• Emily Gibson

Managing Performance with Positivity

Let’s make appraisals something to smile about!

I long for the day when managers and employees smile at the thought of annual appraisals or performance reviews. With the all-too-common connotations of negativity, if you’re aiming to introduce a good appraisal system into your small business, remember that ‘less is more!’

It might seem good practice to follow some strict guidelines of documenting strengths and weakness, praising the wins and dissecting the failures, setting goals and mapping a career path, but we mustn’t let form-filling drown the opportunity to discuss and really listen!


Yes, we want to be clear on the goals, but it’s a great time to really engage staff, show them the value they add to the business and listen to their ideas or challenges. This is where growth begins, and loyalty is sustained.

Read on for more ‘Thoughts from the HR Patch’ on holding effective and motivating performance reviews.

Appraisal Planning - Be Prepared!

Performance appraisals can be a daunting task for everyone and may even be unpredictable, so make sure you are well prepared in advance. By getting your ducks in a row you will be more likely to cover everything you need to within the meeting and be clear about potential agreed objectives. You will also create a more relaxed environment, giving you the confidence to lead the meeting towards a positive outcome. You may like to steer your employee towards preparing as well. Perhaps they can collate details of their successes, demonstrate some newly learned skills or provide some direct feedback to you on your management style. They will need to think about their future too; whether it’s a personal goal or a career aspiration. Not only will this mean a more balanced two-way review, but it will help them feel more relaxed and open about their experiences within the business. Finally, put the logistics into place; from the space you’ll need for the meeting itself, to the time needed before, during, and after the review. Make sure you set time aside and stick to it! Postponing, being unprepared and not delivering on agreed actions will send the message to the appraisee that they are not important to you.

Progressing the Performance Review


Privacy is essential so make the effort to ensure you have a private space free from disruption. If your premises make that tricky, consider hiring a room or even conducting the review via video call whilst working from home.   Allocate enough time for the performance review and communicate this clearly from the outset so that you are both mindful of the pace of discussions. Clock-watching or rushing a review can be damaging and extremely demoralising for the employee if their moment to shine or vent is cut short. Start the review with thanks and praise for the individual’s contribution to the business and perhaps focus on some specific achievements. While you might be keen to start with your views on the employee’s performance, we must be mindful of the risk or demotivation and demoralisation, which will lead to poor performance and a lack of confidence.

So, first ask your employee to talk about their views on their performance and the work they have done. Once you understand how things are seen from the employee’s perspective, you have the opportunity to be supportive by suggesting ways to improve. Normally, individuals are harder on themselves than their managers are. Allow them to self-reflect first as they will accept their own personal criticism without damage to their confidence, opening the door for you to offer support, advice and suggestions for training/improvement. As you near the end of the review, check your notes to make sure you’ve covered all the key points, summarise your discussion and agree next steps together. After the review, follow up with a list of actions for yourself and your employee. Send them a calendar invite for their next review to demonstrate your commitment to them.

Key Points for Managing Reviews Positively


  • Be mindful of your body language and communication.

  • Actively listen, don’t interrupt – make notes if you have a question to return to.

  • Remove distractions or potential disturbances, such as your phone.

  • Jointly analyse performance to objectively determine what can be done better.

  • Be clear on actual events, targets and goals in question.

  • Don’t comment on attitude – identify the specific behaviour that needs to change.

  • Review meetings should not be a surprise opportunity to bring up poor performance issues for the first time, so feedback should have already been delivered.

  • Whilst there is an opportunity to reflect, your main focus is on the year ahead!

  • Always invite feedback on your role as their manager.

  • Ensure you have a positive outcome to the review and clear objectives in place.



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