How to Pick the Perfect Questions for Your Next Employee Review Cycle

AJ Beltis
December 6, 2022
employee reviews, employee review questions, performance management

When performance reviews come around, managers need to gather the right information from their direct reports to write them a thoughtful, actionable review. This is especially true when trying to measure growth and progress for more tenured hires.  

The best way to do that? Asking the right employee review questions

Prompting your employees to simply highlight their strengths, weaknesses, successes, or failures might produce rather basic responses. Instead of getting the same run-of-the-mill answers to the same run-of-the-mill questions, use this review period to challenge your employees to think critically on their performance. 

By asking the right questions, managers will have an abundance of content and context on which to base their employees’ performance evaluations. Ultimately, more detailed reviews can set up top-performers for growth in your company, while highlighting areas that under-performers should work on to thrive in their roles.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to pick the right questions to ask your employees during your next performance management cycle, plus a list of example questions you can reference.

Related content: What Is Performance Management?

How to pick good employee review questions

Good questions should serve two purposes: 

First, they should inspire employees to be authentically self-reflective about their performance, opportunities, and satisfaction at your company. 

Second, they should produce answers that reveal enough insights for reviewers to feel like they have ample content to complete a review. 

With that said, here are some things to keep in mind when choosing performance review questions. 

Note: These are primarily framed as though they are directed toward the employee to be answered on a self-review, but feel free to adjust the wording for peer reviews, manager reviews, and any other phases of your 360 review cycle

Related content: Free 360 Review Template: Running an Effective Performance Review Cycle

1. Keep questions open-ended 

Example questions:

🚫 “Do you feel like you’ve improved since your last performance review?”

✅ “In which areas do you believe you’ve most improved since your last review? Provide specific examples for context.”

Closed-ended questions are those that inspire short answers—perhaps even just one word. In the example above, it’s reasonable to assume someone might simply answer the first question with “Yes, I feel like I have improved since my last review.” 

The second question, however, requires the reviewee to look back and provide context as to why they feel they’ve improved. Managers reading this self-feedback will be treated to multiple areas where the employee feels they’ve grown in their role, setting the reviewer up to share their own thoughts. 

For example, if an employee cites a project that they worked on which they believe improved their project coordination skills, reviewers can agree or disagree with the sentiment—and clearly explain why—in their own review. 

2. Encompass the entire review period

Example questions

🚫 “What are your biggest strengths in this role?”

✅ “What new skills or tools have you learned over this review cycle, and how have they helped you in this role?”

It can be easy to let recency bias take its toll, which means those giving and receiving a performance review only focus on what has happened in the latter part of the review cycle—perhaps just a couple of months or even weeks before the review. However, this can result in an inaccurate representation of the employee’s performance for the entire period. 

The second example question prompts employees to think about not only where they are, but where they started from. Questions that encourage employees to think back over the entire review period shine a light on employee consistency, growth, adaptability, and curiosity—all important traits that might not otherwise be considered. 

3. Don’t focus solely on key performance metrics

Example questions

✅ “How have you helped make [X Company] a more inclusive, positive place to work?”

✅ “In what ways have you embodied our company culture in the past six months?”

There’s more to work than just hitting goals and meeting deadlines. A lack of connection to company culture is a leading cause of resignations, so use the review cycle to see how your employees are creating a welcoming, positive experience for everyone they encounter at your company. 

4. Encourage multiple examples 

Example questions

🚫 “Where do you feel you currently fall short in your role? What would you have done differently?”

✅ “What are two or three aspects of your performance that you’d like to improve next quarter? How will you plan to improve upon them?”

Be specific to how many examples, traits, or attributes you’re looking for in an answer.

You don’t want employees to provide one half-hearted proof point, but you also don’t want them to feel compelled to write a novel. This approach helps reviewers consider multiple scenarios to reference in the formal review, and also challenges employees to think critically for use cases that back up their claims. 

Example employee review questions

For some more inspiration, here are a few more examples of questions you can ask your employees during review season. 

Skill improvement questions

  • What new skills have you developed in the last review cycle? How have you put them to use in your role?
  • What are 2-3 skills you feel you were lacking in this review cycle? How will you work to improve them in the next cycle?
  • What new skill would you like to develop before the next review cycle?
  • How do you feel you exemplified [essential skill] in your role these past six months? Provide 1-2 examples.

Project management questions

  • Which project from the past six months that you’ve contributed to are you most proud of, and why?
  • Which 1-2 project management skills do you feel you could improve upon? How would they make you a better collaborator than the one you are today?

Goal-specific questions

  • List out your main goals for the year, state whether or not you hit them, and explain why. 
  • If you missed a goal, please explain what you would have done differently. 
  • If you met/exceeded goals, explain what you did to reach this achievement.
  • What one goal are you most proud of achieving this review cycle, and why?
  • What new goals would you like to pursue in the next six months?

Employee growth questions

  • What growth opportunities are you hopeful to pursue in the next 1-2 years at the company (new roles, projects, etc.)? 
  • What 2-3 skills do you feel you need to acquire in order to advance at this company? How can we support you in developing them? 
  • What training, courses, or certifications do you think will be beneficial to your career progression

Role-specific questions

  • What do you feel you need to be more successful in your role that the company does not already provide you?
  • How supported do you feel by your peers and company leaders to do your best work? What can we all do to improve?

Ask and you shall receive

Presenting your employees with the ideal performance review questions is a simple task, but an effective one. The extra bit of encouragement to reflect a little longer and think more critically can uncover even better opportunities for employees to grow, improve, and be recognized for their contributions.

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