How to ensure your performance review leaves employees feeling motivated



Read time
11 mins

Regular performance reviews should help an employee develop their strengths and weaknesses while having an incentive to improve. This can be difficult to achieve, but there are many ways managers can motivate staff during these conversations

Have you ever felt disinterested, disengaged and unmotivated at work following a performance review? If you haven’t, you’re probably one of the lucky ones. Although performance reviews are meant to help us keep on track and heading in the right career direction, done badly, they can make individuals feel demoralised.

And that’s a business problem, as well as an individual problem. Employees who lack motivation after a review may not strive to improve their performance. Similarly, if that review doesn’t offer a clear pathway to improvement, they may not feel motivated to improve.

So what should managers do instead during reviews – whether it’s going to be a good or bad assessment – to motivate employees?

Here, we explore what managers should include in a performance review and how it affects workers, plus what employees will expect as an outcome during this process. And, if you’re a manager, check what you need to do to conduct a great performance review and how HR software can support your brand.

In this article

What is a performance review?

Also known as an an appraisal or evaluation, a performance review is a periodic analysis of a person’s overall performance at work , and how they contribute to their team and the wider organisation. It highlights someone’s strengths and weaknesses, sets goals for them to achieve, and offers an opportunity to share feedback. These can occur at various periods: some companies conduct performance reviews once a year, while others may do these as frequently as every quarter or every month.

Performance reviews are a way to empower and inspire employees. It gives managers the opportunity to get a better understanding of the support an individual needs to succeed and reach their full potential. It should be a two-way conversation between an employee and manager, focusing on the effect of their performance plus their own professional development and growth.

A performance review is just one of many elements  that form the processes required for performance management. The aim here is to identify areas where an employee can improve, which will then contribute to forming a development plan for them. A review can also help inform other administrative decisions for employment, eg bonuses, pay, promotion or even redundancy.

These reviews should include any competencies specific to the employee’s role and your organisation, plus what the employee has achieved and how they’ve contributed to the business. Most reviews will cover an assessment of skills such as:

  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Communication
  • Meeting deadlines and achieving goals
  • Quality of work
  • Problem-solving
  • Reliability and attendance

You should evaluate each of these areas so you can get an overall impression of your employee’s performance. This can be done using one of a variety of ways, such as a grading system, percentages, scoring or written descriptions; the format you follow will depend on your business’s needs.

Now’s the time to setup a meeting with your employee to discuss the evaluation with them. Having a copy of the assessment during this session means it can be checked if needed and keep the discussion on track. Feedback should be clear – the manager should give examples where possible – and your employee should have enough time available to offer their own feedback and ask any questions.

What are the outputs of a performance review?

Performance reviews should enable employees to assess  how well their work matches the goals of the company, and enable them to continue aligning their development with your organisation’s (and team’s) long-term ambitions. As well as focusing on achievements and discussing any concerns, a performance review should offer crucial feedback to managers so they can resolve issues. A review should inform an employee about what they’re doing correctly, areas for improvement, and how their work goes towards achieving the organisation’s goals.

One way to make sure your performance review is a successful one (for managers and employees) is to offer support so employees know what to expect in the review and can be better prepared. Give them an agenda for the appraisal; you should do this even for reviews that take place more frequently than once a year.

Your employee should also have their goals set out before the performance review. If they closely align with the company’s objectives, then it’ll make it easier to devise a plan for success. Have a copy of their goals from their previous review available, so they can be referred to if required, and make a note of any links between an employee’s aims and that of the team or wider organisation.

Together, create action-oriented objectives – something tangible – that will help to set expectations for the future. It will help increase motivation to achieve these goals if you frequently check in with your employee to track their progress. This can be done by offering guidance and any tools required to succeed, and by recognising what they’re doing well plus giving feedback on areas on which they need to focus. Make sure you choose your words carefully, though: they can motivate or deflate a person’s value, so check you’re avoiding bias and instead use measure-orientated phrases.

Performance reviews will help managers evaluate how well their team is doing by getting a better idea of what each team member is doing. These appraisals should highlight areas where the team is strong and need to increase focus, plus if any goals have to be adjusted and how they can affect the company’s achievements. It will be more difficult for a business to meet its objectives if its employees aren’t on a clear path to success, so managers can support employees to identify with these aims.

How to conduct a great performance review

Managers need to ensure they get the best outcome possible from appraising their team members, no matter whether the employee’s performance has been good or bad since their previous performance review. Here are six steps to conducting a great performance review.

1. Establish clear goals and objectives for the review period

Effective performance criteria should define success, measure impact, show evidence that performance plans are effective, and decide how to progress next. This information can be difficult to assimilate, so it’s the responsibility of the employee’s manager to interpret this and provide qualitative context to the individual’s performance.

Managers can provide support to employees by helping to focus on the positives and find opportunities to improve performance, rather than focusing on the negatives. It’s a chance to build on trust: appreciate their situation, let them share information, and offer guidance on next steps.

2. Document employee performance throughout the review period

Having continuous discussions will mean both manager and employee are better equipped to achieve their goals, and can align the development of their team goals compared with those the company wants to accomplish. And because you have the chance to have regular updates, you can also collate good documentation you can refer to in upcoming discussions. It means details can be recalled correctly by both employee and manager, within the correct context, and critical information isn’t forgotten. Information about performance reviews should be stored securely – probably digitally – in a format that’s accessible to both managers and their employees, at any time, so they can refer to it in the future.

Documenting performance conversations in HR software such as Ciphr HR helps managers and individuals see how performance has changed, and if goals are being met or exceeded. These metrics can help with analysis and go towards improving an employee’s efficiency and development.

3. Review employee performance against established goals and objectives

Use as much data as you can when evaluating an employee’s performance. The review should centre round the information available to demonstrate how their efforts affect the company. Use details from one-to-ones, feedback and previous performance reviews to measure how an individual’s efforts affect their team or the wider organisation. However, make sure you don’t offer any feedback – good or bad – without having evidence to back it up, even if it’s just anecdotal examples.

Check employees know what criteria their performance will be measured against, ahead of the review meeting itself. It’s unfair to hold someone accountable for their achievements if they don’t know what’s expected and how this will be assessed.

4. Discuss areas of strengths and weaknesses with employees

Managers need to give their workers detailed feedback about their strengths and weaknesses. The more descriptive this information is, the more likely that the individual will understand these observations. Highlight any episodes that went on to affect performance – but this should be done with details.

If, for example, an employee had recently given an important presentation. Feedback such as “Your presentation was bad” doesn’t give the individual any pointers to work on in the future. You need to explain ways in which the presentation wasn’t up to scratch – whether that’s in the content of the slides or the way it was delivered, for example – and explain the impact of these problems. Detailed feedback will give the individual clear areas to improve on next time.

5. Agree on development goals for the next review period

Reviews used to focus just on employee’s performance over the past year. However, best practice now is to centre on their immediate and long-term future with your organisation. What can be developed in the short-term, and what should they aim to achieve? By the end of the evaluation, they should feel informed about how to grow professionally even if it includes areas where they’ve struggled previously.

Creating an action plan is vital if a performance review is to improve someone’s performance. Both the manager and the employee should review any notes from the conversation, decide what happens next, and share any comments and feedback. Remember, the end of the performance review meeting isn’t the end of the conversation – managers and employees alike should be keeping these discussions and outcomes in mind during their ongoing work, if performance is to improve.

6. Document development goals and agree on a plan to achieve them

Both manager and employee should take appropriate responsibility for determining next steps. But the manager should take the lead; they need to offer specific ways to help the individual increase their effectiveness and continue their personal development.

Managers should clearly state what the employee and the team want to achieve  over the next review period (whether that be a quarter, six months, or a year), and how they will go about this.

The biggest effect from a performance review happens after it finishes. In many circumstances, nothing happens: meaning appraisals are isolated annual events with little impact. Yet there’s plenty of research on behavioural change – check this 2014 article from the Harvard Business Review for some examples – that show how important it is to set goals and offer continuous feedback on progress.

How Ciphr’s HR software can help

Ciphr HR offers the reporting, analytics and data storage needed for managers to conduct comprehensive performance reviews. Our HR solutions can track learning and development needs, and list skills, qualifications and training that’s been completed. Ciphr HR can also support succession planning activities through our talent management functionality.

Using Ciphr’s HCM platform to develop an employee’s potential can help reduce staff turnover and boost engagement. Frequent performance reviews give you the chance to formally recognise and value team members, clarify their roles, and create open communication within your organisation. So book a demonstration or download our brochure now to find out more about how Ciphr solutions can help managers motivate employees and offer support to team members as they advance their careers.