
Why asking the right performance review questions matters
Performance reviews can be powerful conversations; they aren’t just for discussing an employee’s rating and sharing compensation changes. Done right, they will help your managers and employees become more successful. Here’s how:
For managers, performance conversations are an opportunity to align with their direct report on performance expectations and so much more. They can discuss professional growth, career aspirations, areas of interest, upcoming projects, and other topics that allow the manager to tailor their management approach to each individual on their team. By asking the right questions in performance reviews, a manager can learn how to be a better coach and set their employees up to lead long, fulfilling careers at your company.
From the employees’ perspective, great performance review questions are a way to advocate for their own performance, voice any concerns or needs, get feedback, and share their career goals with their manager. By making their manager aware of their personal and professional needs, an employee is capable of reaching the next level of their career more quickly and efficiently.
For your business
When managers and their employees ask and answer the right questions during reviews, it helps your business grow. Performance reviews can have a positive impact on retention, engagement, productivity, and morale – but only when they inspire productive conversations. Giving your employees a few questions ahead of time can jumpstart their discussions and ensure they hit on performance, growth, job responsibilities, and more during their time together.
As an HR team, we recommend creating a list of questions for your employees to include in their self-reflections and manager assessments. This way, they will already have given their answers significant thought before they sit down for a performance review conversation. While the actual questions asked in a performance review will look different for every individual and manager, depending on their unique situation, giving them a few general questions upfront can have a positive impact on the quality and efficiency of these conversations. In the next section, we’ll dive into some sample questions you can share with your team.
9 performance review questions for employees and managers
In order to make better decisions, we need the right information. Getting that information starts with asking the right questions. Instead of giving your employees free reign over their performance review conversations, give them some guidance to keep them focused on what matters most.
In this section, we split our recommended performance review questions into three sections – questions for employees, managers, and both – but feel free to mix and match these questions as you see fit. We suggest incorporating these into both self and manager assessments to encourage your employees to think about them and jot down notes ahead of their reviews.
- What project or contribution are you most proud of in this review period?
This question allows your employees to reflect on their past performance, speak to their strengths, and even highlight an area of growth. The employee’s response will give their manager more context around how the employee views their own performance and what type of projects they find meaningful. It’s also an opportunity for the individual to reflect on their job and take pride in their work, which can be good for morale.
- What is your favorite and least favorite part of your role?
This question gives employees an opportunity to highlight what they like and dislike about their current role. Both of these answers offer their manager insight into any pain points or recurring blockers they face, while also allowing the manager to learn what aspects of the job their direct report enjoys. This information may help the manager take action to improve their direct report’s work experience to make the role more enjoyable (or at least bearable) for the employee.
- What are your personal and professional goals?
This question is worth including in every performance review self-reflection. Not only does the answer to this question benefit your managers, but it also helps your employees reflect on their careers and check in with themselves on where they want to grow professionally.
Keep in mind, professional growth isn’t limited to job promotions. When an employee communicates their career aspirations to their manager, their manager can help them grow by finding them internal mentors, putting them on new projects, or encouraging them to take a class to learn a new skill. Knowing what their employees want to achieve is the first step.
Each of the first three questions in this section corresponds with a question in the “for employees” section listed above. Having both a manager and their direct report touch on these different areas of performance and the employee experience is a great exercise, as it makes them aware of whether their answers are aligned or not. If there are some discrepancies in their responses, both parties can clarify their positions, learn from their counterpart’s point of view, and find common ground.
- What areas does this employee excel in?
Having a manager weigh in on their direct reports’ strengths can be very motivating for your employees. This question aims to elicit more than just praise, it’s designed to help employees learn more about themselves and see their strengths from an outside perspective. Once your employees are aware of the strengths they possess, they can strategize how best to leverage those skills at your company and throughout their careers.
- What would you change about your role if you could?
This question can be quite enlightening for your managers. Identifying what aspects of their direct report’s role are getting stale will help them take action to improve their employee’s day-to-day experience. Whether that’s removing a recurring roadblock, advocating for more resources or budget on their behalf, or even bringing on extra headcount to help ease their workload, taking any action to help their employees can go a long way. That’s great for your business too, as it can help you retain top talent and show your employees their managers care about their well-being.
- What are your career aspirations? Where would you like to see yourself in 1, 3, and 5 years?
The more a manager knows about their employees’ career aspirations, the better they can coach them and help them achieve their goals. Knowing what an employee’s end goal is will enable your managers to break down that goal into more manageable, short-term steps and achievements. For example, they might urge their report to take on new responsibilities, learn new skills, find a mentor, and more. Over time, they can coach their employees and share meaningful feedback and advice to help accelerate their report’s growth.
- How can I help you succeed in your role and better support you?
Feedback is a two-way street. This question benefits your managers by opening the floor for suggestions on how they can best serve their employees. Does their direct report need more hands-on guidance? Freedom? Help removing roadblocks? Additional resources? The best way to know what your employees need is to have managers ask. This question can give them actionable insight into how they can improve their own management styles and ensure they’re coaching employees how they want to be coached.
For both managers and employees:
- What company values did you/your employee embody?
Every company wants its company values to be more than words on its website. This performance review question reminds employees and managers to keep company values top of mind and to do their best to embody them each and every day.
This question also gives the pair an opportunity to discuss the individual’s contributions outside of their day-to-day role – for example, if they’re part of an internal mentorship program or they hold a position in anemployee resource group. Often, employees aren’t recognized for what they accomplish outside of their job descriptions, so this question provides an opportunity to highlight that work and the impact they are making within your organization.
- What professional goals did you/your employee meet or exceed in this review cycle? Which ones, if any, fell short?
At the end of the day, your employees’ performance reviews need to discuss just that: their performance. While employee goals and objectives and key results (OKRs) can guide employees’ efforts throughout the review cycle, it’s important to revisit them at the end of the period to evaluate success and set future performance expectations. This question takes stock of each and every one of your employee goals to evaluate how successful they were at completing them.
Your employees and their managers can use this question to identify any roadblocks or challenges that held them back, as well as any strengths that propelled them to success or helped them reach their goals ahead of schedule. By identifying these elements, your team can discuss how to replicate these results or anticipate them next time, which helps themset more accurate goals and projections for the next review period. For example, if this quarter or half of the year’s goals were too ambitious, your employee and manager can set more conservative goals next time around. Taking the time to reflect on the past can benefit your business as it allows your teams to learn from their shortcomings and figure out how to recreate success moving forwards.
Approach performance reviews thoughtfully
A thoughtful approach to performance management ensures that every manager and employee understands the potential impact these valuable conversations can have on their individual growth and the business’ success. By providing a few questions to guide their conversations, your HR team makes it easier for your workforce to have efficient and engaging performance discussions that help with alignment, boost engagement, and support the organization as a whole.
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