Performance Reviews

What is the purpose of performance reviews? This is first question everyone should ask themselves before setting targets and conducting or eceiving a review. Properly understanding the purpose is key to getting the desired outcome.

Here is a few interesting facts about performance targets and feedback;

1) Most people are harsher on themselves than any evaluator.

It’s an interesting and easy statement to prove. Next time your asked for feedback or in a position that you need to give it; first ask the person how they think they went. It’s really surprising how hard people are on themselves when it comes to their own performance. Taking this approach is also far less confronting for the person receiving the feedback. The other really great benefit is you can explore with them the reasons why it happened. This helps them understand the series of events or attitudes that leads to it and it helps you understand them better to help them avoid it in the future.

2) The tone in which feedback is given has more impact than the feedback itself.

Now this is a really interesting fact. Neuroscientists have now proven that more than the words themselves, the tone of feedback has a longer lasting impact on our behaviour and performance. Studies have shown that positive feedback given in a negative tone increased brain activity on the right side of the brain. The same area that has activity when we have low energy, no motivation and anxiety. However even when negative feedback is delivered in an positive tone activity in the left side of the brain increases. The same area that has acitivty when we feel upbeat, unstoppable, energised and enthusiastic.

This really speaks back to the purpose of performance reviewing. It really is easy to get into ‘you didn’t achieve x’ or ‘need to improve y’ type of reviewing. It needs to be turned around; ‘you did great here, and these are the things we can focus on developing to take you to the next level.’ Even if that achievement is well below the rest of the group and well below what you want or expect. This approach well see them improve the fastest.

3) The way targets are measured also have as much impact as the feedback itself.

Very closely related to the previous point; how performance gets measured and then discussed very often follows the way performance targets/KPIs are written. We should carefully consider the words and sentence structure being used in targets. Words such as contribute, participate, demonstrate are positive and promote discussion and an evaluation rather than a score or pass/fail. Another technique I highly recommend is to frame every target/KPI as a question. This approach still contains a criteria to be evaluated but really drives a dialog between reviewer and reviewee. It also very subtly changes the tone from a direct evaluation to a question which is less confrontational. You will be surprised at how well this simple change works.


As a reviewer your purpose should be to build and develop. If you find yourself using performance reviews as punishment or as the only mechanism to raise negative feedback then I really challenge you to re-think. As a leader a performance review should have no surprises and be covering ground already discussed several times throughout the year.

Generally evaluations should come with solid examples and rationale even if the feedback is positive. People need to connect an evaluation with specific activities or behaviour. Giving someone top marks without any explanation as to why is as counter productive as a negative review with no explanation.

It’s also not a negative thing to put down areas for improvement. After 10 years I absolutely guarantee that if your considered, honest and provide explanation you will rarely upset people. If are honestly looking to help them improve then that is how you will explain things and that will be the intent people see. They will appreciate you for it. Think about yourself for a moment, do you honestly believe there is nothing you can improve on? So what would reaction be to a perfect review? I would think the reviewer either doesn’t care or can’t be bothered. Probably more likely is that they just aren’t very good at providing feedback.

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