Human Resources & Payroll Blog

How to Conduct Useful Performance Reviews for Managers

Aug 15, 2017 10:00:00 AM / by John Duval

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In the past, we’ve written about different performance review methods that companies use, what kinds of questions you should be asking your employees, and what to do with employees whose productivity has stalled out. But there’s one important piece of the performance review puzzle that we haven’t addressed: how to review manager performance.

Since management is generally responsible for the performance review process of the people who report to them, sometimes it’s unclear who should be monitoring career goals and growth for team leaders. Managers are in a unique position; they often have their own contributions to make to the company, but one of their most important tasks is what Rand Fishkin at Moz calls “people wrangling.”

This is a unique skill set, and not everyone is necessarily interested in or cut out for the work of managing the performance of direct reports. But for those people whose career paths entail motivating and supporting team members, a complete performance review requires input from the people who report to them.

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That’s why many companies use the 360-degree review process to get a comprehensive view of how managers are performing. In this kind of review, the goal is to get a complete picture of manager performance from every person who works with them: their managers, their reports, and their lateral colleagues.

Preparing for a 360-degree review

Even your strongest managers need feedback and encouragement to continually improve their performance, or they will burn out and stop growing. That’s why it’s so crucial to provide them with useful performance goals, derived from a thoughtful performance review process. To get the valuable information you need from coworkers and reports, it’s important to ask meaningful questions in the right way.

Unfortunately, a few key pitfalls can easily derail the process and leave you with no actionable information. Without the promise of anonymity and discretion, some reports or colleagues will feel too afraid to give even slightly constructive feedback. Without plenty of guidance and specificity, this process can quickly devolve into rambling pages of frustration from irritated colleagues. Neither of these outcomes is particularly useful to you when you’re tasked with gathering talking points and creating goals for a performance review.

When you ask for input from a manager’s reports, make sure to communicate that their honesty is valued, and that their feedback will be anonymized. They should feel free to give specifics (where appropriate) without worrying that their manager will be able to trace the information back to them. Assure them when you synthesize the data, you’ll be giving feedback about overall patterns of behavior in the workplace, not about specific incidents.

What to ask in a 360 review

As with all aspects of the performance review process, there is no universal set of questions that will provide meaningful insights about every employee at every company. The kinds of questions you ask should directly pertain to the career trajectory of the person you’re reviewing, as well as what goals you’ve set with them in the past.

However, if you’re unsure of where to start, here are a few traits and skills you should consider incorporating into your questions:

Leadership skills

  • Delegation
  • Ownership and responsibility
  • Coaching
  • Decision-making
  • Delegation
  • Identifying and solving problems

Communication

  • Speaking and listening
  • Networking
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Energy and attitude
  • Ability to give and receive feedback

Interpersonal skills

  • Approachability
  • Ability to work in groups
  • Enthusiasm
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
  • Stress management

Organizational skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Time management
  • Project management
  • Thoroughness of financial reporting

Alignment with company goals

  • Embodiment of company values and mission
  • Strategic planning
  • Implementation of effective processes
  • Contribution to workplace community

Choosing a structure

Traditional rating scale

Before starting to ask for feedback on these qualities from colleagues and reports, make sure you’ve created a narrow enough focus. The parties providing feedback should be able to give thoughtful, valuable information without spending an entire workday on this task.


As with a traditional one-on-one review between a manager and an employee, you can certainly choose to structure a 360-degree review with a rating scale. If you choose this route, narrow down the suggestions above (or use your own list of pertinent skills) to 10 or 15, and ask for each contributor to rate the reviewee on a scale of 1-5. Make sure you provide a few lines of open space so your contributors can add color to their responses. Be sure to encourage them—verbally and in the instructions—to provide specific examples when possible.

Starfish/wheel


Another option you might consider using for a 360-degree review is a wheel. This graphical representation of feedback comes from Agile methodology, which means its normal application is to look at team processes. It’s sometimes called “start, stop, continue, more of, less of,” since those are the driving questions teams use to structure the exercise.


In the case of an individual review, the five questions may be worded as follows:

  • What should (employee’s name) start doing that they may not have done yet?
  • What should (employee’s name) stop doing that isn’t contributing to their success or the success of the company?
  • What should (employee’s name) keep doing that is helping them and contributing to their success and the success of the company?
  • What should (employee’s name) do more of that will help them achieve their potential?
  • What should (employee’s name) do less of that will help them contribute more meaningfully?

It might look something like this: 

agile-wheel (1).png

The novelty of this exercise may make it more interesting for colleagues, meaning they’ll be less likely to zone out and circle 4s or 5s all the way down. The physical limitations of space on the page also means the information you get will be more narrowly focused. As with the traditional rating scale method, you’ll want to encourage respondents to provide specific examples whenever they can.

Whether you choose a traditional rating scale, a wheel, or another method, the key is to provide a clear structure for your respondents. If you simply ask them for general written observations without prompting them on specific topics, you may get pages and pages written by frustrated colleagues, or simply a collection of broad, surface-level comments like “she’s great to work with” or “he’s not a good leader.” Providing guard rails and a few key areas of focus should ensure you get useful information.

Next steps

Once you’ve gathered data from people who work with the employee at various levels, you need to synthesize their feedback. What strengths or challenges do you see come up repeatedly? How do they manifest themselves in interactions with coworkers? Use these patterns to create a framework for your conversation with the manager you’re reviewing.

Create a single document with your patterns and general observations to take into the meeting, ensuring you’ve left off any specifics that could identify individual respondents. Use the patterns you’ve identified to support the goals you’re setting for the coming review period.

It’s generally a wise idea to get employees and managers to self-review so you know how they perceive their own job performance. This can be an excellent starting point for the in-person performance review conversation, as you can find touch points that coincide with the patterns you’ve gathered from the responses.

Be sure your goals and feedback include not only job performance, but career and personal development as well. Like any other employee, a manager needs to know they’re valued as an individual by their company leadership in order to do their best work and remain engaged.

To read about more best practices for managing employee performance, download your copy of An HR Manager’s Guide to Employee Performance.

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Topics: Human Resources

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