5 Tactics To Take Your Performance Reviews From Ordinary to Extraordinary

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Matthew 22:37-40 (Emphasis mine)

Last week I shared how many of the employee benefits offered in start-ups aren’t actually benefits, but are just buzz.. They are like an all you can eat buffet which offer unlimited plates of food. But, you are only one person and can only eat so much. No matter how much food they offer to let you eat, you are limited by your own appetite. The buffet does the math and calculates an average cost of food per diner and they make sure they charge enough per plate to still win.

In this weeks post you will learn how a Kingdom level performance review is structured, how you can use one to engage your bottom performers, and that with the proper reflection you can fix gaps in your hiring and training process. Finally, you will discover how a Godly performance review takes a great deal of time and care and how your team needs you to take full ownership of their development and give them the review they deserve.

As the leader of your team how can you be obedient to Jesus and love your employees (your neighbor) as you love yourself?

A good review can build up your team and should be the best part of your job

When done correctly performance reviews should lift your spirits and subsequently raise the engagement level of your employee. You both should leave your office feeling great. Feeling refreshed, listened to, respected, and motivated. You will be aligned with clear goals for the upcoming year. 

There is no work you can do that is a better use of your time than delivering a strong performance review. There is no better return on investment than this hour to hour and a half with your team. It always surprises me how many leaders blow off their annual reviews. This is unacceptable and if you have any managers on your team that feel performance reviews are a waste of time you need to change their perspective or show them the door. But remember, it starts with you. If you aren’t delivering a world class performance review for your managers this process will not trickle down through the rest of your organization. If someone doesn’t appreciate the nuances and the importance of this part of the business they can’t be a leader on your team. 

“What’s really worried me over the years is not our stock price, but that we might someday fail to take care of our customers, or that our managers might fail to motivate and take care of our associates. I also was worried that we might lose the team concept, or fail to keep the family concept viable and realistic and meaningful to our folks as we grow. Those challenges are more real than somebody’s theory that we’re headed down the wrong path.”

Sam Walton: Made In America, by Sam Walton

Create the evaluation side by side with your employee

You can write down notes and specific feedback in advance and have an idea where you think your employee lands on your evaluation scoring system, but you should come up with the final scores while with your employee.

For example sit down and begin by teaching, 

“First, let me walk you through what each score means on an evaluation.

  • 5… Being absolutely perfect there is nothing more that you can do to improve and you are teaching others and they are being lifted up on this metric as a result.
  • 4… Doing everything you are supposed to be doing here and also teaching your peers and leading by example, but the team is not quite being lifted up as a result.
  • 3… Meeting all expectations. Not teaching others, but doing a great job individually. (This is where most employees will be on most items and it is a great place to be! If your entire team’s average is 3’s you will be unstoppable.)
  • 2… Needs work, meeting expectations some of the times, but not consistently. 
  • 1… This is a huge opportunity. This is holding you back from achieving company and personal goals. Unacceptable.”

Once they understand how the scoring system works you should discuss each evaluation metric side by side. 

“Okay how do you evaluate your performance in customer service this year on a scale of 1 to 5?” 

And then talk through this together and ask for examples.

I’ve discovered that most employees are much tougher on themselves than I ever will be. They may say they are a 2 or a 3 on this metric, but you see them as a 4. Well guess what? This now gives you a fantastic opportunity to build them up and give them a confidence boost! Because you didn’t write the evaluation in advanced you can share with them how you view their customer service performance much better than they do and why. You can make them feel great and share how you are going to raise their score above where they see it. If you notice your team member now has a big goofy and proud grin on their face during a performance review, you are on your way to carrying out a Kingdom level performance review.

This method helps when you hit an area of their review where they have big opportunities. Because the review is now a collaboration they are much more likely to listen when you share constructive criticism with their metrics that are a 1 or 2.

“This is not just about morale. There are plenty of happy employees in companies that don’t have mojo, just as you can find some unhappy employees in companies that do. Nor is it just about compensation, perks, and benefits, as important as those may be. There’s something else shaping the work environment of the companies in this book—something that promotes a profound sense of belonging, of psychic ownership—and it’s a necessary, if not a sufficient, condition for achieving what the companies aspire to. That other factor is, once again, intimacy. By that, I mean a relationship so close employees never doubt that the company, its leaders, and the other people they work with care about them personally and will stand by them through thick and thin as long as they hold up their end of the bargain.” 

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingham

Reviews should take a long time to prepare for and to administer

This performance review process takes a lot of time. It is much quicker for me to sit down and assign scores for an employee, grab them, and then explain where I think they stand. But what good is that? They worked an entire year for you. Over 2,000 hours. Do not blow off this opportunity to give back some of that time. 

If you aren’t spending at least one hour on an annual review you aren’t doing a good enough job. You should be spending at least that much time to build them up, thank them for everything they did in the last year, find a handful of behaviors and examples to praise, and one or two things for them to improve on professionally in the upcoming year. 

Do not let them walk out of the room with a long list of 15 things to work on. Pick one or two and leave it at that. When you meet with them for a quarterly check-in come back to these two things, do not change them! Celebrate with them if they met your goal. Don’t change the goal just because they achieved it. Help make this area a strength for them. Spend so much time praising and encouraging them that when you sit down next year they are a 4 or a 5! This is how you get traction and take your team to another level. You don’t build a world class team by changing goals every three months or by having a culture with the flavors of the week. 

But remember, in order to execute reviews at this level you must pick the right behaviors and goals for them to work on. The ones that will move the needle the most. Otherwise you will be tempted to change them frequently because they won’t work. Oftentimes your employee will know what that should be with more accuracy than you do. So ask them! 

A good review will help you lead your bottom performers

How should evaluations with your bottom performers look different than with your top performers? Well… It starts with your mindset. I believe that I am responsible for the performance of my team. If they aren’t performing well it must be my fault. I either hired the wrong person, put them in the wrong role, did not give them clear direction or goals, didn’t give them proper training, or I did not find the best ways to motivate them.

Conversations will look much different if you approach performance reviews from the frame of mind that your team is a direct reflection of your leadership. Rather than a review being demeaning and judgmental and all about pointing out flaws in their workmanship. It is an opportunity for you to discover holes in your processes. Maybe you need to do a better job screening candidates for this position. Or your onboarding program isn’t setting the team up to win. Is your coaching program identifying the team’s unique strengths and leaning into them or are is it trying to make everyone fit into the same mold? Are your expectations for being on your team clearly communicated? Are you treating everyone exactly the same or based on their individual strengths? 

You can answer all of this and much more if you spend quality time during the review process with your bottom performers. No one applies for a job, goes through the lengthy interview process, gets a background check and takes a drug test, sits through orientation and the onboarding process, gets their uniform and then wakes up and shows up to work and says, “I am going to do a terrible job today. I want to make my boss look bad, I want to ignore everything that I learned, and throw away my common sense.” 

If you believe your team has their best intentions at heart and you believe in treating them as you treat yourself then something must have went wrong in the process. Find out where and fix it! And show compassion to this employee during their performance review and take ownership of the opportunity. They were probably thrown to the sharks to fend for themselves as most employees that underperform were and they are doing the best they can do. Throw them a life vest, make them feel great, and give them the additional direction they need. With the right focus your under performers will quickly become important contributing members of your team. But you must take full ownership of their failures. And remember, they get full credit for their success.

I will write further about actively disengaged employees that need to be removed or repositioned in a future post. But I don’t want to give you any excuses right now. Most of the time you can course correct a bottom performer. Very rarely are they worth tossing aside completely.

“Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team. They must face the facts through a realistic, brutally honest assessment of themselves and their team’s performance. Identifying weaknesses, good leaders seek to strengthen them and come up with a plan to overcome challenges. The best teams anywhere, like the SEAL Teams, are constantly looking to improve, add capability, and push the standards higher. It starts with the individual and spreads to each of the team members until this becomes the culture, the new standard. The recognition that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders facilitates Extreme Ownership and enables leaders to build high-performance teams that dominate on any battlefield, literal or figurative.”

Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink

Preparing the room for success

A trick to achieving Kingdom level performance reviews is to setup the room correctly. Start by keeping the employee’s evaluation scores hidden. Usually the review is sitting there for the employee to look through while you are talking about their performance. However, if you have the scores visible you lost them. They are no longer going to be listening to the feedback you are giving, no matter how good it is, but instead they will just be looking at the scores and making their own judgements. It is much better to talk through everything first before hand. And then share their scores when you are done. 

Tell the rest of your team you are unavailable and lock the room. You need to give the person in front of you 100% of your attention. You must not have any distractions. You do not want anyone popping into the room to ask a quick question, you can’t take any phone calls, reply to a text, or handle any issues. Put your phone on airplane mode and close your laptop. This is the time for you to give back to your employee. If you allow yourself to be distracted you are not giving them the respect they deserve. Remember… They worked hard all year long for you. You can give them at least one hour of your full, undivided attention.

Over the years while receiving my own performance reviews and observing the delivery of reviews from my leaders I have witnessed that it often feels like a police interrogation. Each party sits on opposite sides of the table, the employee is a bit on edge and the manager is sitting tall and confidently with a stack of papers while completely leading the conversation. The employee just sitting still and not saying a word.

This method of delivering a performance review is completely wrong. Reviews are meant to be a collaboration. There is a lot this team member does behind the scenes that you may not see! You can’t assume that you know exactly how the review is going to go. You may have some ideas, but if you aren’t including their input while submitting the final review you are letting them down. 

I have found that setting a table up and putting two chairs side by side on the same side of the table completely changes the scene. It shows that this is not from the top to the bottom review that they must just accept, but a partnership. And instantly makes it clear that this review is different. Their manager is actually going to be listening to what they have to say!

Make sure you are scheduling the review far in advanced and stick to the scheduled time. Give your employee some pre-work to think about prior to the review. If you have been doing a good job with their quarterly check-ins they will know what to expect in their annual review. But even so, you should give them a list of what you are going to be talking about, so that they are ready to discuss it.

Late reviews are unacceptable And what counts as late? Anything after two weeks before their anniversary date is late. The day of or even worse a few weeks later is inexcusable. You must have a strict policy for this and any of your managers that deliver a review less than two weeks before an anniversary date should be held accountable. This is one of my very few lines in the sand. Employees know when their anniversary date is and oftentimes they are anxiously waiting for that date. Not because they are so eager to hear your feedback, but because that is when they’ll get a meager 3-4% pay increase. Don’t leave them waiting and wondering.

“When blame inevitably arises, the most senior people in the room should repeat this mantra: if a mistake happens, shame on us for making it so easy to make that mistake.” 

The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries


Reviews are an opportunity for you to praise your team and lift their spirits. With the right performance review process you are guaranteed to have a winning team and engaged employees. Your kingdom performance indicator of employee turnover will make your human resource’s managers happy. Your team will stay with you for the long haul and will be more likely to jump through fire to help move the needs of your organization forward. You will form a culture of development from within and you will find yourself promoting eligible candidates from within your own company instead of always hiring externally.

Next week I will cover Kingdom level employee development at length, but know that reviews are an essential piece of the puzzle. They are an opportunity for you to build up your teams confidence and are a chance for you to thank them for all that they have done in the prior year. Don’t let your team down!

4 replies on “5 Tactics To Take Your Performance Reviews From Ordinary to Extraordinary”

So practical! I love how you paint a picture with your writing. I will definitely transition my approach with anyone I review in the future so it’s more collaborative. Brilliant blog post!

Thanks for writing this! Appreciate the reminder to focus on timeliness for reviews, I remember feeling disappointed when my leaders skipped/rescheduled/delayed our 1:1s or performance reviews

When giving reviews, what kind of universal character traits have you found useful to include on the review?

For leaders:

empathetic, patient, accessible, adaptable/flexible, strategic, inspiring, fair, humble, observant, organized, realistic/understanding

For employees:

cheerful, clever/knowledgable, confident, cooperative, disciplined/hardworking, efficient, honest, self-sufficent/knowledgeable/and resourceful, well-rounded

these are mostly selected from:

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