Performance Reviews: Overview & Tips from HR Experts

Let's start with these frequently asked questions about performance reviews.

Performance Reviews: Overview & Tips from HR Experts

Performance reviews are a complex but essential tool in managing a productive and engaged workforce.

However, for performance reviews to deliver maximum value, they should adhere to standardized processes backed up by best practices. A process that is not well developed, regardless of how simple or complex, can actually become a liability, creating unnecessary confusion and frustration that leads to disengagement or even turnover. It definitely pays to think carefully about what your organization is currently doing and how it can improve.

If your organization is developing a standardized performance review process for the first time or looking to strengthen its existing practices, this complete guide can help. Here are the topics we will cover:

Need help with your performance management strategy? We can help.

At RealHR Solutions, we help organizations create and improve their HR systems and practices, including those related to performance management. We know firsthand the impact that effective performance reviews can have on the underlying health of an organization. This guide will give you a solid foundation on which to build.

Performance Review Basics

1. What is a performance review?

A performance review is a regularly scheduled, structured meeting between an employee and their manager. Its core purpose is for the manager and employee to evaluate the employee’s work performance, the manager to provide feedback, and both to discuss the employee’s strengths and weaknesses that can be capitalized on or addressed.

This touchpoint gives the employee a clear sense of what they are currently doing well, how they can improve, and their progress towards achieving professional goals.

2. What is performance management?

Performance management is the broader process of how an organization manages its employees and evaluates work performance on an ongoing basis. Performance reviews are one part of performance management systems as a whole.

Organizations are increasingly shifting towards performance management models focused on continuous feedback, goal-setting, and course correction rather than relying on review meetings alone. However, performance reviews still serve a valuable purpose as standardized checkpoints for managers and employees to formally discuss performance.

3. Why are performance reviews important for employees?

Simply put, employees need to understand how they are performing to succeed and grow in their roles and within an organization. Performance reviews provide employees with the context and feedback they need to improve, develop, and feel invested.

Without performance feedback, employees can easily feel left adrift with no idea of where they can improve or how their contributions impact the organization as a whole.

4. Why are they important for organizations?

Effective reviews create a structured time and space for discussing performance in which both parties have clearly set expectations. They drive employee productivity, growth, and engagement—all of which are critical factors of long-term organizational success.

In addition, performance reviews reveal how the organization can improve its management and engagement strategies. They can also be used as an opportunity to discuss compensation changes in ways that are  tied to performance.

5. How often should performance reviews occur?

Organizations typically conduct performance reviews annually, biannually, or quarterly. The right timeframe will depend on a number of contextual factors, but the most important point is that performance reviews should occur on a regular basis that is clearly communicated to employees in advance.

6. How do you prepare for performance reviews?

Effective performance reviews require plenty of preparation. The exact process will look different for managers and employees. We cover how both parties should prepare for reviews in a section below.

Follow these recommended performance review steps.

Recommended Performance Review Steps

Depending on your organization’s exact needs and circumstances, you may adjust some elements or logistical details of the performance review process, for instance when conducting performance reviews remotely. However, there are standard steps that you should keep in mind as you develop your organization’s own process.

At RealHR Solutions, we recommend these core steps and best practices for performance reviews:

This is the performance review process that we recommend at RealHR Solutions.
  1. Organization presents performance review goals, plans, and processes.
    • Start by nailing down a few essentials. What will your organization accomplish with this round of performance reviews? How exactly will the process work? When should employees and managers finish preparing, and when will the reviews occur? Will performance reviews be tied to compensation changes? Clearly communicate these objectives and details to the organization’s management teams and employees.
  2. Manager shares instructions and self-assessment with the employee.
    • Managers should provide clean instructions and timeframes to employees who will be taking part in the performance review process. Self-assessments are an important component of effective reviews, so give employees plenty of time to complete them thoughtfully. Provide guidance on which types of input will be helpful as well as regular reminders leading up to the review meetings.
  3. Employee completes and shares their self-assessment.
    • Self-assessments give managers more insight into their employees’ performance and allow employees to help actively guide the conversation. Performance review self-assessments typically ask employees to provide input on elements like:
      • Their biggest accomplishments over the past performance period and why
      • Their most notable shortcomings over the past performance period and why
      • What they feel to be their biggest role-related strengths and weaknesses
      • Areas where they would like to develop their skills or explore new responsibilities
      • Feedback, both positive and constructive, on the organization’s management and/or their peers
      • Questions about organizational decisions and goals
  4. Manager solicits feedback from employee’s peers, clients, and/or direct reports.
    • Gathering feedback from a range of perspectives gives managers a clearer sense of their directs’ performance and how it impacts the organization as a whole. You may ask employees to provide feedback on their peers and managers as part of the self-assessment or follow-up separately. Clearly explain the types or scope of feedback that will be most helpful to keep this process focused and productive.
  5. Manager reviews employee self-assessment and completes the performance review form.
    • The manager should next review the self-assessments, their own notes or records, past performance reviews, and feedback from other sources to then distill them into key takeaways. Focus on specificity, impact, and concrete examples. Organizations should use standardized forms (like the example below) to compile these takeaways and examples in a way that is truly helpful for both the manager and employee.
  6. Performance review meetings occur.
    • The manager will walk through the completed form with the employee, pausing to discuss key points and answer questions throughout. The meeting should conclude by restating, realigning, or adjusting expectations and goals with the employee for the coming performance period.
  7. Compensation changes are reviewed (if applicable).
    • If your organization has tied compensation changes to the performance review process, take time during the meeting or in a separate follow-up meeting to present and discuss salary decisions with the employee.
  8. Manager and employee regularly return to performance goals and discuss progress on an ongoing basis.
    • The performance review process is most effective when backed up by ongoing feedback and conversations about goals. The manager and employee should refer to the employee’s performance goals throughout the year to check for alignment and progress. This reinforces strengths, addresses areas for development, and prevents unnecessary surprises for both parties.
Use this performance review template form to create one for your own organization.

Performance Review Template

During the performance review process, managers should review employee self-assessments, records from past reviews, peer feedback, and other notes to complete standardized performance review forms. No two performance review forms are exactly the same since every organization has unique contexts and objectives for the review process, but there are a few essentials that we recommend including.

This performance review template includes all of the most important elements to keep in mind:

This performance review template includes all of the most important elements needed for effective reviews.
  • Employee Information: Include basic information needed for accurate record-keeping, like names, employee position, and the performance period.
  • Core Values & Objectives: List out the role’s stated core values and objectives, each with clear definitions and/or criteria.
    • For each value or objective, rate the employee on a scale from “exceeds expectations” to “unacceptable,” and include relevant notes and specific examples that back up the rating.
    • The exact rating process that you use may vary. However, the main idea is to give this section a standardized, objective structure that clearly ties performance to your organization’s definition of success for that role.
  • Performance Goals: Use this section to determine whether or not past performance goals were met during the previous period and to present new goals for the upcoming period.
  • Overall Rating: Sum up the employee’s performance with an overall rating, again tying it to specific examples and what constitutes success for that role.
  • Employee Comments: Leave space for noting questions, comments, and feedback provided by the employee during the meeting, and then act on them later as needed.
  • Acknowledgment & Signature: Include a brief acknowledgment statement to be signed and dated by both the employee and manager.
Keep these performance review best practices in mind while preparing for your organization's reviews.

Performance Review Best Practices

In addition to following the core steps listed above and using standardized review forms, there are additional performance review best practices that your organization should emphasize throughout the process:

1. Give everyone advance notice and clear explanations.

Performance reviews can be a stressful or tense experience for even your organization’s top performers. Give your entire team, both employees and managers, plenty of advance notice that performance reviews are coming up so that they will have time to prepare.

Additionally, your leadership and/or HR team should clearly explain to managers and employees how the process will work, what is expected of them, and when they should be ready. Make it easy to access the resources they will need, and set specific deadlines for completing self-assessments and performance review forms.

2. Ensure managers know how to properly prepare.

Performance reviews can have major impacts on employees’ experiences with your organization, so managers must properly and thoughtfully prepare ahead of time.

However, if managers feel ill-equipped or left in the dark about exactly how they should prepare, the process is already off to a rocky start. A poorly run performance review with inaccurate ratings or muddled takeaways can open up a variety of engagement and retention risks, both for the employee and the manager who needed more support.

A clearly defined performance review process with expectations, objectives, timeframes, and resources (like standardized forms) will be essential. Host one or more meetings leading up to the performance reviews dedicated specifically to answering managers’ questions and reviewing expectations.

3. Ensure job descriptions are up-to-date and accurately reflect the employee’s position.

Your organization’s job descriptions should accurately define each role’s core responsibilities, values, and objectives. These elements are used to measure success in each role, so outdated job descriptions can potentially become a source of frustration during the performance review process.

For instance, if a key responsibility has drifted from one role or department to another, but that change is not reflected in the current job descriptions, unnecessary confusion may arise about why employees did or did not spend time tackling that task over the previous performance period.

As managers prepare for performance reviews, they should review the organization’s job descriptions to see if they still accurately reflect employees’ work. If not, they should work with your HR team to develop updated job descriptions that reflect the current day-to-day responsibilities of the role. During or after the performance reviews, present the updated job descriptions to employees as needed, and have them sign to acknowledge their updated expectations.

4. Use clear language and focus on measurables, specific actions, and their impacts.

For performance reviews, clarity is key. Avoid over- or underexplaining important points. Reread your performance review forms multiple times prior to conducting meetings to ensure their points are clear, precise, and leave no room for misinterpretation. Tie these specific actions and examples to the real impacts that they had on the team or entire organization. 

Pay extra attention to growth and development that employees have demonstrated, and emphasize continued growth during the conversation and in the next goals that you lay out for the coming performance period. A focus on development, forward momentum, and increased impact will foster engagement and retention over time, helping employees feel more invested in the organization’s success.

5. Provide truly actionable and honest feedback.

Performance reviews should give employees more insight into how well they are performing, the impacts they have, and how they can improve. Without honest feedback that can be concretely acted upon, employees can easily leave the conversation with more questions than answers.

One useful framework for providing actionable feedback is the Start, Stop, Continue model. This involves breaking feedback down into three categories:

  • Tasks the employee should start doing
  • Tasks the employee should stop doing
  • Tasks the employee should continue doing

Sorting specific tasks or responsibilities into these categories gives the feedback a more tangible sense of direction and makes it clear to the employee where their time and attention is best spent. Just be sure to back up each individual task or piece of feedback with its impact or underlying reasoning. You may also ask employees to provide feedback about their manager or the organization as a whole using this same model.

When giving constructive or negative feedback, be tactful and sensitive but never avoid telling hard truths because it may be uncomfortable. If an employee is underperforming, they need to know. Starting an open conversation can show employees areas of improvement that they were perhaps unaware of. It can also reveal critical engagement and retention risks that the organization needs to address but would not have otherwise known about.

6. Establish clear, measurable goals for the next review period.

End performance reviews by outlining employee goals for the upcoming performance period. To be effective and truly useful for employees, these goals should be specific and measurable. Keep clear records of them, and regularly return to them throughout the next period, not just when preparing for performance reviews again.

When possible, create cascading goals for your organization. What are your organization’s big-picture strategic goals? What goals can you set at the departmental level and down to the individual level that will support those strategic initiatives? Setting interconnected goals in this way can show employees how their individual contributions directly tie into broader organizational success.

culture of continuous improvement is a major asset for any organization. You can help foster that culture by using performance reviews as touchpoints for ongoing coaching, development, and improvement.

Let's explore how managers and employees should prepare for performance reviews.

How to Prepare for Performance Reviews

Finally, here are some key steps that both managers and employees should follow when preparing for performance reviews.

How Managers Should Prepare

  1. Have consistent performance conversations with direct reports outside of the formal performance review process, and give both positive and construction feedback more frequently.
  2. Provide direct reports with clear timelines and instructions for performance reviews.
  3. Review all relevant notes, reports, emails, previous performance reviews, and more pertaining to the individual’s performance over the past period.
  4. Anchor the reviews with concrete measurables and specific impacts. Avoid generalized or overly subjective feedback.
  5. Give direct reports the opportunity to ask questions and to provide feedback on their peers and management, but keep the conversation focused on performance and impact. Note any tangential items for later follow-up.

How Employees Should Prepare

  1. Review all relevant notes, reports, previous performance reviews, and other resources pertaining to your performance over the past period.
  2. Get started on your self-assessment early to give the process careful thought.
  3. Choose a handful of concrete examples that illustrate key wins over the previous performance period. Compile any documentation or reports on impact that can back up your claims.
  4. Be prepared to receive feedback by realistically self-evaluating before review.
  5. Come with any questions directly relating to the performance conversation, the past performance period, and goals for the next period.

Wrapping Up

Performance reviews are just one part of the broader performance management process. They can be complex, but they are also a critical part of leading an organization that meets its goals, retains employees, and fosters growth.

Whether preparing to create or improve your organization’s performance review practices, there is always more to learn and changes to consider as your organization grows. Resources like this guide and the template above can give you a solid foundation on which to build. But remember that the most effective performance management processes will be tailored to your organization’s unique needs. 

This is why many organizations choose to work with HR experts when considering performance management practices. Specialized HR consultants can provide guidance whether you are looking to build management systems from scratch, improve current practices, or simply provide better training to managers based on industry best practices.

RealHR Solutions is a leading provider of HR consultation services, including performance management guidance, employee assessments, job descriptions, and more. Contact us to discuss your needs, and be sure to keep learning with these additional resources:

Looking for performance review support? We can help.

The Recruitment Risks of Too Many Interviews

Employers today are struggling to find workers. Those that ask applicants to go through an unnecessarily lengthy and opaque process are likely to lose out on candidates who have plenty of alternatives. 

It’s a significant financial and operational commitment for a company to hire a new team member. Onboarding and training require considerable resources, not to mention the salary, benefits, and taxes involved in compensating the new hire. Operationally, new team members are often accountable not just to their boss but also to stakeholders in other departments by virtue of increasingly interconnected and collaborative offices.

So it’s understandable that employers might want to use an extensive interview process to thoroughly vet candidates before selecting one for an open position. But employers need to be careful not to drive applicants away with overly onerous interview processes, particularly in a job market in which applicants have considerable leverage.

Long Interview Processes Can Be a Big Turnoff

In an article for BBC Worklife, Mark Johanson presents the experience of a 49-year-old software engineer from Indiana named Mike Conley, who became so frustrated with a seemingly never-ending interview process that he ultimately pulled his application. In Conley’s case, the employer was unable—or perhaps unwilling—to even share whether a six-round follow-up to an already completed three-round interview process would be the final step in making a hiring decision.

According to Johanson, Conley’s experience is not unusual. “The internet is awash with similar stories jobseekers who’ve become frustrated with companies—particularly in the tech, finance and energy sectors—turning the interview process into a marathon,” he writes. With many jobseekers enjoying a large number of potential opportunities these days, they have the luxury of being selective and may be turned off from an interview process that seems unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming.

Streamlining Your Interview Process

Insufficient vetting might result in your costly investment’s failing to deliver the desired results. But too much vetting might result in quality applicants’ opting out of the process altogether. So, what is an employer to do?

A couple of best practices might help strike the right balance for recruiters:

  • Be deliberate in arranging interviews. Recruiters should avoid adding additional interviews without first evaluating the need for each additional round. If an interviewee already has several rounds of interviews, resist the urge to add on others that might provide only marginal benefit.
  • Be transparent with interviewees. Recruiters shouldn’t keep applicants in the dark on the hiring process. If there are going to be six rounds of interviews, make that clear upfront. Applicants may decide they aren’t interested enough in the position to invest that much of their time. While this might mean some applicants drop out early, it’s better than wasting everyone’s time only to reach that same result later in the process.

The labor market, as with most markets, is cyclical. Sometimes employers have a great deal of leverage and are awash with candidates. In these cases, they can ask them to submit to extensive vetting. But this is not one of those times! Employers today are struggling to find workers. Those that ask applicants to go through an unnecessarily lengthy and opaque process are likely to lose out on candidates who have plenty of alternatives.

Shared Content, Author Lin Grensing-Pophal

2021 Non-Profit Employee Benefit Trends

Multy-ethnic group of businesspeople with masks helping each other

The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed the way we live our lives and certainly the Non- Profit community is no different. Many Non-Profits have had to adapt to a new way of communicating with their employees, as they have had to convert at least some of their workforce to remote schedules.  This has also had an impact on how employee benefits are being communicated, and the benefits Non-Profits are providing to their employees. Over the past year we have had many conversations with our clients and partners. Here is some of what we are seeing and the trends we expect to continue.

Increased Focus on Employee Education

Employee education is a vital component to any employee benefit strategy. Benefits have become increasingly more complex and more of an important part of employment.   We are seeing a continually growing sentiment by Non-Profits who feel it is their responsibility to ensure employees have a good understanding of the benefits they offer including initiatives that assist in their well-being.  In the past most employee open enrollment communications consisted of group meetings, literature, Q & A, and a very reactive approach to employee education assistance.  Although effective to a degree, the information provided was typically general in nature and therefore did not take each specific employee’s needs into consideration.  As a result, we have found that some employees may have made elections without ensuring suitability.  In addition, many employees waived important benefits such as Life Insurance and Short-Term Disability often because they did not understand how they worked.   One study done by the Employee Benefits Research Institute showed that 80% of all employees surveyed would be at least somewhat likely to take advantage of an advisor service that recommends benefits based on their own household situation. More employers are working with broker partners that offer 1 on 1 employee consultations as part of their service model.  This method creates a more customized approach to communicating employee benefit plans.  Employees that receive personal advice typically select plans most suitable to their own needs.  This approach helps reduce costs and risk for employers and employees.  One example of this is evident in the employee participation of HSA qualified high deductible plans. Most employers offer at least one of these plans in their benefit menus.  However, on average we find that only 10-15% of employees elect an HSA plan.  We feel this is largely due to a lack in understanding of how they work.  Our experience has provided evidence that this percentage increases when employees meet with one of our Education Specialists.

CASE STUDY: During a recent Open Enrollment we provided a team of experienced Benefit Education Specialists for our client which has 1600 employees. The Employer saw the value in providing 1 on 1 education and made this the sole method of collecting benefit elections and waivers.  As a result, 97% of employees met with an Education

Specialist and approximately 40% of those employees selected an HSA plan, almost 4 times the average enrollment.  This offers further proof that educated employees make prudent benefit elections which improves satisfaction.  This is a trend we expect to continue and grow more towards the preferred method of benefit communication.

Growing Emphasis On Employee Well Being

According to a USI Survey 56.6% of Non-Profits incentivize or intend to incentivize employees to participate in Wellness Initiatives.   One thing we may have learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic is that there is an education gap contributing to co-morbidities in our country.  Seven in ten employees surveyed felt they needed their employer’s help to make sure they are healthy and financially secure.  Sixty Two percent said it is their employer’s responsibility to do so.   In the past many employers viewed wellness programs as a way to possibly reduce health insurance costs. They looked for immediate return on investment which can be very difficult to measure.  Now more than ever employers look toward wellness programs to help employees live healthier lifestyles.  Wellness programs have evolved from Flu Shots and Health Risk Assessments.

Today wellness programs may include flexible work schedules, dress down days, or education on stress reduction. Many employers are initiating team building exercises such as group Yoga and Guided Meditation.   Insurance carriers have also made a concerted effort to improve on their included wellness benefits. Many plans now include Telehealth, Gym reimbursements, EAP programs and reward-based initiatives. For larger employers, insurance carriers may even provide wellness dollars to fund some of their own programs. In the past we have found that these benefits would go unnoticed by employers and employees therefore underutilized.  Now more employers are requiring that these services be included in their plan designs and communicated to employees.  Financial wellness also plays an important role in this trend.   Financial difficulties can be a major source of stress in the workplace and can lead to less productive employees.  Employers are now providing services such complementary financial assessments, education on debt reduction, and assistance for first time home buyers.    We expect these types of wellness initiatives to grow in popularity and viewed as an important part of Employment.

Rise in Employee Assistance Program Inquiries

The past year has tried the patience of just about everyone.  Non-Profit are expressing their concerns about stress which may be afflicting their employees.  The number of inquiries we have received this year regarding EAP programs has escalated dramatically.    A growing number of employers are asking us to place emphasis on the availability of EAP during meetings with their employee’s.  EAP’s offer resources to support employees on a myriad of issues including Anxiety, Depression, Fear, Isolation, Stress, and Elder Care.   Employers may purchase these services directly, but sometimes times can find them included with their Health Insurance, Life Insurance, or Disability programs.   EAP’s offer a valuable outlet for employees however most of the time they are utilized when the employee is already experiencing challenges. Many employers are now investing in programs that are more proactive in nature.   Education programs on mental well- being and stress reduction are gaining popularity in the workplace.

This proactive approach assists employees with how to recognize the warning signs of stress and how stress can lead to chronic conditions.  Sessions can be delivered as Lunch and Learns, Zoom conferences, or video’s that employees can view on their own time.   This is not replacing the need for Employee Assistance Programs.   However, we are finding that employers are implementing a combination of the two to create a healthier long-term outcome for employees.


As our society continues to evolve technologically more employees than ever before select their benefits online through an employer provided portal or on their mobile device.  The Covid-19 crisis accelerated this pace as more employers are using technology to offer benefits.   The trend in remote working should continue to grow in the non-profit sector and employees will be electing benefits from their homes in many cases.  Employers will find a greater need for benefits administration systems that provide online and mobile access.        Good benefits administration technology is the key to efficient management of enrollment, billing, and internal carrier data requirements.

Solutions can vary considerably in price, capabilities, and useful application across various employer workforce scenarios. Contemporary features include plan decision support tools with Artificial Intelligence, recorded presentations, educational videos, mobile phone apps and a connection to claims support services. Paying for these services can be possible with technology credits from certain insurance carriers.

Designed to abide by state rebating laws, technology credits provide support for implementation fees and the ongoing costs of a benefits administration systems. These are often only available at benefits renewal, especially when changing carriers and can range from $.20 PEPM to $2.50 PEPM.  Non-Profits should discuss technology opportunities and integration features with their Broker Partners, and Payroll Companies to find the best solutions.


Telemedicine has been an increasingly offered and utilized benefit in recent years. The need was greatly accelerated at the beginning of the Pandemic when physicians were unable to see patients. Many people turned to Telehealth when they were sick being unsure of what to do. As a result, more people utilized some form of telehealth than ever before and received a crash course on how they work.   We believe that Telehealth will continue to grow as a vital component in the healthcare delivery system. The Pandemic has changed the patterns of people and those once resistant to technology are now shopping, working, and even exercising remotely.  Many patients have realized they can address routine matters with doctors telephonically just as well as in person. Several insurance carriers have added Telehealth to their health plans and incentivize employees to use them without any cost associated.   Some even offer mobile aps that facilitate web conferences with MD’s. During appointments physicians are able to make a diagnosis, and even prescribe medicine if necessary.  Employers will also continue view Telehealth is a great tool to drive down plan costs by steering employees away from costly Emergency Room visits.   We expect to see this trend grow in mental health services as well.  Often, mental health providers can be difficult to coordinate with insurance and many providers do not accept insurance which can make care very costly.  As the societal emphasis on well-being continues to grow expect to see more and more insurance carriers and employers offering mental health services via Telehealth, allowing for greater access to employees. One thing for certain is that Telehealth is here to stay.


1.     2020 Employee Benefit Research Institute Wellness Survey

2.   USI 2020 Non-Profit Benchmark Report

Vanguard Employer Educational Event-Healthcare Is Not a 6 Figure Business-1 SHRM CE Credit

Healthcare Is Not a 6 Figure Business

Topics to Include:
Health Care isn’t the largest retirement expense
Fixed costs: Primarily Medicare Premiums
Variable Costs: Modest out-of-pocket costs and unexpected one-off shocks
Total annual health care costs are lower than you think
As health care spending rises, other expenses drop
Annual variable health care costs at different ages

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Best Practices on how to Hire and Onboard staff during a Pandemic

best practices
Best Practices on How to Hire and Onboard staff during a Pandemic
Nov 18, 2020 12:00 PM

• Recruiting Remote Employees
• Offering Remote Jobs
• Early Onboarding for Remote Employees
• Welcoming Remote Employees on Day 1
• Onboarding and Orienting Remote Employees in the First Weeks
• Ongoing Remote Employee Team Building
Guest Speaker: Brandi Desousa From PNP Staffing
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