4 min read

Why Performance Reviews Call for Formal Feedback

By Kathy Irish on Oct 1, 2020 1:00:00 PM

Topics: Human Resources

Performance reviews are still the most common and widely recognized way for supervisors and managers to develop their direct reports and to provide formal feedback. Providing training to your employees will help your managers give more productive performance reviews and help your employees be better prepared themselves.

Soft skills like “coaching and providing feedback” are precisely the ones that many of today’s managers lack. The first step to mastering this skill is to understand the goal of formal feedback, and why it is a benefit to organizations...when done correctly. The next step is receiving the proper training on how to provide an effective performance review with formal feedback.


Feedback is a Critical Step in Development

Formal feedback is a chance to step back and assess what an employee is doing correctly and what can be improved. When providing it in a formal performance review setting, managers have the opportunity to guide employees in an environment free from distraction, painting a broader picture of the employee’s performance. Employees can be better prepared to hear feedback, both positive and negative, in the formal environment of a performance review.


Set Clear Expectations 

Before you can provide feedback or create a performance review, the manager must first set clear expectations for the employee. What are you providing feedback on? How can you accurately measure their performance if you have nothing to base the measurement on?

Ideally, you will spend time setting SMART goals with your employees that have regular milestones where you can check in on the progress throughout the year. Both parties should be clear on the goals and how those will be evaluated. 


Conduct Regular Check-ins

Take notes at your regular meetings with your team members so you can refer to these when you are writing the performance review. Formal meetings provide another opportunity to provide more timely feedback throughout the year.  

Informal feedback can be provided during day-to-day tasks. For example, an employee sends you a quick update via Slack or your internal messaging platform. Simply replying, "Thanks! Great job!" is an informal way to recognize the employee's work.

Providing regular feedback throughout the year will avoid surprises during the formal performance review.  


Positive Feedback Encourages Positive Performance

Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to encourage proper behavior. Psychologists discovered this decades ago when working with animal models of learning. While “correction” and punishment can discourage certain behaviors, such methods fail to show what positive behaviors to perform in their place. (This is why bad habits are often hard to break—people know they are bad but relapse for lack of a more positive behavior to replace them with.)

The same is true in the workplace: Correction goes only so far. To ensure that employees are living up to their job description, expectations, and company culture, leaders should praise employees when they get these things right. This will encourage them to do “more of the same.”

Currently, ej4 is running a recognition program to do exactly this. Peer-to-peer and manager-to-peer recognition is encouraged to spotlight the employees how go above and beyond on a project, special task or in their day-to-day work. Positive feedback and rewards to encourage positive performance.


Feedback Can Inspire, Motivate, and Engage

The right kind of feedback can inspire, motivate, and engage your employees too. Positive reinforcement not only teaches employees the proper ways to do their job, it also gives them recognition for all the things they have done right. That “feel good” aspect of feedback pays dividends throughout the workweek and beyond.

Constructive criticism, when properly delivered, signals to employees that you are concerned with their performance and want to see them succeed. This can be inspiring, too, if handled well. Once you have laid out the positive steps they can take to improve, employees will be motivated to take on the new challenge. 


Feedback for Performance Reviews

To make the most out of your annual performance review, spend some time preparing.

  • Gather the notes from your regular check-ins so you can summarize and point to specific examples.
  • Read through past performance reviews to note the progress the employee has made towards past goals.
  • Refer to the job description and make notes of what may have changed or need to be reflected in the review document.
  • Identify any reports or company metrics that relate to the employee's work that can support the review. 
  • Assign a self-evaluation to the employee so you can consider that information in advance.

Feedback that sets explicit expectations, recommends concrete actions, and then measures employees’ achievement against these benchmarks sets the groundwork for enhancing performance and growing productivity in the future.

This is also the time to look for opportunities for professional development and training not just weaknesses that need to be improved. Adding a new responsibility or setting a new goal can lay the foundation to a promotion. 

There are, of course, many other ways to perfect the performance review process. Our clients utilize a series of training courses that help both employees and managers make the most out of their performance reviews. You can view this entire series in a free trial of Thinkzoom, our LMS.

  • Effective Performance Reviews
    • For Managers
    • Self-Assessments
    • Preparing for Your Review
    • Handling a Bad Performance Review

Additional Resources


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.

Kathy Irish

Written by Kathy Irish

Kathy joined ej4 in 2007 as our first Instructional Designer. She has over 15 years’ experience in Human Resource Management, Training and Organizational Development. In addition to managing and planning ej4’s yearly new content development, Kathy also oversees all the production on updates (both legal and style-wise) to current off-the-shelf content.