Drive Employee Engagement

How to conduct an emotionally intelligent performance review that nurtures employee engagement

Adding levity and insight to your performance management evaluation process is easier (and less messy) than carving a ripe watermelon.

(Warning: this is the BEST PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT BLOG EVER … but the bar wasn’t set that high.)

There’s at least one thing in the world less enjoyable than low-carb diets, and that’s traditional performance reviews. Everybody’s been there. Sometime in your life, you’ve either had a really bad job interview, a contentious and unfair performance review, or both. (Perhaps you’ve even been interrogated by the police on suspicion of shoplifting Bubble Yum? … Don’t worry, Nancy—we won’t tell.)

Intuitively and emotionally, you know exactly why traditional performance reviews suck. And yet, we understand that it’s really hard to get this right when you’re on the other side of the table. After all, there’s an “accepted way of doing things” and when you’ve got so much else going on, the idea of reinventing the performance review process might feel like juggling cats. (Wait, is it herding cats? Juggling knives? Whatever—the point is, performance management is a bear. … No offense to bears.)

As we’ve written before, HR leaders increasingly recognize that performance management needs to be more employee-centric, agile, frequent and balanced. The following insights will help you conduct more insightful reviews with less stress.


From the standpoint of HR, what does a successful performance review look like? We know the answer to this question varies from one organization to another, but there are a few generalities (we’ll gloss over some obvious stuff in the interest of brevity):

  • A good performance review will generally leave the employee feeling heard and valued. In turn, that will boost engagement and motivation.
  • It will yield insights about company culture, workflows, goals and team dynamics.
  • It will ensure that people are able to make their highest contributions by better aligning their roles to their strengths and aspirations.
  • It will identify leadership potential and sensible strategies for advancement. 
  • It will occasionally flag employees not suited to advancement, or outright problem employees.

In a nutshell, a good performance review will yield unguarded and useful responses. And the best way of achieving this is to make it conversational and ask open-ended questions.

General principles

We believe that a performance review that turns dread into delight rests on a few key ideas:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Questions like “Do you feel that the team is working well collaboratively?” invite stifled yes/no answers followed by awkward pauses. An example of an open-ended alternative is, “What are things that either strengthen or interfere with team collaboration around here?” In contrast to yes/no questions, open-ended questions invite people into conversations. On that note…
  2. Make the review process conversational, not interrogative. Not only is this respectful, kind and affirming way to treat people; it’s just good business sense. Do you want to learn about your business’s shortcomings and strengths directly, or read about them on Glassdoor? This approach empowers you to manage things proactively.
  3. Stress that there aren’t specific right or wrong answers. You want candor, right? If people feel like there are specific right- and wrong answers, they’re going to be cagey. Literally say something to the effect that “These questions do NOT have right or wrong answers. We want to know your perspective.”
  4. Set a conversational tone with (ingenuous) small talk. Think of the last time you were at a party (haha, I suppose that might be hard given the events of the last year) and someone you had just met asked you, “So what do you do?” These “cocktail party questions” send people immediately into a self-conscious, analytical mindset. Just as in your social life, you don’t want people answering questions feeling like they’re supposed to sound impressive—you want openness. So there’s nothing wrong with asking questions that are personal. They’ll help people loosen up.

The more you put someone at ease, the more insightful and authentic their answers are going to be. So don’t insist on laser-focusing on their professional lives.

We’ll plug your existing forms and questions into our module and it will run like a gazelle.

P.S. Yes this is a free demo. P.P.S. – Yes it’s actually kind of fun.

Performance reviews

To a large extent, constructive performance reviews are about assessing and bolstering employee motivation. This was the topic of one of the most widely viewed TED talks ever given, as well as speaker/author Daniel Pink’s bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink waxes on three key ingredients for intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy – The urge to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – The desire to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

A performance review conducted in an emotionally intelligent manner is a golden opportunity to enhance people’s perceptions of autonomy, mastery and purpose, motivating your team members to shine. That’s why we’ve compiled and categorized a guide with 30 performance review questions to help you conduct even more insightful, balanced review process that touches all the bases. IT WILL BE ALMOST AS USEFUL AS DUCT TAPE (Or is it duck tape? Hmm. We get mixed up on that one.)

Opt in here to have those questions delivered to your inbox. So good, you’ll feel like you got a surprise package from Etsy. Except you don’t have to worry about porch pirates.

HR software that simplifies it all

  • Eliminate paperwork
  • Optimize performance management
  • Get rid of spreadsheets
  • Streamline employee onboarding

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