Questions You Should Be Asking for Better Performance Reviews

It’s that dreaded time of year…performance reviews!

As a manager you are buried in endless paperwork. You have to block off lots of time to write thoughtful reviews that reflect your ratings of each employee. You also go through the process of getting feedback from others about their performance.

As an employee you dutifully scour your calendar to remember what you did all year. You’re hoping to find those projects that prove you’re an “A” player. Then you go into the meeting with your boss, hoping you don’t get hit with a curve ball.

If you’re boss has done their job you shouldn’t be at all surprised during the meeting. But there’s no reason to leave that to chance. You can be an active participant all year round to make sure review time is a piece of cake.

Here are some questions you should be asking for better performance reviews.

All Year Long

1. What is working well?

You want to have regularly scheduled meetings where you have a chance to ask for feedback. Oftentimes bosses will say something generic, like great job. That’s nice but not too helpful if you want to know what specifically made them happy.

You may have a general idea of what you did that your boss liked and it’s OK to ask for more.

After a general “Good job,” you can say, “Oh, so you liked how I did ____.” Fill in the blank with something like: how I turned that report in early, how I presented that project, how I researched everything so thoroughly. This gives your boss a chance to either agree or expand with what they thought you did well. This works a lot better than simply asking your boss to be more specific.

2. What could I do to improve?

Likewise, if you are having problems getting on the same page with your boss you can ask what you need to do differently. If your boss isn’t crystal clear keep asking questions until you have a good sense of what it is exactly that you need to do.

This may take more than one meeting, especially if there is a lot to digest. And I don’t mean a lot as the number of things you need to do, but that the information is just overwhelming. We all want to do a good job and hearing constructive feedback isn’t always easy.

So if you need to process everything that’s been shared ask for that time. Let your boss know you heard everything that was shared and you want to take some time to put together some ideas on how to shift things. It’s also OK to ask for an update on how your boss thinks things are going in a few weeks. This gives you time to actually make the necessary improvements.

3. How can I make your life easier?

I’ve never met a boss who didn’t want their employees to make their life a little easier. This shows you are ready to step up and be a strong resource for your boss. If you are trying to move up in your career this is a great way to become the go-to person. Even if you aren’t trying to move up in your career there are still things you can do everyday that would likely make your boss’ life easier.

4. Are you open to feedback?

This is a biggie! Sometimes we want to tell our boss something we think they should be doing differently but that’s not always easy. If you don’t want to sound like you are criticizing your boss, try asking if they are open to feedback.

Then, don’t just drop a bomb of all the things you don’t like about them. Instead present this in a very specific way. Focus on the situation you encountered that isn’t working for you. Then bring up the behavior they exhibited during that situation. From there talk about the impact it had on you.

This is the golden trifecta for delivering feedback that can be heard. This might sound like, “when we were in the meeting last week going over the project plan you told the team I wasn’t carrying my weight.” Then bring it home by sharing the impact, “This made me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”

The final step is to ask for what you need in order to be more successful. You could say, “In the future could you share your concerns with me first so I have an opportunity to change directions?”

Most bosses don’t understand the impact they are having on the people around them. We get really focused on what we need to do in our job that we don’t stop and consider how we are making other people feel. Plus no one can deny your feelings so your boss is less likely to be defensive. Check out Crucial Conversations for more information.

5. What’s your biggest challenge right now?

This will give you invaluable clues into what your boss is going through. Good bosses try to shield their team for anything negative rolling down hill. At the same time you will understand your boss’ decisions and motives a lot more if you know what they are experiencing from above.

6. How can I get my ideas for improvement approved?

To really impress your boss when it comes time for your review, try presenting all the ideas you have to make things better, faster or cheaper. Everyday you do your job so you are the most qualified person to figure out how to do it better. If those improvements require support from other people ask your boss how to start making that happen.

Before the Review

These aren’t questions, but still necessary actions to set yourself up for success!

1. Prepare a list of all the areas in which you want to grow

This can be projects you want to take on. It can be training classes you want to take. The most important thing is that you take the lead in identifying where you want to grow. Then identify all the specific actions you need to take in order to make that happen.

2. Collect feedback from others

It’s always nice when someone gives you praise via email and copies your boss. But that doesn’t always happen. So it’s up to you to put together a “praise file” with all the good things others have said about you throughout the year.

3. Document your wins

Along with creating a praise file, you want to write yourself an email each time you have a win. You can schedule 15 minutes on your calendar every two weeks to celebrate and document what you’ve done. This will make review time a breeze as you review all your wins you’ve filed away in your inbox.

During the Review

1. How can I improve my rating in this area?

If you receive a rating that surprises you, ask how you can improve it. Get as specific of an answer as possible. Was it a specific project that affected your rating? Is it your overall performance? If so, what would your boss recommend you do differently.

Here’s a pro tip though for those of you that don’t think very quickly on your feet. There’s no judgement here! Some of my best employees (and my husband) need a lot of time to process things during a conversation. Ask if you can have some time to process the review and then come back with questions. Ideally you get to look at your review ahead of time but if not ask for the time you need to process.

2. What do you recommend I do to continue growing?

This is your chance to present everything you prepared before the review. Start by sharing how you want to grow with the specific actions. Then you ask your boss for feedback. You will be perceived as someone who takes initiative and is clear on your growth path.

The other reason for asking this during the review is because your boss may be following up the reviews with the budgeting cycle. If you’ve asked to attend seminars or training events your boss will need to include those projected costs.

So there you have it! All the questions you should be asking for better performance reviews. Which question will you commit to asking this week? Let me know if the comments below.



Amanda Sowadski is a Life & Leadership Coach for Ambitious Women and the Founder of the Institute for Feminine Leadership. She helps women live and lead from the heart by tapping into their feminine energy. After nearly 15 years in corporate America, achieving a prestigious position, a great title, and a lucrative paycheck she realized there was so much more to life than work. After reconnecting with her soul she created a whole new model of feminine leadership where women can be free to be themselves and achieve the success they desire. When she's not sharing her insights she's laughing, building forts, and skipping with her daughter and husband in Minneapolis, MN.

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