[Power Hour wrap-up]: Get prepared for performance reviews

At The Mintable, we focus our training on the moments where managers have an outsized impact on their teams and business performance. A key place where this happens is during key moments in the employee lifecycle. Think – hiring, onboarding, retention, and offboarding.

Our latest training feature for managers, Power Hours, give managers the skills and tools they need for these moments that matter. These practical, 1-hour, live training sessions led by expert facilitators are included in our AdvanceMint memberships.

In our first Power Hour hosted by The Mintable’s Head of Learning, Trisha Duffy, we focused on how managers can prepare for performance reviews. Why? While they can feel draining and overwhelming for both managers and their direct reports, well-executed performance reviews can be a gift that keeps on giving. They ensure high-potential employees feel recognized and motivated to succeed within the company.

On the flipside, bad performance reviews can be like a cold that won’t go away – leading to lowered employee morale, attrition and anxiety for both manager and employee.

Read on for the top learnings from the session.

Out with the old, in with the new

When done effectively, performance reviews are a powerful way to motivate, progress and develop direct reports. To achieve this, start by throwing away the stale old performance review playbook.

Many organizations only require one formal review per year, and typically it runs in parallel to the end of fiscal year, meaning that managers will find themselves reviewing performance and communicating compensation decisions at the same time. When this happens, the conversation stops being focused on individual development and can become about money, leading to contentious results.

By employing a Design Thinking framework – empathize, define, ideate, and prototype and test – managers can steer clear of unproductive reviews and elevate team member and business performance.

How to apply a Design Thinking framework to performance reviews

1. Empathize

Pro Tip: Reflecting on the right questions can help managers approach each review with empathy.

To best prepare performance reviews, we have to think like people, not robots. And, let’s face it – this kind of empathy can be more difficult to come by as managers facing back-to-back meetings, planning, end-of-year execution, and myriad responsibilities.

Empathizing with direct reports means managers need to take the time to understand the person they’re reviewing. They must also avoid the classic pitfalls that can arise in reviews – like recency bias (i.e. only being able to recall what a direct report has done in the last weeks or months), failure to prepare for multiple reviews happening at once, or only focusing on the negative aspects of an individual’s performance. To achieve this, we recommend centering yourself with a persona generating exercise.

Take the time to consider:

  • Demographic information: name, role level, tenure, and your performance rating for that cycle.
  • Behaviors of the individual: including their habits, likes, dislikes, strengths and opportunities for development
  • Strengths in the last review cycle: review projects the direct report has completed and reflect on where they knocked it out of the park and where they need to improve.
  • Challenges, obstacles & interference: consider circumstances that may have interfered with the performance of your direct report throughout the review cycle. Think: reorgs, layoffs, being short-staffed, a change in strategy and priority etc.

2. Define

Pro Tip: Defining your agenda in advance will help focus the review on the areas that are most helpful for both the direct report and you (the manager).

While performance review scores and ratings are common, they will set the tone of a review. A 3/10 (or a “not meeting expectations”) is going to convey dissatisfaction. A 9/10 (or an “exceeding expectations” is going to convey appreciation and recognition.

It’s important to be clear about the score or rating, AND to encourage a dialogue that goes beyond the performance score.

We use the word “dialogue” for a reason! A performance review should be a discussion between you and your direct, where 50% of your time is spent reflecting on the work that happened during the review cycle. The other 50% should focus on discussing and aligning on a path forward together based on a person’s motivations, strengths, and goals balanced against the organization’s needs.

The best performance reviews are structured to encourage dialogue and feedback. Consider which feelings and outcomes you are trying to elicit or avoid. Do you want to retain, motivate or help the employee course-correct? Which comments, feedback or language should you include or avoid?

3. Ideate

Pro Tip: Being able to anticipate “tricky situations” that often arise, will put you on the path to a productive performance review.

Well before the review, identify how you can support great review outcomes. Managers should ask themselves:

  • How can I capture feedback between reviews so that I am ready with examples when it’s time?
  • How can I decouple compensation and reviews?
  • How can I minimize the risk of misalignment across all of my direct reports?
  • How can I combat my biases?
  • Where do I need more clarity or understanding of my organization’s performance review process?

4. Prototype & test

Pro Tip: Always remember: if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail.

The final stage of the design thinking process is to try out the clarity you’ve gained through empathy, definition and ideation

This might mean buddying up with your own manager, or a peer manager to test how your questions and feedback land. You can also role play potentially tough conversations, or map out potential responses.


A huge thank you to our Mintable Managers who joined us for the session and asked the important questions. Good luck as you tackle performance review season!

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