Performance Review

“You have to make an effort to see people’s effort”: Performance Reviews

Written by Ben Yardley, Learning Coordinator


One of the most important roles of a manager is to make sure that they are assessing their employees’ performance accurately and fairly. But too often, formal performance reviews are treated as a chore or a box-ticking exercise. In Civil Service College’s second free online webinar of 2024, we asked accomplished trainer Maria Older what makes a successful performance review and how managers can assess their own performance in this area, keeping up with the changes to the world of work in the past few years. 


Performance Reviews in the Knowledge Economy

Today, managers must navigate what is often referred to as a VUCA world: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. In many industries, constant and unpredictable change is not the exception but the norm, and working practices must change to reflect this.

Maria’s argument is simple: work is changing, so the way managers assess work has to change too. Firstly, participation in what economists call the ‘knowledge economy’ means that soft skills are of increasing importance; how you communicate, how you work as a team and how you hold yourself around your colleagues is more significant than ever. Moreover, VUCA implies that adaptability and capacity for development must be high on a manager’s list of qualities to assess in an employee.

Changing work norms constitute yet another challenge for managers. Maria describes the cultural shift towards Work From Home as “a nightmare for managers”, which makes it harder than ever to see employees’ effort and how they approach tasks. With fewer in-person interactions between manager and managed, it is all too easy to focus only on what is immediately visible, the output, rather than paying attention to the effort that employees are putting in. This makes assessing performance difficult. But WFH is here to stay, so managers must adapt; as Maria memorably puts it, “you have to make an effort to see people’s effort”.


How Performance Reviews are Changing

"We are moving towards more frequent, development-focused reviews"


Strength-Based Approaches in Social Crofting — Darach Social CroftOne of the major changes to performance reviews today is that they are held more frequently, perhaps every few months instead of annually or six-monthly.  But doesn’t this risk reviews becoming redundant and stale, going over the same well-trodden ground again and again? Not at all! While the length of reviews can vary based on need, the increased frequency of reviews should also be accompanied by a wider scope for discussion. Performance reviews are no longer just about past performance, but instead look forwards to future improvement; Maria suggests, “because you have more frequent reviews, you spot potential very quickly, you can work on that and you can develop your talent”.

Similarly, there is a push for performance reviews to align with organisational strategies. Employees benefit from, and want, reviews that enable them to understand how they fit into their organisation as a whole. Reviews that centre on development that corresponds to changes to a worker’s role ensure the best outcomes for both employer and employee.


Holding Successful Performance Reviews

There are many methods in a manager’s toolkit for getting the best out of performance reviews, and by extension, getting the best out of their employees. Traditional ways of assessing performance such as KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) may be supplemented by Personal Development Plans, a Balanced Business Scorecard or an employee’s own self-evaluation. Reviews may also incorporate a wider range of perspectives, in the form of “360 Feedback” (seeking input on performance from colleagues at all levels) or “180 Feedback” (feedback from exclusively more senior, or more junior colleagues).

However, Maria is keen to stress that these are not enough on their own. Firstly, they must be reviewed within the framework of the three types of performance:

  1. Task performance
  2. Contextual performance (how well an employee is performing outside of their allotted job role: this could include taking on additional responsibilities or their teamwork or their contribution to the organisation’s culture
  3. Adaptive performance (response to changes within the role)


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But ultimately, what matters most is relationship-building and creating a culture in which employees at all levels of an organisation can speak freely and openly.

In the Q&A, Maria emphasised the importance of trust. Despite the pressure to appear perfect, the most effective leaders aren’t afraid to say “I don’t know” when appropriate and to embrace their own fallibility. In response to the misconception that a manager must always hold the answers, Maria replies, “No, no: you are a human being… we are all lacking things!”.




For those who wish to delve deeper into Maria Older’s insights and experiences, the full episode is available on our YouTube channel. Don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list and youtube channel to stay updated on future webinars where we continue to host a range of topics you can explore and implement in your team! From productivity hacks to leadership strategies, we've got you covered.



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