Writing Useful Performance Review Questions for Creative Employees

No calendar invite makes employees and managers alike squirm quite as much as the dreaded annual review meeting. It’s not just the clichés — like the “sandwich method” of delivering feedback (a piece of positive feedback, followed by something the employee can improve upon, ending with another example of something that’s going well…) — that induce eye rolls. In truth, the whole annual review process is broken.

Particularly when it comes to creative professionals who are used to constant feedback from clients, waiting an entire year to provide an overview of performance is simply ineffective. This cohort — design or advertising professionals, for example — chose to work in a creatively-fulfilling field, so it’s not surprising that an antiquated system of corporate-speak-laden performance reviews feels stifling to them. When an annual review goes poorly, it can feel like a personal affront to the employee’s creative talents, which often leads to disenfranchisement, further drop-off in work quality, and sometimes even nudges employees out the door.

[bctt tweet=”A 360 review will not meet its objectives without good questions” username=”reflektive”]

On the flip side, organizations that abide by a monthly goal-setting-and-assessment system are 50 percent more likely to land in the top quartile of business performance. And 360 feedback — where employees receive feedback from managers, colleagues, and direct reports — is a powerful tool that provides employees with a comprehensive overview of their performance.

A 360 review will not meet its objectives without good questions, though. You’ll need questions for the employee’s self-assessment, questions for peers, and questions for managers or direct reports — and not just any questions. The right questions will spark reflection and conversation, and inspire a better working relationship between teams and teammates.

Make Questions Clear

As with a convoluted RFP, when performance review questions contain too many mismatched elements or confusing language, they can be off-putting. This is why it’s key to keep questions clear, concise, and direct, e.g., “What elements of your job do you find the most challenging and why?”

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s also best to avoid overly simplistic questions — yes/no questions, for example, should be avoided.

Focus on Measurable Points

Asking creative employees to rank their work or technical skills on a numerical scale does little to determine their worth, creatively. Just because a designer knows every nook and cranny of InDesign does little to reflect the quality of his or her work. For this reason, questions that lend themselves to anecdotal responses are particularly effective for 360 reviews of creative professionals.

Creative work is by its very nature subjective — and slamming a designer’s stylistic choices isn’t going to be fruitful for anyone involved.

Creative work is by its very nature subjective — and slamming a designer’s stylistic choices isn’t going to be fruitful for anyone involved. It’s important to focus on details of an employee’s performance that contain concrete, measurable points and put their competencies in context: how they function as part of a team, their interactions with clients, the ability to meet deadlines, their time-management skills when juggling multiple projects, etc.

Inspire True Reflection

On a related note, since the “success” of creative work is often less easily gleaned than, say, an accountant’s spreadsheet analysis skills, creative environments also demand specific types of questions during review periods.

Open-ended questions such as, “I feel most purposeful when I am working on…” are thought-provoking opportunities for creative employees to reflect upon their role. Questions should tackle general work performance, achievements, goals, development, and values — and they should facilitate real reflection.

Highlight Teamwork and Collaboration

Since creative professionals often work in teams, it’s important to take a holistic approach to crafting questions for a 360 feedback review — meaning that you should seek to assess not only the employee’s solo performance, but how he or she interacts with the rest of the team. At least a few questions should tackle collaboration and/or specific examples of the employee’s contributions to the team.

A few examples for this line of questioning might include queries like, “What support will you need from your manager or other teams to achieve your objectives?” or an open-ended prompt such as, “List 3-5 contributions you’ve made to the team that you’d like to highlight to your manager.”

A review system should be more than simply ticking off a checkmark on the HR box: When conducted effectively, feedback systems can help creative professionals achieve greater levels of job satisfaction and peak performance for all 360 days of the year (instead of just one).