Putting the Fun Back In Performance Reviews. (No, Really.)

performance review

I realize that what I’m about to say may have you thinking, “Sasser needs to seek immediate professional psychiatric help.” But today I’m going to own up to it and discuss it.

My name is Linda, and I love performance reviews!

I’m sure your first question is, “Why in the world do you like performance reviews so much?”

Well, there are several reasons, but it can probably be summed up in fact that I’ve changed the meaning, mindset, and objective to what performance reviews mean to me and my teammates.

In my performance reviews (PR), I work to get back to the authentic purpose of doing them. I think some company leaders have institutionalized this process to the point that it no longer brings value to the supervisor or the employee. It’s seen as a task that takes up time. It’s used as a way to “document” poor behavior or to “justify” a pay raise. Well, I see it differently.

Why are we doing this again?

My objective is to have a meaningful growth conversation.  I use a standard PR form to keep us on track, and I also use random Reflection Questions that open up thought provoking opinions and truths.

How long should it take?

I set aside two hours for each person’s review. Yes, this does take up a lot of time with my already busy schedule, but as a leader my first priority is the growth of my leadership team. 

Surprise, surprise?

There should be NO surprises. It’s about performance, and a person’s performance should be discussed throughout the year. Don’t wait for an annual review to expose your disappointments or excitement about someone’s capability.

This year I did something unique to help our leaders live out this point. I had our Up and Comers leadership group tell me three things their supervisor will say in their review that they could improve upon and three things that they excel at. If the leader has done a good job communicating and coaching, this question is easy for them to answer, and they won’t be shocked at a lower score on the performance review in their areas of weakness. Again, it’s a “review” of performance, not a first-time news alert.

Here are five things I do every time I conduct a performance review:

1) Care and Candor – I spend around 45 minutes the day before the scheduled review to think through an employee’s review. I think about the special gifts or talents the person brings to the team that I want to point out. I carefully think about where I need to be real with this person. I’ve never had a review that didn’t offer candidness. I think that is where the true growth happens.

2) Back Atcha – As a leader, I too am hungry for growth and improvement. I see reviews as a two-way street. Because I believe in the principle of “leading up,” my team knows they can challenge and be candid with my performance. I have grown as a leader because of my followers’ willingness and courage to speak into my performance.

3) Oops, My Bad – A few days before the review, I give the teammate a blank review form to rate themselves in specific areas. I also grade this person on my own form. During the review we share our scores. If we agree, we move on. If there is a difference in score then we stop and discuss. Both of us have to justify any score that is higher or lower than “meets expectations.” I keep an open mind and re-adjust my score if I think it’s justified. I like to be flexible when I can so that when I’m not I don’t seem unfair. I will not be flexible in an area where I need or want to see improvement.

4) Where’s the beef? Because I love to constantly challenge others and myself, I once forced my leadership team to grade themselves in only six categories. They got to pick which six. Three of the areas they had to grade as performing above expectations and the other three had to be graded as below expectations. Ha ha! These were fun and VERY valuable conversations that included discussions on being confident with a controlled ego, self-awareness, and humility. Of course this form did not go to the HR department.

5) Speaking of HR – If you’re in a large corporation, I don’t suggest you “buck the system” by going off on your own grading system. That will end up hurting your team. When I was in a corporate environment I followed the rules. We just did an additional Sasser review. That’s what started the Reflections Questions and the unique grading for growth challenge.

So by now I’m sure you agree that I truly do need professional help. I do get lots of jokes about my “two-hour off-the-wall with-random-questions performance reviews.” But I also get gratitude from every single person who goes through a review with me. They value not only our time together but also the honest growth conversations we have. They know my goal is to help groom them to become better leaders and to have some fun while we grow together. In my opinion, performance reviews should be a part of that fun, honest, and growth culture.

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  • […] you’ve read any of my past posts on performance reviews (Putting the Fun Back in Performance Reviews, Performance Reviews: Character Issues vs. Skill Set Issues, Performance Review Mishaps), you know […]

  • […] the next two months. Many people think I’m crazy when I say this, but I really do love conducting performance reviews! I love having growth conversations and discussing employees’ goals and looking toward the […]

  • Todd Sheehan says:


    I didnt have any luck with the reflection questions link. is there a problem with the link?

  • I have been truly enjoying your articles our company has under 100 employees and most have worked together for 8-10 years or more many 25-30, so is hard to keep the review process in check at times due to the closeness and longevitiy of working together

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Wow, that tenure is very unusual Maryann. Congrats, you’ve got something unique going on there. You’re right I can see where this might be challenging. The reflections document may work very well for you all. Also, make some fun rules just to spice it up a bit. Force some low and high grades as I suggested for Maurissa. Then maybe pick a theme or two for the year that you will discuss. Like personal dreams, goals or bucket lists. See if you can get everyone to write down their dream. Share them, then help each other achieve them. Part of the PR can be if there is progress with the dream. John Maxwell has a great book called “Putting Your Dream to the Test” that might be a good resource if you go this route. Have fun!

  • Bob says:

    Great stuff…. employees like honest feedback and will respond with superior performance. Employees want to hear that they add value and are part of the future success of the company. Your process assures that performance is not just an upstream activity, but a dynamic process with success as the key component.

    Most important issue is having top management champion the importance of creating a culture where solid performance is a priority. Your organization is one that moves the bar.



  • Laurie says:

    Linda, outstanding as always, I sorta dread reviews and hopefully can view them with your perspective! Thanks again for your Leadership!

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Laurie, YOU are definitely not alone. Not many people like PRs because they are so mechanical and unnatural. It goes back to a fear of conflict or candid conversations. You might want to force your team to grade themselves low in 3 areas like I did. The key to this is did you grade them low in the same areas? If so then you are both on the same page! If not, then just chat about it. 🙂

      Thanks for your honest and always relevant comments Laurie.

  • Maurissa says:

    As an HR Director, I love this post and can’t wait to share it with all of our supervisors as we head into performance review season. This will help bring reality and purpose in conducting a performance review. This article and reflections document will become part of our training plan with our supervisors. Thanks for sharing!

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Thanks Maurissa! Good luck. Since you’re HR you should be able to influence some neat changes. I forgot to mention that each year I change up the reflections questions so be thinking throughout the year of some good questions to ebb and flow with. Also, DON’T LOOK AT LAST YEAR’S PR before ranking this years. I should have added that above. Sometimes your last year’s review will influence your opinion. However, after you perform a review it is good to look at last years to see if there is any improvement or back sliding.

      Thanks for playing Maurissa!!!!