Performance Review ≠ Career Development

4 min readJul 1, 2020

Moving forward and looking backwards — find the balance to grow.

Performance review

Most companies have them. Each year, or each half year, you write out your accomplishments for the period and rate your own work. As a manager, you also write up feedback for your reports for that period based on your own memory and employee 360 feedback. Your directs will be qualified for compensation adjustments or promotion based on your feedback, ratings and how you present the package to the approval team, usually involving the HR team.

In some large organizations where employee ratings are put into a curve and promotions and demotions are normalized based on percentile, managers are sometimes “advised” to have the feedback discussions after the performance ratings is completed. So managers can find excuses to defend the approved rating that may not be fully aligned with their original feedback.

Afterwards, you share your blessed ratings and feedback to your direct reports. Congratulate them if they get a raise or promotion, or share some feedback about what the employees are lacking and how they may do better in the next round of performance review.

And it’s during this performance review time when career development discussions may happen.

95% of the time spent during the performance review is about past work, and if you get the career development discussions during the cycle, you spend — well, you guessed it — 5% of the time on it. And the same cycle repeats for next performance review.

After all, performance review is a backward looking activity as the name suggests — a “review”. It’s the wrong place to nurture career discussions. Everyone’s mind is focused on history and measuring sticks. In this mode we lack the mental space to articulate opportunities and development. Unfortunately, most companies jam the 2 things together.

Career Discussions

The main objective for career discussions is to learn the future of our directs. It’s your opportunity to grok them and build a relationship where you may guide them towards their career goals in a more direct way. Your team will benefits from this by growing towards their goals, and you will benefit from a perpetually motivated and dedicated team to move you and your work forward.

A successful career discussion involved these 3 steps:

  1. Discover what your direct reports’ career aspirations are
  2. Create a career action plans
  3. Follow up and evaluate the actions regularly


Everyone has different motivators, and different value systems. It’s important for you to discover these for your reports. Some useful questions for this discussions are:

  • From childhood to now, what are the events and environments that you excel the best? When are they most easy? When are they more challenging?
  • Think about the happiest moments you have at work, what are they? What is the environment like? Who else were involved?
  • Imaging now that you are very successful at your career, what is it that you are doing?
  • Think about 2 to 3 years from now, what do you want your life to be?

Only after you understand each person’s motivators can you genuinely help your directs create an impactful career plan. A plan that is theirs, not yours.

Action plans

Collaborating with your directs to come up with a short and longer term action plans is the next step. Here, it’s your opportunity to outline options that benefits the business and grow your employees. Key here is to create impactful work instead of just a list of tasks.

For example:

If you organization uses, OKR, this is where career growth and business goals align. Suggest to your directs to create OKR’s that benefits both themselves and the business. Create the goals that are measurable and ratable.

Track and evaluate

The worst you can do is to setup an action plan, revisit is seldom, entertain casual discussions around it, and repeat this cycle yearly. This is not helpful for the employee’s growth, and not moving your business forward.

Just like any other goal you care about, employee growth plans need to be tracked, fined tuned during 1:1 check-ins, and supported by constructive and results oriented feedback. As with any other work, evaluate progress to understand real or imagined opportunities and try to be in tune with your employees emotional temperature to better understand them.

It’s widely proven that growing your employees drastically helps with your organization’s success. Employee career growth is not easy. Demonstrating that you understand the difference between a backward focus performance review and a forward looking career discussion creates a rewarding and lasting relationship with your employees.

Originally published at on July 1, 2020.




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