Performance Review Tips

How to Take the Pain Out of Performance Reviews and Empower Your Team

By Nahla Davies, a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full-time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

Performance reviews can strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned employees. The prospect of sitting down with your manager to discuss your strengths, weaknesses, and career trajectory might send shivers down your spine — perhaps because your boss doesn’t know how to conduct a performance review. 

What if the feedback is mostly negative? What if you’re not meeting your goals? Worse yet, what if this review puts your job at risk? These anxious thoughts are understandable since performance reviews can feel like high-stakes situations where an employee’s worth is scrutinized. 

You might be wondering if we even need performance reviews. Radical Candor author and co-founder Kim Scott predicted a few years ago: “Most companies eliminating their performance review systems will wind up re-instituting them.”

Kim was right — performance reviews are back. As she told The Wall Street Journal, “Without performance reviews, workers have little insight into how managers are making decisions about promotions, equity, and pay.”

While performance reviews might be necessary, not all systems are created equally. A good performance management system can reinforce a culture of Radical Candor while a bad one can interrupt it.

“Balancing the intrinsic desire to improve and grow and the extrinsic desire for rewards like bonuses, equity, and promotion is one of the most difficult things about being a manager,” Kim writes in her performance review process guide. “It also makes designing performance management systems and teaching development very difficult.”

Since performance reviews are here to stay, managers need to learn to transform performance reviews into empowering, productive conversations that help employees feel motivated, valued, and enthusiastic about their professional development as well as about how they’re being managed.

Let’s explore practical performance review tips and strategies for conducting less stressful and empowering reviews for your team.

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How to Conduct a Performance Review: Preparation and Mindset

How to Conduct a Performance Review: performance review tips  
Successful performance reviews don’t just happen — they require thoughtful preparation and the right mindset from managers and employees. 

However, before we get into how to conduct a performance review, it’s important to stress that there should never be any surprises for employees. 

If an annual performance review is the first time someone learns about a problem with their work, you’ve failed as a manager.

You should be giving your direct reports regular feedback as part of their performance development. Whether it’s praise or criticism, don’t save it up for a performance review. It’s easy to have impromptu chats in between meetings.

If you’re working on a remote or hybrid team, message the person and ask if they can have a quick video or phone call.

In Radical Candor, Kim writes: “A performance review process without the development conversations is like capping a rotten tooth. It will just rot faster and more painfully.”

Think of regular performance development like brushing and flossing and the performance review as the dentist appointment. 

That appointment is going to be a lot less painful if you’ve brushed and flossed every day. If you haven’t, a teeth cleaning could end up turning into a root canal.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are three tips on how to conduct a performance review that’s more productive than painful.

Download our free performance development guide >>

Encourage Self-Assessment


@fellowapp Have a performance review coming up? Learn how to write a powerful self-evaluation that highlights the great work you do 💪 #productivity #meetings #meetingagenda #productivitytool #productivityhack ♬ original sound – FELLOW- Meeting Productivity

One way to take the stress out of performance reviews is to actively involve your employees in the process by encouraging them to conduct self-assessments beforehand. 

This allows them to reflect on their accomplishments, identify areas for growth, and come to the table ready to share their perspectives.

To make it as easy as possible, you can share a QR code for your direct reports to scan and access a self-assessment template to evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, and goals. 

Advise them to come to the performance review meeting prepared with concrete ideas to discuss during the review. This makes the conversation more collaborative and helps them feel more invested and in control of the outcome.

Employees, consider keeping track of your performance throughout the year by creating an “I love me” folder with all of your wins, losses, and areas where you can improve so you can easily complete a self-evaluation and/or get a new manager up to speed about your performance goals and metrics.

Establish Psychological Safety


@nbforumhq Are you in the interpersonal anxiety zone? Professor and leading expert on psychological safety Amy Edmondson at #nbforum2022 #leadership #psychology #fyp #event #anxiety ♬ original sound – Nordic Business Forum

Make a conscious effort to create an atmosphere of trust before, during, and after the performance review meeting. 

It should go without saying that you don’t only need to foster a culture of psychological safety during performance review season. Your everyday workplace culture goes a long way in determining whether or not performance reviews will strike fear in the hearts of your employees.

You might remember the viral TikTiok video of Brittany Pietsch being laid off for not hitting her goals after receiving only positive reviews and praise from her boss. Don’t do this unless you want to go viral for the wrong reasons.

Leading up to the review, assure employees that the goal is to have a two-way dialogue, not to judge them. And if you’re sharing ways for them to improve, there are ways to criticize employees kindly.

During the review, be kind, clear, specific, and sincere. Emphasize that you’re there to support their development, not undermine their confidence.

Establish Clear Objectives

effective 1-on-1 meetings

Finally, set clear expectations for the performance review from the outset. What do you hope to accomplish? What key topics or questions do you want to address? 

Share these expectations with your direct reports beforehand so you’re all on the same page. This helps keep the conversation focused and shows employees you’ve put thought and care into preparing for the review.

In addition, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) established at the beginning of the year should be a large part of the performance review conversation.

Learn how to set annual OKRs >>

How to Conduct a Performance Review: Communication Strategies

The importance of effective communication in the workplace cannot be overstated. How you communicate with your employees can transform performance reviews from dread-inducing to empowering.

Here are three essential communication strategies to implement that directly impact the outcomes of performance reviews.

Transparent Communication

@ginnyleads How can we transform the work environment into a space of mutual trust and encouragement? To boost employee morale, it is pivotal to foster open communication and ensure transparency at all levels. Engage in regular one-on-one interactions, provide constructive feedback, and take the time to understand your team members’ career aspirations. By offering assignments aligned with their growth, you show genuine care and appreciation, leading to a noticeable boost in morale. Dive deeper into the art of conscious leadership; subscribe to my weekly newsletter for insights and strategies to make this transformation a reality. #EmployeeMorale #ConsciousLeadership #OpenCommunication #LeadershipTransformation #GinnyClarkeLeadership ♬ original sound – GinnyLeads

Transparency is crucial for easing employee anxiety around performance reviews. When employees are in the dark about the review process, evaluation criteria, or potential outcomes, it’s natural for them to assume the worst.

Make a concerted effort to improve communication and keep the lines of communication open before, during, and after the review. 

Explain the purpose and format of the meeting upfront and share the specific metrics or competencies you’ll be assessing. Employees will feel more at ease and receptive to feedback when they understand the intent behind the review.

Explore workplace communication training courses and workshops >>

Feedback Training


To deliver truly empowering feedback, it’s important to have a firm understanding of Radical Candor, which is different from brutal honesty

Radical Candor — caring personally while challenging directly — is feedback that’s kind, clear, specific, and sincere.

Too often, performance reviews become an opportunity to list an employee’s flaws and shortcomings, which only serves to demoralize and demotivate.

Seeking out workplace communication training and feedback training for leaders helps you provide specific, actionable, and future-focused feedback.

Identify concrete areas for improvement while highlighting an employee’s strengths and achievements. The aim is to outline clear, practical steps people can take to develop their skills and reach their goals versus a litany of past failures.

Say What You Mean Without Being Mean

Carefully consider your language during performance reviews. Praise should be specific and sincere, and criticism should be kind and clear

You can use the Radical Candor CORE model to ensure your feedback is focused on behavior instead of personality.

Avoid overly critical, judgmental phrasing that can make employees feel defeated. Instead, frame feedback in a way that shows your direct reports how to repeat successes and learn from failures.

For example, instead of, “You’ve been showing up late too often,” try, “I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving a bit later than your scheduled start time. How can we work together to ensure you can be on time?” The latter approach identifies the issue without attacking the person.

Similarly, be sure to balance any areas for improvement with genuine praise and recognition — but be careful to avoid the feedback sandwich. Celebrate the employee’s accomplishments, unique strengths, and valuable contributions.

How to Conduct a Performance Review: The Review Process

Performance reviews shouldn’t be isolated annual events. Here are three performance review tips for ensuring the review process is an ongoing, collaborative journey.

Regular Check-ins

While the formal performance review is important, it shouldn’t be the only time you discuss an employee’s progress and development. 

Implement a system of regular, informal check-ins throughout the year, and don’t forget that you should be having regular 1:1 meetings with each person who reports to you.

These check-ins provide opportunities to give fast and real-time feedback, address issues, or celebrate successes.

In a post about the value of immediate feedback on the Radical Candor Blog, Kim writes: “Remember, the benefits of feedback deteriorate quickly. If you wait to tell somebody for a week or a quarter, the incident is so far in the past that they can’t fix the problem or build on the triumph. Seize the moment immediately to get the most out of the feedback opportunity.”

Focus on Development

During the formal performance review, shift the focus away from pure evaluation and toward performance development and growth opportunities. 

This subtle mindset change can significantly impact how employees experience the process. Rather than simply assessing past performance, center the conversation on the employee’s future potential. 

Learn to frame feedback so that it’s helpful and focuses on how they can repeat success, reduce failures, and develop the skills and capabilities they need to reach their long-term career aspirations. 

If you don’t know what those long-term career goals are, you haven’t gotten to know the person well enough to be an effective manager. Use the Career Conversations process developed by Russ Laraway to get started.

Collaborate with the employee to create a personalized growth plan with clear, measurable goals and a timeline for achieving them. 

Make it clear that your role is to provide the guidance, resources, and support they need to succeed.

Optimize for Individuality


@tanyaucoaching Start Getting to Know Your Staff! #careertiktok #leadershipcoach #careercoach #leadershiptiktok #leadershiptips #management #newmanager ♬ original sound – Tanya U

Finally, recognize that each employee has unique needs, motivations, and developmental paths. Tailor the performance review to align with the individual’s career stage, personal circumstances, and learning style.

For example, a newer employee may need more frequent, structured check-ins and a stronger emphasis on foundational skills development. 

On the other hand, a more experienced employee may thrive on more autonomous goal-setting and opportunities for advanced training or mentorship. 

You can only know what each employee needs if you take the time to ask them.

How to Conduct a Performance Review: Ongoing Support

How to Conduct a Performance Review: performance review tips

Close the performance review by working with the employee to create a clear action plan. What specific goals or development areas did you discuss? What steps do they need to take to make progress?

Document these action items, along with any resources, training, or support you’ve committed to providing. Schedule a follow-up check-in, like an effective 1:1 meeting, to review progress and make any necessary adjustments.

This follow-through demonstrates your genuine investment in the employee’s growth. It also holds you both accountable for turning feedback into action and following through on the plan you created together. 

Beyond the initial follow-up, maintain an open line of communication and be available to provide support throughout the employee’s development journey. 

Check-in regularly to see how they’re progressing, address any roadblocks, and celebrate their wins.

This includes regular 1:1 meetings, impromptu check-ins, or access to coaching, mentorship, and training opportunities. 

The key is to convey that you’re there to guide and empower them, not just evaluate their performance.

How to Conduct a Performance Review: Use Technology


@smartworkai Replying to @Jenny How ChatGPT can help you write questions for and draft your own annual employee performance review. #chatgpt #chatgpthack #chatgptforwork #hackyourhr #smartworkai #womeninbusiness #productivity #greenscreen #greenscreenvideo ♬ original sound – Celia | Ai + ChatGPT Tips

By leveraging technology, you can create a more organized, transparent review experience, reducing stress and uncertainty around the process. 

One way to level up your performance reviews is to use ChatGPT to help you create your reviews. Because AI is not a human, you have to teach it to work for you by giving it specific prompts.

You also want to ensure your performance feedback is unbiased. This is where bias-busting software Textio can help by flagging biased language and suggesting alternatives.

Additionally, many performance management platforms offer collaborative features that enable real-time dialogue, and feedback exchange between managers and employees.

Technology can also provide data-driven insights to inform and strengthen the performance review process. Look for tools that analyze employee performance metrics, goal progress, and other relevant information. 

This data can help you identify trends, pinpoint areas for improvement, and make more informed, objective assessments during the review. 

Similarly, you can leverage data to track the overall effectiveness of your performance review program.

Monitor metrics like employee satisfaction, workplace mental health and wellness, goal achievement rates, and talent retention to identify what’s working well and where there’s room for refinement.

That said, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Avoid solely relying on business analytics to evaluate your employees and their performance. 

Remember, there’s no substitute for a real conversation between two human beings.

Wrapping Up Our Performance Review Tips

Performance Review Tips

From establishing the right preparation and mindset to leveraging technology and cultivating a culture of continuous feedback, there are many ways to transform performance reviews into a positive, growth-oriented experience.

The key is to approach performance reviews not as a rigid annual ritual but as an ongoing, collaborative dialogue focused on unlocking your employees’ potential. 

By embracing transparency, providing radically candid feedback, and demonstrating your genuine investment in their development, you can create an atmosphere where workers feel motivated and you get to be the boss you never had.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide for writing a performance review, this bonus chapter from the 2nd edition of Radical Candor walks you through the entire process from start to finish.


Do you want to fix communication issues in the workplace? Then you need The Feedback Loop (think Groundhog Day meets The Office), a 5-episode workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier that brings to life Radical Candor’s simple framework for navigating candid conversations.

You’ll get an hour of hilarious content about a team whose feedback fails are costing them business; improv-inspired exercises to teach everyone the skills they need to work better together; and after-episode action plans you can put into practice immediately to up your helpful feedback EQ.

We’re offering Radical Candor readers 10% off the self-paced e-course. Follow this link and enter the promo code FEEDBACK at checkout.