How to make your performance review useful

A performance review can either be a very useful opportunity to learn and grow - or a complete waste of time.

And useful, constructive feedback is what makes the difference.

Feedback is like a mirror:

  • without a mirror, we cannot see ourselves clearly - only bits at a time

  • with one mirror, we get one point of view on ourselves

  • but with many mirrors, we can see many different angles and perspectives, including some we never see (like the back of our own head!).

This article sets out a process for multi-mirror feedback that you can use in advance of your performance review.

This process should result in constructive feedback that you can directly act upon to improve your performance and results.

Step One: agree this process with your boss (if necessary)

If your organisation doesn’t do this kind of performance feedback, specifically ask your boss a month before your review whether you can do that this year:

“I am really keen to make sure that I keep progressing and learning. Would it be OK with you if I asked for performance feedback from my colleagues and contacts for us to discuss during my performance review? I think it would be a really helpful source of constructive feedback for me.”

Step Two: decide WHO to ask

I recommend that you ask a range of people: your boss, your fellow team-members, your reportees, your boss’s PA, your boss’s boss, colleagues across your organisation.

I would also recommend asking external colleagues if you work with them regularly - their perspective, as an outsider, can be particularly helpful.

Ideally you want between 5-10 across a wide range.

Be sensible: don’t ask your boss’s boss if they have no idea who you are! But if you have a working relationship, then ask them.

(And make sure you clear this with your boss first during your initial conversation - never “arc”, ie go above your boss’s head, they won’t thank you for it…)

Step Three: decide WHAT to ask

This will depend on the specific requirements of your job.

Most job specifications these days are competency-based, so you could include your relevant competencies such as:

  • communication

  • teamwork

  • leadership

  • management

  • problem-solving

  • strategic thinking

  • decision-making

  • technical skills

Or if it makes more sense for you, ask specific questions in relation to specific aspects of your job: “How well do you think I understand the complexities of the legislation in relation to this subject?”

And make sure you specifically ask for them to identify room for improvement: “Where/ how do you think I might improve in this area?”

It is a good idea also to include some more general questions:

  • “What do you think I did well this year?”

  • “What do you think I should focus on improving on next year?”

  • “What knowledge or skill gaps do you think I should work on next year?”

Ideally, construct an easy-to-fill-in Word document. Give your respondents room to give you a score per question, plus space to explain that score.

And make sure you give them sufficient time to complete it - not less than a week (any longer and it risks slipping off the “to do” list).

Finally, be appropriately grateful! If someone takes this seriously, it is not a small job, and it is very valuable to you.

Offer them coffee; offer to return the favour. Make it clear what a difference it will make to you - people like to know they are doing something useful.

Step Four: collate the results

Do whatever works for you: a spreadsheet, a Word document. But make sure you have taken the time to synthesise and summarise the feedback before your performance review.

Give that document to your boss in advance of the meeting, so they have a chance to review the results too.

And ensure that the document includes some very clear recommendations for you to action in the year ahead.

Step Five: agree the way forward with your boss

This is what really matters: you now have a completely different level of clarity about your performance, thanks to the wide-range of feedback you’ve received.

And this should include some really useful, specific, concrete actions you can take to improve your performance in the year to come.

But it is all pointless unless you act on it.

> So make sure the actions are included in your goals for the year ahead.

> Ask for these to be reviewed regularly (either at your normal periodic reviews, or ask for additional quarterly reviews, to help you drive forward on these actions).

> And if they require support or resources from the organisation or your boss, ask for these.

You may not always get a yes (“Of course you can spend £10k and take a year off to do a Masters”); but if you don’t ask…


And that’s it - five steps to turn your performance review from pointless to pivotal, using the power of feedback.

As always, one final thought: if you are a manager yourself, suggest to your reportees that they implement this system before their next performance review.

You will find yourself with a more motivated, more effective member of staff.

Good luck!


p.s. I take my clients through this process as part of my Career Accelerator Programme. For more information or to reserve your space on the next round, click here.

p.p.s. I am in London next week for the Flexible Working Debate myself and my colleague Nicola Pitt are organising in support of the Young Women's Trust. It would be lovely to see you there! To book your ticket, click here.