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Conducting Effective Performance Reviews Virtually

INTERVIEW EDGE • FEB 2021

woman conducting effective virtual performance review

As employees continue to work remotely, managers find themselves in a quandary on how to manage work performance and motivate employees. They are often left wondering how to effectively conduct virtual performance reviews during the pandemic.

To begin with, many managers dislike doing performance reviews – they are time consuming, shift focus away from critical priorities, and they’re hard to do. These days, it seems they’re even harder to do well. Few managers approach the evaluation process with enthusiasm – which could be why few employees get excited about performance reviews.

This presents a real problem. Performance reviews, both formal and informal, are essential to team productivity and professional growth.

Fortunately, the interview questions from our Effective Interviewing!® training can make the performance evaluation process more constructive and effective. And these questions are especially helpful for virtual performance reviews.

Exceptional Leaders Engage in Informal Performance Feedback First


Formal performance management processes often don’t deliver what they promise, simply because they’re formal. Many employees assume an annual review is boilerplate and borderline generic.

Informal performance feedback is different. If you catch people doing something right and praise them for it, they tend to continue to improve. The same is true with giving feedback on behavior immediately after a problem occurs. That is, if you tell people not just what didn’t work, but also how they can improve – and then you take steps to help them do so – they will improve.

You’ll find some of the Self-Appraisal questioning techniques provided in our Effective Interviewing!® training are good tools for informal performance feedback.

For example, imagine you’re a sales manager and a major customer feels expectations set by your sales team were not met. You schedule and attend a Zoom meeting alongside the sales rep, where his goal is to repair the relationship. As it turns out, he is not prepared to answer some of the hard questions the customer asks, nor does he present a solid plan for going forward.

After the meeting, you address his lack of preparation. Instead of filing the incident away for his annual review, you talk with him about it right away and say, "You always seem so prepared for our meetings with customers. What was it about this situation that was different?”

The result? You immediately set expectations and create an opportunity for a candid conversation regarding his performance. You create the opportunity to provide coaching with practical application to real situations.

The same applies where an employee does an exceptional job. If your sales rep had been extremely effective, you could say, "You really came prepared and did a thorough job answering their questions. And you laid out a clear, detailed plan for how we’ll address the problems they’ve experienced. How were you able to prepare so well under such a tight deadline?”

Sure, you could simply say “Great job.” But complimenting effort and achievement sends a much more powerful message – and it shows that you not only recognize but appreciate your employee’s diligence. So too does using the Self-Appraisal questioning technique which encourages employees to reflect on their own performance. This in turn allows them to take note of what they did well and also consider what they could do better.

Remember, providing informal feedback isn’t incidental to your job – when you do a better job of coaching your employees, they tend to perform better.

With that in mind, let’s look at how formal reviews can be more effective.

Improve Formal Performance Reviews with the Interview Funnel™


Let’s start with a basic premise. Formal performance reviews can be similar to job interviews. That is, give employees the opportunity to talk about their performance and you can gain valuable insights into their skills, perspectives, and required competencies, just like you do in a selection interview. This can be even more effective if you use a conversational interview approach such as our Interview Funnel™.

For example, try using the following Topic-Opener question from our Effective Interviewing!® training to begin the formal performance appraisal with an employee, much like you would with a candidate – "Your department had a strong quarter, and you’ve made a sizable contribution. Tell me about the rewards and challenges you’ve experienced over this past quarter."

Asking the employee to evaluate her performance creates a foundation for a candid discussion about that performance.

You can then follow up with a series of Self-Appraisal questions that probe the employee's accomplishments. You could ask, “What do you think it was about your work that led to an increased profit margin on that product?" Or, "What was it about how you managed that project that enabled you to deliver the design on time and under budget?"

Once you have spent considerable time focusing on positives, shift the focus to get the employee talking about his or her perceived areas of development. That’s the approach we take when we use Probing for Concern questions from our Effective Interviewing!® training. It’s much better to let the employee bring up limitations before you propose areas you have observed that need improvement.

For example, you could say, “Your productivity has improved greatly over the past year. That is terrific. Now, tell me where you think you can improve to further increase your contribution to the team's output."

Then if there are discrepancies between your appraisal of the candidate and the candidate's self-appraisal, tackle those head-on. For example, you might say, "In reviewing your own evaluation of your performance, I noticed you rated yourself higher in delegation than I did. Tell me more how you see your strengths in delegating and give me a few examples of the situations you were thinking of when you rated yourself."

The employee may or may not have solid examples to share. Either way, you’ll get to talk about his or her performance in objective, behavior-based terms, which paves the way for you to provide effective coaching.

In fact, effective coaching is in essence what a performance review really is and should be.

And here’s what a performance review should not be – a “surprise.” Nothing you say during a formal performance review – whether positive or negative – should come as a surprise to your employee. Ideally, formal evaluations are merely a recap of performance over a certain time period. If any feedback you give during a formal session comes as news to your employee, it means you haven’t been giving enough informal feedback along the way.

As you can see, Effective Interviewing!® questions can be applied to more than just the selection interview. They help managers increase employee engagement in today’s virtual work environment and make the performance review process more productive and meaningful for manager and employee alike.