How To Answer Performance Review Questions – Like a Pro

This post is part 10 of 15 in the series Powerful Performance Review Tactics

Is your Performance Review looming? Let me share a little secret with you about how to answer questions in your review.

You might be expecting me to say something like “Honesty is the Best Policy.”

And you know what, you would be right. But it would be trite of me to leave it there.

The best way to answer Performance Review questions is to take a ‘holistic approach’. This is a technique I have used many times myself, and I have honed it over several years. Each time I used it, I aced my review. And I’ve coached over 20 people in using it, and they all received similar results.

Now, I share it with you.

So What’s a Holistic Approach?

I’ve written, many times before, that your Performance Review/Appraisal is about YOU. This is a very true statement. But perhaps (in this context) a bit misleading, because YOU also work in an organizational context of other people.

If all you were to do, when answering questions from your reviewer, were to talk about how your work and performance impact and benefit you only, you’re missing a trick. Because people are inherently selfish – they don’t really want to know about you – they want to know about themselves and what suits their interests. Their ‘listening’ filters are continuously scouring your answers for information that they can understand in their own terms… or even for information that benefits themself, as opportunities or for vanity’s sake.

Managers want to know how their department is running. Leaders want to learn about opportunities for change and success stories across their organization.

So we must use this to our advantage, and of course, we must do it with integrity, too.

When I use the term ‘holistic’, I refer to viewing what you do, and the value you create through your work, in a wider context – a context that includes the people around you – upwards, downwards and across-ways in your organization. They’re your colleagues, direct reports and your bosses. It also considers the business and organization contexts, such as management, financial and strategic.

When you’re answering questions about your work performance, you must include the people around you, and the business benefit in there too. Here’s what I mean. I’ll use two examples, each with a ‘bad’ and ‘good’ answer.

Example One

Q: Julie, what has been your greatest achievement over the last 3 months?

Bad A: Bill (Julie’s boss) I thought I totally rocked the Acme Associates deal. I used an even better approach to structure the proposal and worked the finances to make it really appealing. I’ll bet the stockholders will be pleased with me!

Good A: Well Bill, we really made great progress when you and I went to see Acme Associates and landed that distribution deal. Our structured approach in our proposal really worked – without it I struggled last time. It was also great to work with Mary (Julie’s colleague) on the finances as we needed to offer a very competitive discount this time around before quarter-end. I’m sure you’re the same in thinking that our stockholders needed some good news.

See what I did in the good answer? Julie didn’t just answer the question by talking about herself, like before. Julie included her boss and a colleague in the answer. And she also included the benefits to stockholders, to boot. Her answer here also included a development point (about using the structured proposal) – something Julie has learned and applied during the review period.

You might also note that I used the word ‘I’ when referring to a past issue or failure in the good answer. This is important as Julie doesn’t want to imply a) that she is devolving a past mistake, and b) that only she wants to take the credit for the learning point.

My last point is also deliberate: “I’m sure you’re the same in thinking…” as she is opening up the point for confirmation, or challenge, without directly asking a question. This allows Bill to step in with his own thoughts which can enhance the conversation.

During each point made, Julie has answered honestly and considered not just the impact of my performance on herself, but instead she considered the wider impact.

Example Two

Q: So Julie, the general feedback from across the team is that you’re not communicating issues quickly enough. Sometimes with painful consequences. How will you resolve this?

Bad A: Bill – don’t just blame me on that. John and Eva (Julie’s direct reports) were telling me way too late about the issues. I will sort it out. You don’t need to worry about it – leave it with me.

Good A: I know – sorry Bill. I’m working on it. Often I hear about the issues late myself, but I think that’s because I am not making it clear enough to John and Eva at what point they should give me an early warning. I am going to review the procedures with them so that we can build in this early warning system without it causing too much disruption to us. I’ll then come back to you with what I am going to do.

Julie has a problem! In her good answer, she starts out by saying she knows about the problem, and that she accepts responsibility for it. Sorry is a powerful word. The problem may be as a result of a combined failing with colleagues, but she doesn’t spread the blame or defend the indefensible – instead she takes it on the chin. In her answer, Julie discusses a joint solution with colleagues, and acknowledges that a solution must work for everyone involved – not just her. She then reaffirms her accountability for the solution by promising to personally discuss the plan with Bill.

Both examples demonstrate the difference between an individual approach and my holistic approach. The holistic approach tells your reviewer what they want to hear, and you’ll do it with integrity, to boot.

Before your next Performance Review, why not consider how you can answer questions with a holistic approach? Leave a comment when you do!

2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews; Ready-to-Use Words and Phrases That Really Get ResultsIf you are the reviewer or reviewee during a performance appraisal, then here is a very good book that shares phrases to use. It isn’t just a ‘say this, and then this…’ kind of book, it shows you what phrase-constructs to use in the right context to help make a performance appraisal as effective as it could be: 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews: Ready-to-Use Words and Phrases That Really Get Results.

Could this work in Your Appraisal?

Leave a comment below telling us why, or start a conversation in my Community Forums

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About the author /

Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development and a registered and approved Growth Coach for GrowthAccelerator providing expert, tailored advice to help ambitious businesses achieve rapid, sustainable growth. Find out more at

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  1. Ann Morrison

    What do you find rewarding about your job.

    • Simon

      Ann – the most rewarding thing about my job is earning money! I’ve got school bills to pay and a mortgage. Knowing I have financial security is a great reward. Beyond finances, I really love solving problems and discovering how it impacts customers and the people I work with


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