What to Say in a Performance Review: Communication Tips for Performance Reviews

In this article, we’re going to talk about communication tips for performance reviews, specifically, what to say in your annual performance review.

I know a lot of you will be preparing for a performance review with your supervisor this month. Let’s look at how you can get it right and approach it with clarity and confidence.  

Why do we even need performance reviews?

It might seem like a waste of time to have a performance review, but in the professional world, they serve a number of important purposes. 

  • They help your employer know about your employee success. 
  • They help you get feedback about your performance at work. 
  • They help you think critically about how you can improve and grow as a professional.

When performance reviews are done well, and when you can shine in the meeting, they can make it a lot easier for you to get promoted or receive a pay rise in the future.

What to Say in a Performance Review?

Performance reviews only happen a couple of times a year (generally) so it’s important to get it right. Here’s what you need to talk about to ace your performance review.

What to say in a performance review

1. Highlight Your Achievements

The first step is to highlight your achievements. Highlighting your achievements in the performance review will give you an opportunity to start the conversation off on a positive note. When you focus on your achievements or strengths, you’ll look excited and positive about your work. Your boss will pick up on this energetic vibe and they’ll know that you’re an engaged and satisfied employee. This will obviously win you points with them because it will make them feel that they’re doing a good job as your boss.

The main problem most people have though, when talking about their achievements, is it’s hard for them to think of things they’ve achieved, and to be confident when talking about them. This issue is addressed in another blog post, How to Speak Confidently About Your Achievements.

As to thinking of things you’ve achieved, this is what you can consider: 

  • Parts of your job that you’ve been successful at
  • Tasks you’ve enjoyed 
  • Tasks you’ve completed quickly and efficiently
  • Activities that have attracted positive feedback from colleagues or your boss
  • Challenges you’ve overcome

Maybe you successfully organised an online webinar for your company. Maybe you got a difficult client to pay their invoice. I’m sure there are many things you’ve achieved since your last performance review, you just need to remember what they are!

When communicating your achievements in the performance review, use the PCOR Method:

P: What was the project?

C: What challenges did you face?

O: How did you overcome those challenges?

R: What were the results you generated?

Talk about your achievement using this sequence in the performance review. 

For example, “Last quarter, I worked on the marketing campaign for Umbrellas Inc. The challenge I faced in this project was communicating clearly to other team members what was expected of them. Occasionally people didn’t complete the tasks they were assigned in an effective way. But I learned to overcome this challenge. I organised one-on-one meetings with each person and asked them to tell me what they think the expectation of them was. This allowed me to see where there was a gap and where I needed to change how I communicated. After doing this for a couple of weeks, tasks were being completed on time and to standard”. 

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2. Talk About How You’ve Progressed

The second step is to talk about how you’ve progressed since your last performance review. What did you learn in the achievements you just told your boss about? What have you learned generally since your last employee evaluation? What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in the projects you’ve worked on or in the teams you’ve worked in?

Talking about how you’ve progressed helps your supervisor understand how you’ve grown. What you’ve learned. How you’ve improved. This is something they might (unintentionally) overlook. You have to remember that they’re busy and they might not always see the progress you make. It’s your responsibility to bring this to their attention.

Before your employee evaluation:

  • Think of 3-5 skills you’ve learned/improved on since your last performance review.
  • Use before and after examples to communicate this to your boss.

For example: “Before working on project xyz, I had never been in charge of a group project before. Now I know how to clearly communicate goals to people, get them motivated to work towards those goals, set specific deadlines to work towards, so we can achieve the desired result”.

3. Talk About Areas You Want to Improve On

The third step is to talk about areas you can improve on. If you put your ego aside and adopt the learning mindset [LINK], there will always be areas you can improve on.

Don’t be the person who thinks they’re great at everything and doesn’t need to learn anything. You’ll get reputation of being egotistical. Instead, it’s important that you recognise and understand there are areas you need to work on.

Before your performance review:

  • Think of 1-2 areas you need to improve on
  • Look at the projects you’ve worked on. Where did your weakness lie?
  • Consider role-related skills and soft skills

Communicate the areas you need to improve on using this structure.

Talk about:

  • Your weakness
  • Your intent to improve on that weakness
  • A timeframe in which you will improve on that weakness
  • Hint at learning and development opportunities you’d like

For example, “When I was organising the webinar, I felt that I could have managed my time better. This is something I’d like to work on and improve on in the next 3-6 months. And I’d like to take a course that will teach me good time management skill”.

Do you see how I’ve talked about a weakness, your intent to improve on that weakness, a timeframe, and hint at L&D opportunities you’d like?

You can also link the areas you want to improve on to your future career goals.

For example, “For our next performance review in 12 months time, I want to have lead a project with a bigger team. I feel I did a great job leading 5 people, achieving the goals I aimed for, and I’d like to strengthen my team management ability with a bigger team”.

When you talk about areas you want to improve and link it to a future career goal, it makes you look like a proactive, dedicated professional.

4. Ask About Future Plans

The fourth step is to ask about future plans for the team, department, or company. This helps you show interest in big picture. And it helps you understand how you are linked to the big picture. It’s a great conversation point for aspiring leaders or anyone who wants to advance in their career.

For example, you can ask: 

  • “What are main goals for [company name] in next 12 months?”
  • “What are the main goals for Department xyz in the next 12 months” 

You might be surprised at the information you can uncover. And if you’ve done a good job with the first three steps I talked about in this blog post, your boss will feel more confident revealing this information to you.

5. Ask About Future Expectations

The fifth step is to ask about future expectations your boss has of you. This shows you are proactive and it emphasises your willingness to learn and improve. Employers respond really well to this. They want to know the people they’ve hired are invested in their own growth and success, just like company was when they recruited you.

When you ask about future expectations your boss has of you, include things like:

  • What future skills will you need to learn?
  • What future projects does your boss plan to involve you in?
  • Who would they like you to work with? 
  • Will your level of responsibility increase and by how much?
  • Do the future expectations tie in with your own career goals?

These questions help you picture your future with that company. It can also help your boss picture you in higher-level positions or taking on more responsibility.

As a note of warning, if your employer doesn’t respond well to this question, it could mean they don’t see you growing with them in the company. In that minute but possible situation, you should start thinking about whether you’re working for right company.

After the performance review, you should walk away with three future expectations your boss has of you. 

For managers and leaders who need to conduct a performance review but are unsure how to do it:

If you’re a manager or leader who needs to conduct a performance review, then the below video will help give you the structure you need to conduct a performance review effectively.

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About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox