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10 great questions managers need to ask in performance reviews

Love them or hate them, performance reviews are part of the life of being a manager for most of us.

And sadly, the evidence suggests most of us are far from in love with our current review processes:

There are several glaring issues with performance reviews when ran in the traditional sense – i.e., once a year with little going on in between – such as:

  • They’re untimely, with feedback that is often past it’s ‘best before’ date that is unlikely to help an employee improve.
  • Traditional performance reviews are one-way focussed, with little input from the person who matters, the employee.
  • They tend to focus on the past when they should be about future development.
  • And they are massively impacted by biases and based on best guesses and memories.

But they don’t have to be an ineffective tick-box exercise that your people hate.

But even when run correctly, supported by tools such as employee check-ins and frequent 1:1s, an effective review requires well-developed skills in giving feedback.

One of those skills is asking good questions. When should you use open or closed questions? How do you probe in a way that encourages people to expand on their experiences, views, or feelings without coming off as micromanaging or prying?

There is certainly an art to asking a good question. And a science too.

So, what questions should managers be asking in reviews to make their performance conversations more effective?

Questions managers should ask in a performance review

By asking relevant questions, managers can help employees to better explore past performance and the influences on it. More importantly, great questions help set goals and plans that are targeted and achievable.

Here are 10 questions managers can ask their people to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of their next performance review:  

Questions based on performance.

It goes without saying that performance is a central topic to a good performance review. Understanding performance from the point of view of your team member is crucial.

1. What are you most proud of since your last review?

Instead of kicking off our reviews with softball questions like ‘How have things been going lately" ask your people about their recent successes. This is a comfortable jumping-off point that still provides valuable insight into recent performance.

An employee’s answer here will not only shed light on their own performance but also the things that they are passionate about.

2. Describe your perfect working environment to be your best self

We all work in different ways, now more so than ever before. Understanding what does and doesn’t work for your staff will help you plan for greater future success.

Questions about strengths.

Performance reviews are also about making your employees realise their true potential and leverage it.

3. What would you consider to be your key strengths that help you do a great job?

This is an important topic of conversation if you want to learn more about the knowledge and abilities available in your workforce.

It's best to be specific and ask about capabilities that have helped the individual do their job to a high level, or that they feel could be applied in other roles or capacities.

Questions on areas of development.

The best performance reviews focus on developing the skills, knowledge, and processes of your people. The real goal of a performance review should be improving performance remember.

4. What in your current role has left you feeling disappointed?

Understanding where employees feel they have struggled (with appropriate input from their manager) is vitally important in planning for future performance. If an employee can’t pinpoint any disappointments, managers can lead here.

5. What areas will you focus on in the next few months to help improve, grow, and develop?

Like the previous question, a self-exploration of areas for improvement is important. By framing your question like this you offer your employee an opportunity to take responsibility of their own development – autonomy is a great motivator!

Again, as manager come ready with some suggestions in case your employee comes up blank.

6. What can we do to help you meet your goals?

On the subject of employee growth and development, one productive way to approach this is by asking specifically about what the company can do to help employees progress in their careers and reach their goals. If you aren’t sure what their personal goals are, now is the time to ask.

Ask them about what they have learned and the skills they have already gained in their current role, as well as their outlook and long-term ambitions. In close collaboration with your employees, you can then devise effective professional development plans.

Questions around current and future roles.

Analysing the current and future roles and responsibilities helps managers in succession planning. It also makes them better prepared for business scenarios that may lay ahead.

7. What would you like to do less of moving forward?

By understanding the things your employee doesn’t love about work you gain the opportunity to reorganise their working day to accommodate them and keep them engaged.

It doesn’t have to stick to task-based elements either. Perhaps they want to change the frequency they are in the office, or communicate more directly with you etc.

It also helps pinpoint potential future opportunities that focus more on the stuff they love doing.

8. What do you see as your next role or career move?

When you ask about employee aspirations you begin to understand what really motivates them.

Ask them to be completely honest here. Are they looking at a step up or sideways within the organisation? Or are they looking to step out of the company and move on to new things?

Think about the tools, training, and resources you can offer to help them progress towards their target role.

Questions on the manager-employee relationship.

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. It’s important to ask these tough questions to improve your working relationship with your direct reports.

9. How do you like to receive feedback from me? Is there anything I could be doing different to communicate more effectively?

A performance evaluation serves as a great chance to build relationships with team members.

In discussing how to give and receive feedback and recognition, you are learning about how to best teach, motivate and support your team.

10. What are the two things I could do differently to make work more of a breeze?

Away from the specific context of giving feedback, it’s good to check-in with your people to see if there is anything else they’d like to change.

Everyone likes to be managed in different ways, so it is important that you discuss what kind of management style works best for your employees.

Want to run performance reviews that really pack a punch? Download our latest best practice guide,