Performance Review Dos and Don’ts

When it comes to grading talent in your organization, asking the wrong questions can lead to some serious miscalculations. Today’s guest post comes from Dan Portillo, Vice President of Success and Engagement with Rypple. You can check out Dan on LinkedIn or his blog site at Rypple.

I advise companies on their performance summary process, HR-speak for grading the impact and effectiveness of employees over a given period of time. The process involves asking a lot of questions — of the employee, their peers, and their managers. The answers form a narrative about what an employee should have accomplished, and actually did accomplish, relative to their peers. As a former VP of HR at Mozilla, I learned that asking the wrong questions, and focusing on the wrong areas, can lead managers to assess employees incorrectly — with potentially devastating consequences for both the employee and the company.

DON’T focus on outdated concepts like “competencies”

HR professionals define competencies as the identified behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that positively impact employee success. These include technical expertise, customer service, communication, teamwork, leadership, and creativity.

While these measurements worked fine in the past, when most job descriptions were easy to categorize, they don’t relate to the way people think about their jobs today.

In today’s increasingly social, collaborative, and real-time workplace, no two positions require exactly the same set of competencies. In fact, the very skills that would lead an employee to excel in one area may hold them back in another. And while these skills are certainly important drivers of success, employees just don’t think about the concept of competencies when evaluating themselves and their peers.

DON’T obsess over performance ratings.

People should focus on the constructive feedback that accompanies a review, not some arbitrary letter or number grade. But it’s human nature to revert back to high school and obsess about the grade — not the insights behind it. The result is that managers and employees often miss out on the opportunity to have a focused conversation around accomplishments and expectations because they are blinded by the ratings.

DO: Ask the right questions to foster a new and productive dialogue between managers and employees about where they’ve been and where they want to go.

Notice I said questions.  The goal is to create an active, continuous, forward-looking dialogue — not just a static, backward-looking report card.

I’ve collaborated with some great companies like Gilt Groupe, Photobucket, Eventbrite and Facebook to get a view of how they approach these important questions. Fortunately, as workplace dynamics are changing, companies are replacing the old way of doing HR with some innovative approaches to evaluating a person’s impact.

Managers get a few chances a year, during these summary periods, to take stock of their people. Companies need to be very thoughtful about the questions they ask.

There are three types of questions that I really like to help someone think about where they’ve been and were they want to go:


Over the last 6 months, what are you proudest of and what do you view as your biggest accomplishments and achievements? Is there anything you would have liked to achieve but didn’t? Please compare against your goals.

These questions are meant to help the manager determine what their employee actually accomplished or missed as it relates to goals. Goal setting is a flawed process at most companies, so achieving stated goals doesn’t necessarily mean success. As a manager, you want to be able to determine if your employee was able to work on the right things, despite what the goals said.


How much do you feel you’ve stretched? [Not at all; Some: Considerably] How do you feel about that?

These questions help the manager determine how much an employee is pushing themselves. It also gives the employee the opportunity to think about how much they are developing and how they feel about it. Stretching and developing is rewarding, but also potentially humbling and painful. The question creates an opportunity for a discussion around growth and potential for development.


What do you want to be able to say about yourself at your next summary? What do you want to have accomplished and what knowledge would you like to have acquired?

These questions help the employee frame their aspirations for the next term and take an active roll in their own development. The more autonomy and control we give people, the more engaged and engrossed they will be in their work.

Asking the employees the right questions is only the first part of the process, I’ll follow up in a future post on the role peers and managers play in a successful performance process.


Leave a Reply