3 questions to have a more successful performance review meeting

During your performance reviews, do you ever feel like Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty listening to their teacher?

No matter how hard you try, you just can’t focus on what your manager is saying.


Because when you walk out of that meeting, nothing’s changed. What happens in your performance reviews doesn’t seem to affect the rest of your career. Plus, as a non-manager, what could you do? You can’t change how your manager conducts performance reviews—or how HR says they need to do them. Can you?

Actually, you can.

Something as simple as showing your manager you care about what happens in your performance review meeting can get them to care a little more, too. Which means you’ll leave those review meetings encouraged and energized instead of downtrodden and confused.

Ask these 3 simple questions before your performance review…

  1. How can I help you and the company more?
  2. Can we set some goals to help me move ahead?
  3. Can I get a written summary of our discussion?

Let’s walk through how each of these 3 questions will help you keep communication lines open between you and your manager leading up to your actual performance review meeting.

1. “Can we set some goals to help me move ahead?”

The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure your manager understands your long-term career goals. That’s the only way they’ll be able to help you reach them!

Once your manager knows your long-term goals, they can help you create SMART goals to move you in the right direction.

Benefits of asking your manager to help you create SMART goals:

  • You’ll stay on track and engaged throughout the year.
  • You’ll know if you’re falling short or exceeding expectations before your actual performance review.
  • Your manager will be more aware of your successes when filling out your evaluation form at the end of the year.
  • Your manager will feel more valued as you consistently ask for advice and guidance to stay on track with meeting your goals.

Once you have concrete goals, I’d also suggest setting up weekly, monthly, or quarterly check-ins. How often you want to check in will depend on how long-term or short-term your goals are.

Example email to send to your manager 2 weeks before your performance review:

“Hi Joe,

My performance review is getting close. I can’t believe how fast this year went! Can you?

I think I’ve done some good work this year. Hopefully, I’m proving I’m management material more every day.

You always give great suggestions for how I can improve as an employee. It’s one of the reasons I’m grateful to have you as my manager. Your advice last year on revising meeting norms for my team has improved our team dynamic a lot. Our meetings are so much more productive now!

I’m wondering if we can take it a step further this year.

Can we set some concrete, measurable goals for my next year at my performance review next week? Goals that will move me toward my long-term goal of becoming a manager?

I’ll come prepared with some ideas, of course. And I wanted to ask you in advance so you have time to do the same.


2. “How can I make your job easier?”

I know. This review meeting is supposed to be about you. But if you take a few minutes to make it about your manager, they’ll appreciate it. I promise.

If you’re in the right position with the right company, you should be focusing on creating as much value as possible. You want to be an asset to your team, your manager, and your company.

So ask your manager how you can be contribute at a higher level. Everyone likes being asked what would make their job easier. That might even be one of the questions your manager asks you during your performance review. So make sure to turn it around and ask them the same.

One of the keys to better performance reviews is transforming your meeting into a discussion. This question will help you do just that.

It’s best to ask this question before your actual review because it gives your manager time to think up some sincere ways you can help them. Asking it spur-of-the-moment during your review won’t get you a very good answer, just whatever comes to their mind first.

Example email to send your manager 1 week before your performance review:

“Hi Joe,

Hope your weekend went well! I got to spend some quality time with my kids at the beach. Junior swam in the ocean for the first time!

I noticed my performance review is just 1 week away. I’m excited to get a chance for us to talk about my performance over the past year.

More than that, though, I’d love it if we could touch base on some ways I can make your job easier. What 1 or 2 things could I start doing, stop doing, or do better that would help you out? Let’s talk about them more at my performance review.


3. “Can I get a written summary of what we discuss?”

One of the most frustrating things about performance reviews is when your manager blindsides you with criticism.

Maybe your manager was really encouraging all year and then says your sales numbers aren’t high enough. Or perhaps they say you’re not a team player.

Hearing unexpected criticism can make it hard to focus on the rest of the meeting. If you know you’ll get a copy of what you talk about, you’ll be free to accept the criticism with humility, turning back to ways you can improve and grow rather than getting caught up on your weaknesses.

Benefits of having a written summary of your performance review:

  • You can reread any upsetting criticism after you’ve had time to emotionally digest it in private.
  • You can remind yourself of the detailed goals you agreed to 6 months from now.
  • You have concrete evidence of what you discussed in case there are any HR issues.

Make sure you ask for the summary before your performance review meeting so that your manager can take notes as you go along rather than trying to remember specifics after the fact.

Example email to send your manager 2 days before your performance review:

Hi Joe,

My performance review is in 2 days—I can’t believe the year’s gone by so quickly!

I’ve enjoyed having you as my manager over the last year. You’ve pushed me to grow in areas I didn’t even realize I was falling short. Your advice is always spot-on—and you always deliver it with the humility and wisdom of a great leader. I’m looking forward to hearing your detailed thoughts on my performance on Thursday.

One quick request: Can I get a written summary of what we talk about during my review?

It’d be great to have something from you that I can look back on throughout the next year to motivate me to do better and to remind me where I need to grow.


Making performance reviews work for you

If you set concrete goals, find out how you can make your manager’s job easier, and get a written copy of your review,  your performance review will start to make a difference in your career.

What’s your experience with performance reviews been like? Good or bad, share it in the comments. I’m always interested in a good horror story!

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Most people HATE performance reviews. But they don’t have to awful, or even awkward. Whether you’re creating your own review process or you’re executing what your company already has, you can still make a performance review great for your team members!

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