Here’s everything you should say and do when conducting your first performance review

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Love it or hate it, most bosses will have to give a performance review at least once in their career. Be prepared.

Love or hate them, performance reviews are ubiquitous in the working world.

And as a boss, their outcome is up to you.

“As an effective leader, choose to make the review process a positive learning experience and let your main objective be the growth and development of your people,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.”

She says that the risks of not communicating clearly with your employees are another year of underperformance, mediocre results, low morale, and possibly your employees quitting their jobs.

“On the other hand, if you leverage the performance review to celebrate successes, communicate improvement, and coach the employee to embrace higher standards, everybody wins,” Price says.

Here are the 11 steps you should take during performance reviews with your employees, as well as the things you should say each step of the way.

Step 1: Start by asking for their overall feedback or thoughts

‘How are you feeling?’

‘I’d like to start by hearing your thoughts — how do you think you did this past year?’

‘How would you describe your on-the-job performance this year?’

“To begin the meeting, invite the employee to speak first,” Price suggests. “Follow the advice of Stephen Covey: ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ This allows you to hear their perspective before offering your viewpoint. You’ll also discover their level of self-awareness, and be able to tailor your feedback accordingly.”

Listen actively and empathetically. Take notes if necessary to capture the employee’s own words and phrases, she says. “During the meeting, repeat his or her language where appropriate,” Price says.

Step 2: Allow them to celebrate the positives

‘You mentioned you exceeded your productivity targets. That’s great news. Please share some examples and tell me how you did it.’

“Reinforce the person’s strengths. Recognize what they are doing right and give them an opportunity to expound on their achievements,” Price says.

Step 3: Reinforce the positives

‘Congratulations on achieving _____. That’s exceptional work.’

Follow up by adding more positives from your perspective, Price says. “Use a variety of descriptive action verbs. When possible include specific facts, such as quantifiable or measurable results.”

Helpful action verbs include: accelerated, accomplished, built, changed, conducted, controlled, coordinated, crafted, created, designed, developed, directed, generated, guided, harmonized, improved, initiated, investigated, led, managed, mentored, negotiated, organized, presented, recruited, revised, strengthened, systematized, trained, and transformed.

Step 4: Check for your employees’ self-awareness

‘Is there anything you think you could have done better or differently this past year to optimize results?’ 

‘Where do you see your greatest potential for growth and improvement?’

“Now comes the hard part — communicating the need for improvement in a helpful way that motivates the employee to change,” Price says. “Again, ask before you tell.”

If the employee’s critique of themselves is accurate and aligns with the facts, acknowledge their insight.

Step 5: Empower employees to coach themselves

‘If you could do _ over again, what would you do differently?’ 

What will you do in the coming year to improve on ____?’

Price suggests you encourage the employee to develop their own plan for improvement (versus telling him or her what to do). This way, she says, you empower them to take ownership of the process, and they will be more motivated to change.

Step 6: Communicate opportunities to improve

‘I think you did ___, ___, and ___ very well this year, but feel you can still improve on ___, ___, and ___.’

Now it’s your turn to do the talking. Be honest when you communicate your feedback — and be specific.

You don’t want to be too hard on the employee to the point where they feel discouraged — but you also don’t want to sugarcoat everything. Constructive criticism is useful and often appreciated by employees, so long as you go about dispensing it in the right way. 

Step 7: Give concrete examples

‘You did ___ this year. That negatively impacted ___. Help me understand why that happened.’

Be prepared to deliver the facts with tact, respect, and directness. “Talk about what you witnessed or experienced, not rumor or gossip,” Price explains. “Communicate how the under performance impacted you and others. Then, give the employee the chance to explain.”

Express empathy and understanding as appropriate, she says.

Step 8: Offer helpful resources

‘I’d recommend you take this class/read this book/etc. to refresh your skill set in this area.’

Add any additional suggestions you have that can help them make improvements and get to the next level in their career.

Step 9: Clarify expectations

‘Moving forward I expect ___.’

Next you’ll want to communicate your clear expectation for improvement, and ask for a commitment, says Price. 

Step 10: Ask how you can better support them

‘What can I be doing better?’

‘Is there anything you need from me as a manager that I’m not currently providing or doing?’

Ask the employee how you can better support or guide or manage them. Maybe they want more face-time with you; perhaps they feel you’re expectations are unrealistic. This is the time to ask how they feel — and remember to take their feedback to heart. 

Step 11: End on a positive note

‘Thank you for all your hard work this past year.’

‘Keep up the great work — I believe in you.’

‘Remember I’m here to support you. Never hesitate to ask me any questions that arise or share concerns that come up.’

“Offer to answer any questions the employee may have for you. Remind him you have an open-door policy so that they may contact you with concerns or issues right away,” says Price.

“Communicate to your employee that you appreciate their efforts and talent, encourage them to use the feedback to their benefit, and express that you believe in their potential to grow and develop as a professional,” she says. 

Jacquelyn Smith contributed reporting to an earlier version of this article.