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4 Engaging Performance Discussion Questions

Performance discussions can be daunting, but they don’t have to be. As a leader, your job is to get the best out of everyone – and everyone’s best looks different.

I’ve tried a few different question styles for performance reviews and have found that questions that prompt self-reflection and continuous improvement are the most effective.

Here are few questions to help set a more engaging tone in performance reviews.

1. Successes

Question: What are three things you’ve accomplished this year that you are proud of?

Why it is helpful: I like this question because it gives me a window into what people care about, and it is rarely ever about targets or numbers. I most often hear stories about how such targets were accomplished – the planning, problem-solving and sheer effort it took to complete a task.

I love these stories because I learn more about who they are and what motivates them. In turn, they have a chance to solidify the lessons learned from that work. These are stories of resilience that can fortify their resolve to overcome other challenges when reflected on effectively.

2. Challenges

Question: Tell me about some challenges you are working to overcome.

Why it is helpful: The successes we are most proud of are often the ones that were the most challenging. This question identifies future successes and gives us space to talk through some potential strategies. It also gives me a sense of where I may be able to support them more effectively. Some types of challenges help us identify underdeveloped skills that may need some attention. So, this question also flows nicely into the next question: the improvement question.

3. Changes

Question: What are some skills you’d like to develop this year, and how do you plan on developing those skills?

Why it is helpful: This is the improvement question. Instead of asking about what training they need, I prefer to ask a more specific, open-ended question like the one above. There are many ways to improve a skill, and throwing training at them isn’t always effective. Maybe reading a book, observing others, having focused practice with a colleague or meeting a skill-specific mentor would be better.

The goal of this question is to put the ownership of self-awareness and self-improvement on them in a more organic way. It is said that “where there is a will, there’s a way.” This question attempts to tap into their will and help them find a way. It is more effective than giving them a list of things they could do better at and requiring them to attend a training.

4. Influence

Question: How can I be a more effective leader for our team?

Why it is helpful: Most people ask, “Do you have any feedback for me?” This is a close-ended question that isn’t specific enough to elicit a helpful answer. Instead, “How can I be more effective?” is an open-ended and specific question and assumes that there is room for improvement. It focuses the feedback on your role as a leader, and not you as a person. This can make it easier to give and receive feedback because it puts you in listening mode and allows you to be influenced.

I’ve recently begun dabbling in marker art, and I’ve learned that the most important skill to master is shade transition. There is a sweet spot between two shades, where they blend and make a slightly different shade for a seamless transition. I call this the “line of synergy,” where the magic happens. This is the place where each color influences the other’s presentation on the page to create a more effective illusion – that is, the place where they create an effect greater than the sum of their parts. Similarly, it is critical that leaders allow themselves and their vision to be influenced. When you allow your ideas and your team’s ideas to mix at this line of synergy, you get magic! The team is able to work together in a way that makes the impossible a reality and there is nothing more magical than that!

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Nefertiti is a Supervisory Life Scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She is passionate about employee engagement, mentoring and helping people and groups achieve their goals. Her leadership mantra is, “Prioritize people. Simplify processes. Celebrate progress.”

In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing and writing. Nefertiti is the mother of a curious and compassionate seven-year-old, with whom she enjoys rediscovering the world.

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Chris Makell

Nefertiti, I deeply appreciate the questions and the approach to engaging the employee this way. It’s more conversational and empowering than prescriptive. Thank you!