How to transform the quality of your annual performance reviews with 3 questions!

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With the festivities of December now a distant memory for most, it’s that time of year again when most line managers in business turn their attention to completing the annual performance reviews for their people.


I know that was certainly what happened to me when I was leading a team of people.  I always found one of the hardest things was getting the individual to talk and take responsibility for their own performance.  I lost count the number of times people would turn up to their appraisal with very little preparation and just expected me to have done all the work in advance.  That is until one year I discovered three questions that would simply transform the way I did annual appraisals and meant from that moment on individuals always came to the meeting prepared and took ownership for not only their performance but also their development.


I first came across these questions when I was working on secondment for a year and so had a new boss.  She asked me to answer them in preparation for my own appraisal and I was gobsmacked at how much they made me think.  Not only that but when we discussed them in my appraisal meeting, my boss was able to interject with her own examples of what she had seen over the year that completely supported what I was saying.   It really felt like I was assessing my own performance and my boss was just challenging or agreeing with my thinking.  Can’t even begin to explain how powerful that was.


Even if, as is the case quite often, my performance grade had already been decided before this meeting, it didn’t feel like it and more importantly it didn’t matter because of the quality of the conversation we had and my realisation of what I was good at and what I needed to do differently – I had, without knowing it, taken ownership for my own performance.


After this experience I tried these same questions with my team and to a greater or lesser extent they worked just as well.  Of course some people were more honest about how they answered them, but in all cases we had a richer more balanced discussion.  I never looked back and continued to use them as my secret weapon every year I lead a team of people.


So what are these questions I hear you ask, well you won’t be surprised to learn they are not rocket science by any means:-


  1. What has gone well for you this year?
  2. What have you learnt this year?
  3. What would you do differently next time?


Not only do these questions look backward to assess the year just past, but they also help to shape the year just beginning as they highlight potential development areas required.  Result – so they also help with completing PDP’s (personal development plans).


I guarantee if you ask each of your individual team members to think about and prepare answers to these three questions prior to their performance review and then make them the basis of the discussion you have, you’ll see a difference in the quality of the conversation.


Don’t get me wrong I know most appraisals include some assessment of whether targets, KPI’s etc have been hit and as the line manager you’ll still have to do some preparation for the meeting, but take it from me using these 3 questions will make those reviews so much more enjoyable and rewarding for both parties.


If you try them out, let me know how you get on – I’d love to know if they work as well for you as they did for me.


Thanks for reading



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