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The Best Questions to Ask in Performance Reviews

By Rob de Luca

Performance reviews usually include questions that are carefully designed to minimize subjectivity when analyzing responses and to provide actionable items for recognition and growth. Consider the four standard questions found in the self-assessment created by BambooHR, for example (which are typical of those found in other similar assessments):

  • How well does my company recognize my value?
  • What would have the greatest impact on my ability to do my best work more often?
  • What are some things I do well?
  • How could I improve?

Traditionally, performance reviews usually took the form of long, annual or semiannual sessions filled with lots of tough questions. They tended to fill employees (and managers, too) with anticipatory dread. And because they took place so infrequently, they weren't particularly effective tools for managing and improving performance. (Few people can remember what they had for lunch yesterday, much less what they were working on six months ago!)

Fortunately, more and more organizations are moving away from this archaic model. Administrators are increasingly understanding that reviews have a bigger impact when they're relevant to what's going on in employees' daily work. Making them easier and more frequent takes some of the weight off the experience, which allows employees and managers to communicate more openly.

Even though "short and sweet" assessments are becoming the norm, there are still times when administrators might want to add questions that cover more than the general, broad topics listed above. Additional questions should be carefully worded to minimize subjective or vague replies. Gallup's list of the "12 needs managers can meet to improve employees' productivity," known as the Q12, is a good starting point for crafting questions that assess employees' needs and engagement:1

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

One helpful strategy is to create questions that gauge whether one of the twelve engagement statements is true or false. To obtain more detail or a result that can be tracked over time (one that serves as a springboard to improvements or recognition of future achievement, for example), administrators can ask for responses in the form of a list or open-ended comments.

Here are some questions to consider adding to an employee's self-assessment:

  • What experience, project, or action are you most proud of since your last review?
  • Which of our company values have you most supported in the last few months?
  • How has your manager helped you achieve your goals?
  • What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
  • What corporate/personal goals did you accomplish? Which goals did you fall short of achieving?
  • What skill or knowledge do people on your team or at the company rely on you to provide?
  • What project or goal would you like to focus on in the next quarter (six months, year)?
  • How were you able to contribute to the company's current goal of creating a more inclusive culture (closing more sales, launching a new marketing campaign, etc.]?
  • What would colleagues or clients say about their recent interactions with you?

Here are some questions to consider adding to a manager's assessment of an employee:

  • Describe a meaningful contribution that they have made since their last performance review.
  • Which company value have you seen them most support in the last few months?
  • How have you supported their ability to succeed and grow in their position?
  • At what types of projects do they excel?
  • How successful have they been at creating and meeting goals over the past few months?
  • What role do they have on the team, and what is their impact there?
  • What are some projects or focus areas that could benefit them?
  • How have they contributed to the company's current goal of creating a more inclusive culture (closing more sales, launching a new marketing campaign, etc.)?
  • What positive interactions have you seen them have with others?

Asking managers and employees similar questions makes it possible to compare responses and see whether they are aligned with each other and can shed further light on engagement, productivity, and long-term goals:

  • Are you happy at this organization?
  • What special projects have you worked on this past quarter/year?
  • How can [name of manager or employee] help you?
  • Would you recommend working here to your friends? Why or why not?
  • How have you met corporate goals this quarter/year?
  • How have you achieved your personal goals this quarter/year?
  • What do you enjoy most about working with [name of manager or employee]?
  • How do I show my focus on quality work? / How is [name of manager or employee]'s quality of work?
  • How do I show my focus on clients? / How does [name of manager or employee] demonstrate a focus on client success?
  • How do I show that I am solution-oriented and responsive in my role? / How does [name of manager or employee] demonstrate that they are solution-oriented and responsive?
  • What do you hope to be doing within the company one year from now (and five years from now)?
  • What do you want your next position to be at this company?
  • To what recent project did you contribute significantly, and what were your contributions?
  • How has [name of manager] helped you improve and do your best work during the past three months? / How have you encouraged and supported [name of employee] during the past three months?
  • What do you need from [name of manager] to better support you in your role? / What do you need in order to better support [name of employee] in their role?
  • What are your top three priorities for the next 6 to 12 months?
  • What are your personal development goals (e.g., new skill, knowledge, work experience you'd like to acquire) to help you maximize your performance and potential?
  • What training does [name of employee] need in order to improve?
  • Do you feel comfortable taking risks and approaching [name of manager] with new ideas? Why or why not?
  • What training do you wish you had?

Questions that go beyond merely asking "what have you accomplished?" (or "what has your employee accomplished?") give respondents opportunities to describe their work experiences more fully. When respondents can share information about not only their accomplishments but also their needs, goals, and interests, their organizations will be better positioned to provide the support, training, career advancement, and other opportunities that foster the development of a more productive, more engaged, and happier workforce.

About the author:

Rob de Luca is the copy director at BambooHR and has written extensively on culture and best practices in the HR field, combining original research and input from HR experts with his own perspective as a manager, creative executive, and veteran of diverse industries.

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