A Quick Guide on How to Run Effective Employee Reviews

The annual employee review can be a nail-biting time of the year.

It’s the chance for managers or team leaders to cast a beady eye over the performance of their employees across the course of the entire year, and highlight what’s gone well, and perhaps not so well.

As a method of motivating and engaging a workforce, they can be extremely effective – if done right of course. However, it’s often the case that for the employee, a performance review can be met with anxiety and trepidation.

The fear of failure, the unknown, or simply receiving negative feedback are just some of the reasons why employees can dread receiving that inevitable meeting invite entitled ‘Annual review’ or an unexpected ‘Catch up’ request…

This fear of feedback isn’t just confined to the reviewee, though. For those conducting the review, they can be just as stressful – perhaps even more so. In fact, some argue that annual employee reviews are utterly pointless and simply a waste of time! A relic from a bygone era of industry that have no place in modern, progressive company cultures.

Whatever your opinion on employee reviews, the fact of the matter is that they’re still very much a common occurrence and show no signs of disappearing from the workplace.

So, if you are one of the many businesses out there who use annual reviews – be it to measure individual performances, conduct wage or bonus reviews - how can you get the best out of them and conduct them effectively for the benefit of both the reviewee and reviewer?


By the ‘beginning’, we mean from the very moment an employee joins the company or at the very start of the year!

When someone joins your organisation or has returned from a winter break, clearly set out and share the expectations you have of them in their role and set their goals for the year ahead. The best way to do this is by being SMART – both in intellectual sense, and by setting goals and objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented and Time-bound.

The SMART approach not only ensures your employees are crystal clear on your expectations of them, but also gives you a defined path to follow each time you discuss employee performance over the course of a year.

Once you’ve sat down with your employees and agreed their objectives and timescales, put them in an email or send in a formal document which you can both refer to at any time. That way, you’re both on the same page as to what’s expected of your team and your employees can forget worrying about being blindsided by something unexpected during their annual reviews.

Simple stuff, sure; but supremely effective for both managers and employees!


Annual reviews can be a really big deal for some people – especially if they’re related to performance-related pay or bonuses.

Everyone in their professional lives will have had to do some preparation for some sort of workplace review and they can be mentally and emotionally taxing. The worst thing you can do as a manager is go in unprepared, give an inaccurate or unbalanced appraisal or not be prepared to answer any questions they might have.

When preparing to conduct an annual employee review, it’s crucial to take an overarching look at their performance across the entire year. This is especially important if perhaps there have been recent problems which have only come to light as focusing on more recent events can prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.

You should also prepare specific examples of their performance or work that you can discuss in more detail should you feel someone has under performed or delivered outstanding performance. This not only offers clarity to the employee, but also highlights where they can either improve for next time or recognise the good things they bring to the role!

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An effective manager’s work life is rarely quiet; one of the worst things you can do when it comes to conducting an effective performance review is to continually put it off, not attend in person or, worse still, cancel it at short notice.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s often the case that a performance review will be linked to pay, bonuses or even an employee’s place in the business! With the run-up often being a time of extreme anxiousness or worry, cancelling an employee’s review or continually putting it off can destroy both motivation and engagement with the job – and this can kill a positive workplace culture stone dead… Trust us on that.

The same goes for informal catch ups or 1-1s. Whilst we may not all enjoy these types of meetings, they’re absolutely critical to an employee’s development and helps both managers and employees stay on course to reach their goals or overcome any barriers they’re experiencing.   


Once you’re fully prepared for the review, send an agenda out to your employee – ideally, a week or more beforehand so that they can prepare themselves fully, too.

When sending out your invite and agenda, remember to ask your employee if they have any questions they’d like to discuss beforehand or as part of the review. Formalising the review with an agenda not only helps set those all-important expectations, but also helps prevent any nasty shocks for the employee, giving them a level playing field.


Yup, positivity breeds positivity. It can be contagious and support a healthy workplace environment. However, we all know that annual reviews don’t always deliver good news… So, what then?

Whilst you may not be able to always deliver good news during an appraisal, overwhelming someone with negativity or criticism from the get-go is one way destroy someone’s engagement and motivation – and from a personal point of view, it can be pretty soul destroying, too!

One way around this has been to use the ‘compliment sandwich’ approach. Whilst this method is popular for its’ best intentions, it has become something of a horrible cliché in recent years, and may actually be more harmful than you realise!

Instead, you could try a ‘complaint sandwich’ as it can be a more effective method of delivering a less-than-glowing employee review. Remember to talk about the positives and at the very least and thank staff for their hard work and efforts during the year.

When it comes to discussing the negatives, remember to be constructive; what can you work on together to resolve the problems identified, and are there any training opportunities that could perhaps help? Always aim to show confidence in their ability to improve and overcome any difficulties that have been highlighted.

Should the worse happen and there are no positives to take away, it might be time to take a tough decision and consider if they’re really the right person for your business. Cutting them loose may be taking the ‘nuclear option’, but long term, it could actually be beneficial to both your team and the employee.


Finally, while the focus of an annual review will mainly be on the employee’s performance, this is your opportunity to gain valuable feedback as a team leader or manager.

Your management or team leadership style can play a huge part in how a team performs, so an employee review is the perfect time to discover whether you’re helping a team flourish or flounder. Remember, in order to create a culture of success and retain staff for longer, employees must have trust in their managers or team leaders to help them improve their performance and progress their career – not just necessarily tick the boxes.

Making a performance meeting a two-way conversation not only helps your own development; it can also support a healthier and happier workplace. Employees can feel more valued and appreciated if their opinions or concerns are being taken on board and acted upon. It also means they’ll be more confident in approaching you with potential issues more readily in the future – not just keep them potentially hidden.

Showing that you care about your employees, value their input and care about their wellbeing – not just their performance and results – will help your entire workforce to work harder, engage more effectively with your business and stick with you for the long term.

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