4 Performance Review Questions You Should Never Ask on an Appraisal

Posted by Julie • September 20, 2016 (Last modified December 13, 2022) • 5 min read

Performance reviews are an integral part of the employee-employer relationship. These reviews give us insight on how employees are working and what they are doing to help grow and expand the company as a whole.

Why Complete Performance Appraisals?

These reviews also give the opportunity to provide feedback on incomplete tasks, or any improvements that need to be made. If these reviews can offer such insightful information, though, why do they seem to be failing? Research shows that 90% of appraisals don’t work, while a staggering 45% of HR leaders don’t feel annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal of the employees. Why is this happening, and what can you do to change this outcome?


The answer may be simpler than you think – reevaluate your go-to performance review questions. Even if you do give thought to your performance reviews, have an incredible performance review management system and are dedicated to making performance reviews part of your management culture, you could still be guilty of asking the wrong questions during performance reviews.


Performance Review No-No #1

What are some accomplishments you’ve achieved?

Performance reviews tend to happen on a 6-12 month timeframe and asking this performance review question will often result in an employee pointing to their most recent successes on the job, rather than the truly game-changing accomplishments that occurred earlier in the year. Add to this the fact that many companies schedule performance reviews during slow times of the year and you may have employees struggling to remember what they’ve accomplished lately.


Try this Performance Review Powerhouse Question Instead:

How did the _________ project go from your standpoint?

Instead of asking the generic performance review question above, look into the employee’s specific projects and ask them how the project went, what they learned about their team, what they are proudest of within the project framework and what they might change when faced with a similar project in the future. Asking someone to think back too hard, or over a broad amount of time can lead to inaccurate or incomplete answers.

Read More: 3 Ways to Identify High Potential Employees in Your Organization


Performance Review No-No #2

Tell me what projects you’re not proud of.

Workplace failures and mistakes are difficult to discuss. While asking an employee to evaluate themselves critically is hard, it has to be done to improve performance. Asking this question the wrong way can lead to inaccurate answers or a desire to spin a positive into a negative trait because they’re frightened to tell the truth. This means you won’t be able to actually know what went wrong and why making it difficult to improve over time.


Try this Performance Review Powerhouse Question Instead:

Where do you feel you’ve struggled recently?

Ask which projects and teams were difficult for the employee and see if they can identify why they struggled with that particular person or task. Make sure you have answers for where you’ve seen them struggle and solutions for how you can help them overcome this particular issue. ‘Struggle’ is a gentler word than failure and can bring up a host of issues you may have otherwise been unaware of, like cultural mismatches, coworker frustration, issues outside of the workplace and strengths and weaknesses to use in future assignments.


Read More: How to Deliver Negative Feedback in a Constructive Way


Performance Review No-No #3

Discuss your performance as related to our company’s values.

The main issue with this question – it’s too complicated. When you ask questions like this one, employees may not always understand exactly what they need to answer. Take it down a notch and be straightforward with them. Another reason this can be difficult is that many organizations who want to be values-based, aren’t. Employees who say their organizational values are “known and understood” are 51 times more likely to be fully engaged than an employee who responds that their organization does not have values that are known and understood, according to Modern Survey.


Try this Performance Review Powerhouse Question Instead:

How do you use our company values in your work?

If you are truly a values-based organization, it will show in your recognition program. 86% of values-based recognition programs show an increase in worker happiness, according to SHRM. Even if you don’t have a formal recognition program in place, you can go in for the assist by listing the values in pre-review paperwork and letting employees know they’ll be asked this particular question. Not only does this help them see when they’ve reinforced a value with the company, it helps align future efforts.


Read More: Behavior-Based Goals: Apply Them to Performance Management


Performance Review No-No #4

What are your greatest strengths?

This question is too vague. Employees may struggle to align innate strengths with performance. If you’ve done any training or assessments, chances are you already know your employees’ strengths anyway, so the question is not only confusing but can be, moot.


Try this Performance Review Powerhouse Question Instead:

Tell me how STRENGTH helped you achieve PERFORMANCE.

Be specific in asking exactly how the employee’s strengths have played a role in the company’s productivity, performance or growth. If you already know that you have a self-starter or someone who is strong in training, relate that to the recent new account she landed (even though she’s not in sales) or the class of new hires he helped train (even though onboarding isn’t strictly part of his job). The goal is to get employees to realize their strengths can not only help them perform better in their role but support the company or department as a whole.


Read More: Ascending Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with a Performance Review System


Swapping dull and monotonous questions with powerhouse performance questions can make a big difference in how your performance reviews play out. When planning performance reviews, remember that prepping your workforce for their upcoming reviews is as important as the questions you ask during. For more help on performance appraisals, performance management and performance review best practices, join us @Trakstar_hr on Twitter!

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