You want questions to ask in a performance review that make the process worth your time. You schedule out days—or even weeks—to meet with your employees. Thus, your meetings require effective questions and answers to guide development and recognition.

Performance reviews help you discover hidden strengths, begin conversations around improvement, and make plans for the future. However, it’s important to ask the right questions so that both your role and your employee’s role are highlighted appropriately.

Managers, HR leaders, and employees are all a part of this dynamic team. A solid structure of questions to ask in a performance review helps everyone prepare for these meetings. Meeting preparedness makes good use of everyone’s time and shows that each person’s responsibilities are valued.

Here we explore some general areas of performance review discussions and offer questions to tailor to your particular environment and employees.

Questions to Ask in a Performance Review for Each Area of Discussion

No matter what type of business you run, each person’s performance review benefits from discussing a few key topics. These include:

  • Strengths (recognized and uncovered)
  • Mission-aligned goals
  • Career path growth through areas of improvement
  • Open-ended discussion

Each of these areas benefits from thoughtful questions. Then, take your employees’ answers and give deep thought to their needs, successes, and goals.

Sometimes, performance reviews have the employee talking more than the manager. Employees who take charge of their career and ownership of actions are on the path toward growth and success.

Follow up each person’s performance review with concrete action plans. Take time to follow up with people and check in about goals and progress. Your job isn’t over when people leave your office. However, laying the groundwork during one-on-one meetings makes the next steps much smoother and more efficient.

Questions to Ask in a Performance Review

Focus on People’s Strengths First

People respond well to constructive feedback when it’s sandwiched with positive comments. Performance reviews are effective when filled with good things to say as well as honest conversations about bettering oneself.

Many people struggle to find their strengths. Our society often pushes down the right to speak well about ourselves—it’s considered braggy or rude. However, managers who recognize strengths in their team members help them experience work positively.

Positive emotions surrounding one’s own life and work are directly related to high performance. That being said, only about one out of three average American employees know what they are good at (or are comfortable saying so).  How do you make people aware of their strengths? You tell them. However, take care to do this with concrete language and actions that back up your statements.

Passive language doesn’t do anything productive to help people recognize their strengths. People don’t know what to do with vague information. When you find yourself using phrases such as these, stop and ask yourself what you truly mean.

  • “Good job!”
  • “That went well!”
  • “You’re a valued team member.”
  • “So glad you’re here!”

Once you’ve detailed the true sentiment, say it. For example:

  • “You completed that project early and delivered clear, concrete results. We all understand how the new software works and are prepared to use it. Thank you!”
  • “The clients responded well to your presentation and signed before even leaving the room. You exude confidence and security.”
  • “You close more accounts each year than the previous year. You work hard, yet you still know how to set boundaries.”
  • “Everyone asks to have you on their team. You have positive energy and help others when they come on board. Thank you for your sincere desire for the company’s good.”

Recognize people’s strengths and open the door to finding more. Your business benefits from a team full of talented people. Use performance reviews to not only give concrete positive feedback but to ask questions that uncover new ways to use people’s strengths.

Try out some of these strength-based questions when preparing performance reviews for your team.

  • “What would other people say are your top strengths? Do these align with the strengths you think that you have?”
  • “How do you use these strengths to succeed in your role with our company?”
  • “What achievements have you gained since our last review? Which are you the proudest of?”
  • “What parts of your job excite and energize you? What makes you look forward to coming to work?”
  • “What do you dread? Does anything drain you?”
  • “How can we help you develop your strengths? Who would you like to work with or is there any training you need to help you get where you want to go?”

Take careful note of how people respond and their honest answers. Write down responses to process later as you follow up.

Set Concrete Goals that Further the Company’s Mission

Every business has a focus and a mission. Your employees need direction to set goals that move your business along toward profit, competitiveness, and success in your field.

Furthermore, every person who walks through your office doors has a purpose in life. They have families, dreams, and personal connections to the world that don’t disappear upon clocking in.

Managers who take the time to connect employees’ purposes to the mission and vision of the company help create people who feel valued and motivated. People who recognize the value in their work perform at a much higher level. Even more, they spread that energy and positivity to others in the workplace, creating a ripple effect of high morale.

These are some of the most exciting questions to ask during a performance review. People light up when you ask them about their own lives. That is, they learn that it’s okay to speak about their passions and values when you show that the topics are truly important to you.

Choose a couple of questions from this range to spark conversation about team members’ purposes. Remember to tailor the questions to the specific person you’re meeting with.

  • What personal goals do you have that don’t relate to your job?
  • What drew you to this company in the first place? Are those passions still relevant?
  • What types of tasks would you love to take on? How can you see our company improving?
  • What would you like your legacy to be here?

Take this further by showing people what passions you have and how you relate this to your company’s mission, as well. When the boss does something, it permits employees to do the same.

Once these questions are asked and answered, don’t end the conversation. Bring up people’s passions during other one-on-one check-ins. Use some of the following ideas to show your workforce that you care about their connections.

  • Ask about current events that relate to their purpose.
  • Inquire about their opinion when something work-related connects to their knowledge base.
  • Assign projects and tasks that relate to people’s passions.

Define Career Paths through Areas of Growth

Growth and improvement are not four-letter words (literally or figuratively.) One of your jobs as a manager is to create a culture in which development is part of the daily process.

People are more likely to stay with your organization if they are valued. Yet, they need to feel valued through recognition and appropriate attention. This is often done through scaffolded guidance and development.

Discuss with each team member where they see themselves in the company. Maybe they have big goals but don’t know how to begin walking the path. Employees who have positive help and know someone is rooting for them are more likely to take beneficial risks and own their growth.

  • Where do you see yourself in the future, personally and professionally? How can we help you get there?
  • What frustrates you in your responsibilities? What solution(s) do you suggest?
  • Where could you focus time and attention that would help you get to the next professional level?

Open-Ended Discussion

Your leadership models growth and development, too. Sure, it seems scary to ask your employees what they think could be improved in your management style and your business. However, this is where a great deal of effective feedback lies.

End every performance review by asking your team members a couple of these liberating questions.

  • How can I improve as a leader?
  • Is there anything about the way I communicate with you that hinders your work or development?
  • If you could change one thing about this company or this team, what would it be?

Take all this in with an open mind. Your leadership and business will be better for it. Plus, once you’re used to hearing this type of feedback, it becomes second nature to process and apply it.

Conclusion

These topics and questions to ask in a performance review are a jumping-off point for you. Think about them and decide how they apply to your particular office, industry, and individual employees.

Don’t make the mistake of memorizing these questions and spouting them off without a thought to the person on the other end of your desk. Performance review questions work best when you truly listen. Follow up active listening with feedback and concrete plans. This brings about real results, employees who feel valued, and a culture of respect and motivation.

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