With even a basic Google search you will find numerous articles and blog posts that offer practical advice on how to conduct a performance review. These are typically framed from the perspective of a manager having a conversation with a team member or individual contributor. But what about those times when you are conducting a performance review for someone who is already a leader or manager in your organization? It is likely this person is a high performer, so what is the best way to handle these types of conversations?

When it comes to leaders and managers, conducting a world-class performance review requires a thoughtful approach, and in our view, the best strategy is to pivot from the classic interview style to a robust, collaborative dialogue. We know that asking the right questions is a core competency within effective leadership. Along these lines, Professor Hal Gregersen has observed:

“Questions have a curious power to unlock new insights and positive behavior change in every part of our lives. They can get people unstuck and open new directions for progress no matter what they are struggling with.”

To this end, leaders can improve the effectiveness of their one-on-one performance reviews with leaders and managers by carefully charting where they want to take the dialogue. An effective way to steer the conversation is by using a list of probing questions instead of an agenda built around generalized topics.

So, with this concept in mind, here are 20 essential questions to consider (and then ask). You may not be able to get through all these questions, so take some time beforehand to figure out which questions would help drive the conversation forward in a meaningful way.

  1. What are some of this person’s key achievements over the past several months? What significant milestones have they reached? Celebrate their successes. Be ready to identify the successes you have personally observed.
  2. How well is this person aligned with organizational values and objectives? How well is this person aligned with the organization’s strategy? Assess the individual’s alignment with the company’s core values and strategic objectives. Does this person embody and promote these values? Do they feel that the people they lead are also in alignment? How or why?
  3. What impact has this person made on their team? Lead a discussion on how well they guide and influence team dynamics, collaboration, and overall performance
  4. How effective is their communication? Ask them to consider their ability to convey ideas, listen actively, and foster open dialogue. Ask for specific examples of where things have gone wrong and when they have been successful in communicating.
  5. Are they adaptable to change? Leaders must navigate shifting landscapes. Help them assess their flexibility and resilience. A good follow up question is “How would someone know that this person is adaptable to change?”
  6. What leadership style do they exhibit? Identify whether they lead by example, empower others, or take a more directive approach.
  7. How well do they delegate? Effective delegation is crucial. Ask them to evaluate their ability to assign tasks and trust their team.
  8. What is their conflict resolution skillset? Leaders encounter disagreements. Assess their approach to resolving conflicts constructively.
  9. How does this person foster employee development? Consider their commitment to coaching, mentoring, and skill-building for their team. Discuss specific examples.
  10. What is their decision-making process? Evaluate their judgment, risk assessment, and ability to make informed choices. Ask them to explain their decision-making process to you.
  11. Do they set clear goals for themselves and their teams? Leaders should define objectives. Lead a discussion to assess their goal-setting clarity and alignment. Probe for examples of how they set goals and the process they use.
  12. How well do they manage performance metrics? Review their understanding of KPIs, metrics, and performance tracking.
  13. What is their approach to feedback? Leaders should give and receive feedback effectively. What are some of this person’s strategies?
  14. What do they do to handle stress and pressure? Assess their resilience during challenging situations. Find out how they can recharge and stay engaged.
  15. How are they continuously learning? Leaders must stay updated. Consider their commitment to professional growth. Have them describe what they do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to learn and stay relevant.
  16. What is their vision for the team? Explore their long-term vision and strategic thinking.
  17. How well do they collaborate across departments? Evaluate their ability to work seamlessly with other teams. Where does cross-functional communication break down? How can this person improve communication between teams and departments?
  18. What is their succession planning strategy? Leaders should groom successors. Assess their talent development plans. Who do they see as ready to succeed them?
  19. How do they balance short-term results and long-term vision? Consider their ability to manage immediate needs while keeping an eye on the future. Have them present their view on both short-term and long-term objectives. How are these two categories related and dependent on each other?
  20. What are their development goals? Finally, discuss their aspirations. How do they plan to grow as a leader? Ask them how you can help them? What do they need from you?

Try to partner with this person during the process. Be open to feedback about your style and consider asking questions to help you see how you are helping this person and where you might be causing frustration or creating roadblocks.

Remember, a world-class performance review is not just about assessing past performance; it is about shaping future success. Use these questions as a guide to engage in meaningful conversations that empower your leaders and managers to excel.