Performance Reviews: A Training Guide for New Managers

When it comes to performance reviews, new managers can dread them as much as employees. Early-stage managers may have never been involved in a performance review process for direct reports, or perhaps they have but now they need to learn a new system.

The good news is, you can help train managers to give great performance reviews. Showing new managers how to give constructive criticism, ongoing feedback, and acknowledge success is crucial to ensure consistent and productive performance reviews throughout the company.

Here, we provide an easy-to-use guide on how to help new managers conduct their first performance review—from understanding the process itself to setting up feedback timelines, addressing quarterly goals, and providing them with mentor support.

Educate New Managers on Your Performance Process

Every company has its own way of addressing employee performance. It has become increasingly common to implement ongoing feedback throughout the year, and require more formal reviews biannually or even quarterly. Whatever the process is at your company, ensuring new managers understand what is expected of them should be part of the onboarding process.

Even if they’ve been involved in the process from the other side as an individual contributor, a reintroduction to the process will help them lead more productive and mutually beneficial conversations. Consider creating a performance review FAQ for managers (and employees!) to help improve the adoption of your desired process while reducing friction and misunderstandings.

Set a Timeline for Employee Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill in itself, and one that gets better over time. Encourage managers to utilize their one-on-one meetings as an opportunity to practice ongoing feedback. This feedback doesn’t need to be directly related to performance, nor does it need to be tracked formally. The intention is not to create more administrative work for managers, but rather to help regular feedback conversations become the norm.

This way, when it does come time for a formal performance review, both the manager and the employee will likely feel more confident in giving and receiving feedback. If employees or managers hear significant feedback for the first time during a performance review cycle, it likely means they’re not having regular honest feedback conversations. The more frequently these conversations take place, the more natural they become.  

Set Quarterly Goals for Employees

When employees understand their goals, there is a clear framework for performance discussions. Try to set these goals at the beginning of the year, quarter, or as far in advance as appropriate, but keep in mind they may need to be adjusted over time.

These goals may or may not be officially documented depending on the company. Either way, employees should be actively involved in setting the goals they’re expected to impact. Encourage managers to review, discuss, and potentially revise these goals with their direct reports on an ongoing basis.

Avoid Common Biases

Part of what makes the performance review process stressful for new managers is the potential to “mess up.” Good managers want to make sure they’re supporting the development of their people and evaluating them fairly. One of the ways you can empower managers to feel confident during their first performance review cycle is educating them on how to avoid common biases.

For example, recency bias, the tendency for managers to focus on performance during the most recent time period (e.g., last 2-4 weeks) versus overall, can be reduced by encouraging more frequent check-ins and getting performance feedback from peers throughout the review timeframe. Further, it’s critical to have a performance calibration program in place that educates managers around common biases and helps ensure consistency across the org.

Encourage New Manager Mentorship

While a first-time manager might be new to their role, they should have a clear model for what it means to be a successful manager at your company. Celebrate accomplished managers that demonstrate the optimal behaviors around employee performance (and other desired traits). This could take the form of a training session for a cohort of new managers, or even a structured 1:1 mentorship program.

Giving new managers a support system will help set them up for success. Consider creating an internal manager discussion group where experienced mentors can provide clarity around best practices, answer common questions, and help build your FAQ content.

Provide a Performance Review Checklist

Use the following checklist to help your first-time managers navigate their first performance review cycle.

  • Have ongoing feedback conversations with all direct reports
    • One-on-one meeting cadence for: [employee name]
    • One-on-one meeting cadence for: [employee name]
    • One-on-one meeting cadence for: [employee name]
  • Set quarterly goals with employees
    • Review goals Q1
    • Review goals Q2
    • Review goals Q3
    • Review goals Q4
    • Annual goal review
  • Meet with manager mentor before the first performance review
    • Internal mentor:
  • Communicate with employees about the biannual review
    • Two weeks before:
    • One week before:

You can also provide new managers with a guide to useful performance review phrases to reference in their conversations. This will help them effectively communicate feedback around both areas of success and improvement.

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