Progress Check-in or Performance Review?

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What you call it, what’s in it and what you do with it is crucial. It’s an almost natural follow-up to any new hire. At times it doesn’t happen often enough for people already on the team. Issues that could be resolved when small or immediate are often left until they become serious and stressful. That’s when performance review meetings become more of a discipline or termination process.

Here are some ideas for making the meeting time efficient, productive and results-oriented. Share with me and others what works for you!

What You Call It

Words are everything; they set the tone. Performance or progress—which suggests forward movement? I like progress. Annual review—what does it suggest to your employees? An end-of-year assessment, pay raise? Define what the meeting will cover, see “what’s in it” (below) and then give it a name that sums it up.

One key point is to separate meetings about employee’s work and progress from compensation reviews. Employees can associate a good review with an automatic pay increase, even though the two are separate.

What’s in It?

The check-in or review should be a two-way conversation between employer and employee. There are many cases I have reviewed where the employee was not prepared, did not want to participate or was not involved.

The content should:

  1. Be outlined in advance
    • Questions should be given to both employee and manager/employer/direct supervisor beforehand to review, think about and come prepared to discuss.
    • The direct supervisor is usually the logical choice to give the best feedback, but may not be the person properly trained to work with the employee at the meeting. Choose the person best qualified for conducting the conversation, yet she/he should be involved in working with the employee. You should consider developing the direct supervisor to conduct the meeting.
    • Have the manager/employer/direct supervisor be prepared by gathering feedback from people who can and do observe the employee.
  2. Contain questions that open the conversation
    • I feel that it makes the most sense to have the conversation be mostly questions. Using questions properly opens up the person (employee and employer), so there is more understanding behind what we see, rate or say.
  3. Get people to talk about the problem and offer solutions
    • Managers/direct supervisors may have many employees to meet with as part of the review process. So the meetings have to be carefully prepared (with questions created ahead of time) to have an opportunity to talk and review what needs to be done.

Two books I’ve read and use extensively are Smart Questions—The Essential Strategy for Successful Managers and The 7 Powers of Questions—Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and Work by Dorothy Leeds.

For a sample agenda and process outline for periodic check-ins, feel free to email me at

What You Do With It

People usually will complete what they feel they “own,” have a passion for and have a stake in. Part of the conversation will entail what has to be done going forward—changes or continuance.

Shape your concluding questions to have the employee tell you what they will do to change, adjust or continue what works. Let the employee suggest the follow-up and what needs to happen if we are not reaching our goals. The manager/direct supervisor can agree or ask for better alternatives.

This is where you can set goals and action plans. Not everything has to happen in one meeting, but follow-up meetings must be scheduled so that action plans and goals are agreed upon, timelines set and follow-up scheduled.

Mary Dunlap, CFP
Mary Dunlap Consulting
Pottstown, Pa.


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