Human Resources

How to Conduct an Effective Staff Review



Undertaking staff reviews can seem like a needless bureaucratic process, which many business owners and HR professionals neglect.

In workforces in which HR don’t have a lot of time to prepare and develop employees, annual reviews can become nothing more than a monotonous tick in a box.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case as these can be fantastic opportunities to engage with employees and spot potential Thinking Performers.

Get ready to change your view on these check-ins entirely and learn how to blow employees’ minds with your next stellar round of annual reviews.




Why are Staff Reviews Important?

Ineffective or an absence of staff reviews can hurt a business in a multitude of ways. Your staff become demotivated, the culture is negatively impacted, there’s little forum for discussion – and that’s just to start with!

If you’re working hard to increase engagement and implement new schemes, then a lack of annual reviews can detract from the results.

If they don’t have an opportunity to air out grievances, employees may speak among themselves about confidential matters. While there’s little you can do to stop this entirely, you can mitigate it by providing an open setting for them to come to you instead.

If staff members aren’t aware of their performance, then they won’t change the poor behaviours and may stop ones that should be nurtured. Staff members with a poor performance can be prompted to ask for help, explain issues in their role or even alter their performance entirely.

On the flip side, those that are performing well in their job should be recognised. Praising their performance confirms they’re on the right track, which will make them more likely to continue. The last thing you want is for a valuable member of staff to become demotivated because they no longer feel appreciated.

Staff reviews are intrinsically linked to productivity; checking in with employees allows for you to give them the tools to become better at their job and motivate them. The Peters and Waterman factors can be used to impress on the employee their role within the company and provide positive reinforcement.

Some larger companies, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have publicly spurned the staff review and deem it unimportant. However, for most companies this remains the best and most effective way to gauge employee engagement.

Informal conversations have their place, but a more formal annual review is key to tracking and encouraging good employee behaviours.

With the best will in the world, you might try to conduct more informal conversations with staff but it’s common for these to fall by the wayside. Setting a concrete time and place makes these more likely to occur.




How to Invite Staff to a Review

This process will vary, depending on whether you’re just setting up a system of reviews or if there’s an existing system to improve upon. If there is no system so far, then you need to get to a good base level with all members of staff.

To get an overview of all staff, ask them to complete a survey of their own performance and if there’s anything that the company can improve upon. Line managers should also fill out a survey on the employee’s performance.

While handing out these surveys, you may want to also schedule a time with each employee. Bear in mind that you’ll need to stagger these if you’re implementing a new system. Try to give each employee a reasonable amount of time to chat through their progress, without allowing this process to take over your working life.

Should the review run for longer than anticipated, you can reschedule until a later time or date. Try to give each employee the time that they need to chat through all elements fully. It can be tricky to divide your time fairly but be firm when you feel that the conversation is no longer productive.

Adam’s Equity Theory tells us that employees must feel fairly treated and a fair balance must be struck between the employee and employer. The exact meaning of this has changed a lot since its inception in 1965, so work to understand what makes the individual employee feel fairly treated.

If the employee is feeling short changed by the employer, then you need to figure out what it would take to change this.




Preparing for the Process

Comparing the answers that you receive and working back through all the information you have on the employee begins to build up a picture. Take notes on anything that stands out to you from this stage and talk through it while in the review.

If you have access to data to back up the assertions of your review, then this is even better. This could be customer satisfaction reviews, productivity rates or almost anything quantifiable. At certain points, you might notice trends and you can then build to work upon these.

For instance, if the employee is more productive in the morning but has a slump in the afternoon, then they may be happier with an earlier shift. Not everything that you suggest will be welcomed emphatically but showing that you’re aware of the situation is always desirable.

If there are large disparities between the employee’s response and their manager’s response, then you may want to investigate this further. The employee may not be getting adequate, regular feedback that shows what is expected in their position. This could then be a point to touch on in the review of the line manager for better all-round communication.


What to Cover

Ideally, you want to start off the process on a neutral tone, don’t start off with negativity! A simple ‘thank you’ will get things off on the right foot, as they’ve completed the forms and made time for the meeting.

Then, you can refer to your notes to take you through the stages of the review. This will give the review structure, as you move through the main points. Praising the positive behaviour is a no brainer but avoid being negative about the supposed failings before they have a chance to explain.

Going back to our previous example of the worker with the afternoon slump, you may not have realised that a regular meeting or phone call takes up part of their time. If you start this conversation with an accusatory or negative tone, they won’t be receptive to your help going forward.

When challenging a negative action, the feedback will be more likely to be understood if you can point to specific scenarios. Being able to frame the feedback as a process from ‘here’s what you’ve done in the past’ to ‘here’s what I need you to do in future’ is greatly beneficial to employees.  

This should be an open conversation with the company and the employee. Allow them to highlight any issues or gaps in their knowledge, while keeping things professional. You don’t want to get drawn into a long conversation with no real direction!




Refer to your main points where possible. This will ensure that the review progresses in a timely manner. At the end, you may wish to open it up to the employee and allow them to air anything they believe that the company could do to make things more positive.

This is also a good way to explore their ambitions; you could suggest training in business management or leadership to progress their career. Set SMART goals and timescales to push the employee to complete these tasks.


Dealing with Issues in Staff Reviews

While you’ll no doubt want to give your employees glowing reviews, staff reviews can stir up some issues. If you’ve kept your cool and made sure the staff review has stayed on track thus far, you’ll be better equipped to get through these issues.

Diffusing the situation may prove necessary, as you don’t want to engage with an emotional dialogue. Depending on the employee and their perception of their work, they may become upset, angry or defiant. This can happen with any staff review, though if you deliver one firmly but fairly it’s less likely to devolve into this.

The employee may become frustrated if they feel like their concerns aren’t being taken seriously or if a solution isn’t forthcoming. In this situation, you want to take the time to reassure them that you are listening, and you will do what is feasible to help with the issue.

Identifying areas for training and growth increases employee engagement with the company. Regular staff reviews create a more open culture, with all employees ready to share their feedback with employers. If the discussion is productive, then both parties profit from this arrangement.


Conducting stellar staff reviews can have a hugely positive effect on the workforce. Reinforcing positive actions, providing opportunities for progression and training all work to boost productivity.


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