Top questions to ask your direct reports during employee reviews

Don’t sweat the performance appraisal. Use this guide to conduct effective, well-structured evaluations.

Top questions to ask your direct reports during employee reviews

Ask these questions to provide employees with solid feedback.

It’s no surprise that employee reviews can make workers nervous, but the process can also make managers sweat. Indeed, many bosses aren’t comfortable giving employee feedback, especially if it’s not the positive kind. Regardless of how you feel about them, performance reviews are a common way companies measure their employees’ work.

Though a number of employers, such as the Gap, Deloitte, and Adobe, have replaced the traditional employee performance evaluation with continuous feedback loops, the yearly performance appraisal isn’t going away. In fact, 87% of workers said they have an annual performance review with their boss, according to a 2018 survey by consulting firm Korn Ferry.

As a manager, being able to conduct a thorough, well-structured performance evaluation will enable you to provide employees with actionable feedback that will improve their work output, while also fine-tuning your management skills, says Rebecca Zucker, executive coach and founder at San Francisco–based firm Next Step Partners.

Here are five open-ended questions you should ask your direct reports during a performance review.

What accomplishments are you most proud of this year?

“I love any question that highlights an employee’s strong suits,” says Mikaela Kiner, CEO at Uniquely HR, a career-coaching and HR-consulting firm. Not only does this question allow your worker to highlight their wins, it also shows you where they’re coming from.

“It’s important for a manager to get clarity on what motivates their employees,” says Donna Schilder, an executive career coach at Glacier Point Solutions. “Employees really excel when they’re passionate about what they do, and knowing what tasks they like to do can help you choose what assignments and projects to give them.”

It can also be beneficial to ask employees, directly, “What do you enjoy doing about your job that you’d like to be doing even more of?”

What are two to three things that I could do differently to better manage you?

Obtaining this kind of 360-degree feedback is invaluable, Zucker says. “Another way to phrase the question would be to ask, ‘What would you like more of or less of from me as a manager?’” she suggests.

Find out where they would like more feedback from you in order to be stronger performers. Kiner recommends you also ask in what form (e.g., email, in person)—and how often—they’d like to receive feedback. Recent Gallup research shows that employees who receive regular feedback from their manager perform better for their team and company. Employee retention is also significantly higher when managers provide frequent feedback, according to a survey by leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman. (Despite these benefits, though, only 19% of millennials said they receive routine feedback from their manager, Gallup found.)

What changes would you like to make to your current job?

As a manager, you want to make sure you’re maximizing your employees’ skill set, but occasionally, the job at hand may require them to shift gears. If your team has to regularly take time out of their workday to handle admin-type work or other kinds of housekeeping, it can get frustrating. You need to make the most effective use of everybody’s time.

“Sometimes, people aren’t as happy in their job as they appear to be,” Schilder says. It may be a matter of company culture or workload, or perhaps your employee doesn’t have the tools and resources to excel at their job.

“If you give people a chance to stop and think about it,” Schilder adds, “there are usually at least one or two things that they don’t enjoy doing, and you might be able to take these things off their plate.”

What are your career goals for the coming year (or quarter)?

“This is an important question to ask, since a person’s career aspirations can change,” Kiner points out. Find out the areas in which your employee wants to improve. Depending on how your direct report responds, you may be able to offer relevant training opportunities that can help the employee improve their productivity.

Help them think ahead by asking what their career goals are for the next five years. “This pushes your employees to look at their future, which can help them envision themselves staying at the company,” Schilder says.

What questions do you have for me about the feedback you’ve received today?

Performance reviews are a lot of information to take in, so if your direct report says she doesn’t have any questions, express that you’re open to discussing her performance review in the future, Schilder advises. (“Feel free to ask me questions after you’ve spent a few days reflecting on the feedback.”)

Be a boss who has the answers

Performance reviews are as much about listening to answers as they are about asking the right questions. You won’t develop these skills overnight, but you can absolutely take steps to become a better boss. It takes time to learn where your employees’ strengths lie and then learn how to get the best out of them day in and day out. Want to boost your professional development? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get practical tips from leadership experts to help hone your management skills, improve employee engagement, and keep your team motivated. Your professional relationships—and your paychecks—will reap the benefits.