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The Three C's For Meaningful Performance Reviews

Of all the things employees despise, end of year performance appraisals (PA’s) are at the top of the list. The Washington Post has research to support that “basically every single person hates performance reviews.” Regardless of how we arrived here, leaders are no longer bound to the mistakes of the past. When conducted well, the end of year review is one of the most powerful tools in your quiver. Having conducted a large number of these conversations over the years, I follow a simple framework called “the three C’s” to ensure a meaningful dialog. When you engage your employees through the narrative of celebrating, calibrating, and cultivating, they will walk out of their review refreshed and ready to attack the new year!


Most of us have a long history of terrible performance appraisals. This baggage can follow us around for years if not decades. Many employees will enter the conversation and instinctually strike a defensive posture. The primitive brain’s “fight or flight” response mechanism is likely to trigger unless we take steps to avoid this. When we begin the session with an edifying tone, it allows the employee to relax and demonstrate vulnerability. This is done by celebrating his or her accomplishments at the very start. When you put in the time and effort to understand and document what went well, several wonderful things happen:

  • It puts you and the employee on the same side together and eliminates the adversarial dynamic

  • It shows that you care about them as a person and you are concerned for their success

  • It shows that you are capable of viewing their performance holistically, versus many managers who only keep track of perceived wrongs

By taking the first 5-10 minutes to recognize what went well, you establish credibility for the coaching conversation to follow.


A performance appraisal is not the time for new coaching. One of my favorite mentors in college used to say going to church on Sunday morning was like putting the frosting on a cake he’d been baking all week through disciplined habits. Performance appraisals are the same way. You’ve (hopefully) been putting in the hard work of coaching this employee all year. The review is simply a formalized conversation evaluating what the employee already knows in regards to their performance against established objectives. It’s never appropriate to bring up brand new coaching expectations as part of the end of year performance appraisal. This creates a “gotcha” scenario which is entirely unfair to the employee. If as a leader you’ve not taken the initiative to coach them on an issue prior to the PA, then that’s on you. The review session is the right time to calibrate any existing coaching plans and set exceptionally clear expectations around performance for the following year.


A performance appraisal can be a huge milestone not just in someone’s career, but also for life in general. We all should take time throughout the year to reflect on how we are growing as people, but the reality is many do not. As their manager, the PA offers the opportunity to inspire your team members both personally and professionally. A good review can help them to set a precedence of goal setting in all aspects of their life. By asking relevant questions about their performance and allowing the employee to self-appraise, you are equipping them with valuable life skills. Goal setting can be done in such a way as to address the whole person. I’ve got two managers currently participating in Toastmasters as a goal. Not only do these enhanced communication skills increase their work effectiveness, but it gives them additional confidence to pursue their hobbies and better their relationships.

At the end of the day, the performance appraisal should be future-focused. You’ve covered the great things that should continue into the next year and the coaching opportunities that can be even better. The final dialog should be about the employees future and how you can help them to achieve their goals. If they have no idea where they’d like to focus their growth efforts, this does not mean the conversation is over. This simply means you need to expose them to opportunities and resources that will challenge them and help them find their path. I’m not saying that everyone needs to switch jobs every two years, but we all need to have meaningful goals that will keep us engaged and focused over the long-haul.

As a critical milestone in the employee experience, this means the performance appraisal is a critical milestone in the customer experience as well! Do you have any tips to help make performance appraisals meaningful? Share them below!


Nate Brown is the Co-founder of CX Accelerator. While Customer Service is his primary expertise, Nate is able to leverage experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program, to journey mapping, to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community. Twitter - @CustomerIsFirst LinkedIn - Nate Brown

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