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Wondering what performance review questions to ask in order to conduct an effective performance review?

You've come to the right place.

Here are five powerful questions that are designed to help you tap into your employee's full potential.

They're based on my experience as a coach and are geared towards a strength-based performance appraisal.

Research has found this methodology to have a positive effect on perceived supervisor support and employee satisfaction and engagement.

Ultimately, the goal is to motivate employees toward higher levels of employee performance.

So, drum roll please... the five questions are:

A little surprised? I'll explain further.

1. What's Something You're Good At That You Wish I Knew?

This question will definitely catch your employee by surprise. Employees tend to assume that managers have all the answers and know everything about the team.

However, as a manager, you know how much you have on your plate and how difficult it is to be aware of everything.

This question gives your employee the opportunity to talk about a hidden strength or skill and gives you the opportunity to find ways to put these to work in the future.

It takes the pressure off and sets the tone for a relational and deeper transformational experience.

Leveraging employee strengths with neuroscience

"Brain science reveals that we do not learn and grow the most in our areas of weakness. In fact, the opposite is true: we grow the most new synapses in those areas of our brain where we have the most pre-existing synapses. Our strengths, therefore, are our true areas of opportunity for growth." 

The brain science Buckingham (a People Managing People podcast guest) refers to is brain plasticity, which is the brain's ability to adapt and change as a result of new experiences.

The brain continuously creates new neural pathways as we learn and grow. What's interesting is that neurons that are used more frequently develop stronger connections, which is why it's important to leverage your employee's strengths. 

Neuroscience proves that frequent use makes these connections more powerful, which will help your employees flourish. Therefore, supporting your employees to capitalize on their strengths will help elevate employee performance and set them on a fruitful career path. 

This question can also provide the opportunity for your employee to expand their reach within the organization and pursue other passions at work.

Your team member will have more control of their performance management which can lead to higher employee engagement and optimal professional development. 

Related Read: How To Optimize Your Performance Management

2. What Changes Do You Want To Make In Your Habits?

This question gives your employee the opportunity to reflect on what they do every single day and think about how they spend their time, even the things they do unconsciously. 

Habits are important to consider in your employee's day-to-day because of how powerful they are. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2002), 43% of the activities that people carry out every day are habits that are completed while thinking about something else.

If you're spending this amount of time in your day performing things unconsciously, don't we want to make sure they're benefitting us?

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The psychology of habits

Habits form by repeating a behavior in a certain context. These behaviors occur in this context because certain cues trigger this behavior, which allows associations with this habit to develop in the brain.

One example is biting your nails when you're nervous. The context is nervousness and that feeling is the cue that causes you to bite your nails. Your brain associates the feeling of relief you get with biting your nails, which is how the habit is formed.

For behaviors that start off as goal-oriented and purposeful, the process of habit-formation goes through a transition period where the behavior goes from deliberate to impulsive. That's when the action happens quickly and automatically based on the associative knowledge your brain has developed behind this behavior.

Discussing habits with your team member

This might take your employee a minute to think about. It's OK for you to pause, give them time to reflect, and let them know that it's OK as well. Habits are things we do unconsciously. 

This is also a great opportunity for you as a leader to share a bad habit you've noticed that you're trying to break. Let your employee know that you have bad habits too, as we all do. 

With changing habits, it's important to follow up. This will be an ongoing process your employee is working on so make an effort to check in on their progress

You can even encourage your team members to hold each other accountable. An accountability partner is a powerful thing when it comes to behavior change. Doing this displays empathy which is crucial to further developing your relationship. 

Importance of empathy 

I know we're going down something of a rabbit hole here but bear with me.

Empathy is essential for effective leadership because it has been proven to build and maintain relationships. In a study developed by the Center For Creative Leadership, they identified a sample of 6,731 leaders from 38 countries.

These leaders had several employees working under them who were tasked with rating their manager on how they display empathy on the following items:

  • Leader is sensitive to signs of employees being overworked
  • They show interest in the needs, hopes, and dreams of others
  • They're willing to help employees with personal problems 
  • They demonstrate compassion when employees share a personal loss.

With the results gathered from this employee review, it was concluded that employees who felt that their managers exhibited empathy performed better.

In being reflective of your own performance, think about these 4-items and make a point to incorporate these insights in real-time so you can be a better manager. 


3. What Are You Grateful For At Work?

I know, this sounds like a weird question to ask in a performance review.

Aside from the typical questions based on performance in the past year and expectations for the future, this question will encourage your employee to take a deeper look at what they value and prompt them to think critically about their well-being. 

The science behind gratitude 

People who consciously set aside time to reflect on things and experiences they appreciate are happier, healthier, and more productive. And that's essentially what we want from our employees; we want them to feel happy at work. We want them to have a positive outlook and to make future-oriented decisions for progress.

This question also gives you an idea of what's working and how you as a leader can expand on what makes your team members grateful to be at your organization, and how this corresponds to company values.

Once you get your answer, start thinking about how you can weave practicing gratitude into your company culture. It'll make a difference. 

4. What Do You Want Your Future Self In The Coming Year To Look Like?

What's interesting about this question is that it's not asking for tangible items (finish this product, meet this metric, etc.) it's asking what qualities your employee wants to embody to be their best future self and meet all their important goals in the next year.

A future self is an idealized version of your employee that they can tap into to inform who they become every day. 

If they don't know how to go about this question (especially since it's not a common one) ask them some additional questions to get them to think critically about their future selves. These questions could include:

  • Who do you admire?
  • Why do you admire them?
  • What character traits do they possess? 

Consider their answers to these questions, and then have your employee take a deep look at who they want to be in the coming year. 

The positive impact of future-oriented thinking

Employees will think about who they are going to be instead of what they are going to do.

When we think about the future, we tend to have optimistic thoughts about the possibilities. This will get your employee to look deeper at what they need to do to better themselves as a person and an employee while adopting a future-oriented perspective. 

Have your employee be as descriptive as possible when discussing their future self. Make sure to cover:

  • Their perspective
  • What their day-to-day looks like
  • Their top values

This future self should also include things they do outside of work. Their personal goals are their professional goals because wellness outside of the office affects wellness inside the office. 

5. What's Your Mantra Before Going Into Work Everyday?

This question will get your employee to think about the energy they're bringing to the organization every day. What feelings are they bringing in? What's motivating them?

It gets them to think critically about how this affects their work and interactions with their co-workers.

And if they don't have a mantra, no worries! This is the perfect time to craft one together.

Here are some possible questions you could suggest that your employee consider every morning before work:

  • How can I best support my team today?
  • What perspective do I want to have today?
  • How can I ensure I'm doing the best I can today?

Based on these questions, their goals, and what perspective they want to bring to the table every day, they can develop a mantra tailored to them.

This is also a great opportunity for you and your employee to work together and think creatively while also reflecting. Encouraging this kind of self-awareness allows employees to take a deep look at the kind of person they want to be. 

Bonus: If You Stopped Working Here Today, What Legacy Would You Leave?

This question gets your employee to think about the mark they've made at work and to discuss something they're proud of.

This provides you with a bird's eye view of your employee's work. You'll clearly see their strengths, get a different perspective of employee performance, and further evaluate their communication skills. 

It gives you as the manager the opportunity to see what kind of work they enjoy doing, and their process, so you can be better equipped to assign them projects in the future.

This also allows your employee to think critically about their career path. If this is the kind of work they enjoy doing, what would they want their next career move to be?

This will get your employee to think about big things they could do to advance their career, your team, and your company.

Further Guidance: Employee Performance Review Cadence

The questions above can elicit deep insights from your employee about themselves that can boost their productivity and creativity.

These are the kind of questions that are common in organizations with a coaching culture. 

Organizational leaders can benefit from a coaching culture that informs more empathetic and curious questions in their regular interactions with employees.

Performance reviews are important for setting time aside to discuss measurable and tangible goals while also giving both the employee and manager time for deep conversation.

The performance review process should be ongoing. Employees who receive weekly constructive feedback are 2.7 times more likely to be engaged at work.

So apart from the quarterly or annual performance review cycle, make it a point to meet with your employees on a weekly basis for one on one style meetings.

Further, it's worth taking time during these meetings to gather employee feedback on how you can improve as a manager and organization.

Final Thoughts

While the employee review questions may not seem natural in a professional setting, they will help you have deeper, richer conversations with your team members.

I've personally learned the value of these kinds of questions in my everyday life after I started the Executive Coach Training course at Coach Training EDU.

Shifting my mindset to come from a place of empathy, curiosity and reflection has not only increased my self-awareness but has also allowed me to become efficient and thoughtful in how I approach my work.

Let's unlock that untapped potential. 

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By Jennyfer Javier

A language enthusiast and expert in pop culture, Jennyfer enjoys all things communications and personal development related. She currently supports the marketing team at Coach Training EDU.