Senior leaders share how you can impress them in a performance review

A performance review is a great time to take stock, plan and ask for the support you need to progress your career. It’s also a valuable opportunity to connect with your line manager and demonstrate your potential beyond the day job. We asked five senior leaders to tell us about a time when an employee impressed them in a performance review — and what it told them about their career path and leadership potential…



In my performance reviews, I always try to create some form of level playing field and make people feel at ease, because it’s typically a moment where one person is telling another how they feel about their performance. Obviously, reviews where everything is positive are the easiest (although every person has development opportunities). The tougher ones are those where there are more development opportunities and fewer positive points.

I was particularly impressed in one performance review at my previous company. This person had been struggling and things in the review weren’t positive. However, they took this calmly, told me they appreciated my time and asked for some time in return to reflect on what they thought was right and where perhaps they might have a different view. In a second meeting a couple of days later, they told me that although they could relate to many of the suggestions for improvement, there were some they disagreed with for various reasons. They said that they would be pleased if I would reconsider these points, but if not, they accepted this, because they really just wanted to focus on what they could do to become better. I found this a strong way to deal with the situation; it told me they were balanced, mindful and had high levels of resilience. It’s an important quality to be able to take feedback in a good manner — and that ability to stand back from your reactions and to look at things with clarity is also, ultimately, an important quality in leadership too.

Janneke van der Kroon, Director, Employment Law,



A number of years ago, one of my team identified in a performance review that we had an opportunity in the business with a skills gap in our social media. We had been discussing how she could progress and where she saw herself in the company and out of that discussion, she put herself forward to become our digital and social media lead. It was a role she actively carved out for herself — she didn’t just say, ‘I want to do this’ and ask me for the ‘how’. Rather, she was proactive about coming up with ideas and highlighting the support that she would need to implement them. When someone brings something to the table like that — and it’s not just a case of me having to ask all the questions — then that impresses me.

A performance review can be a golden opportunity to highlight how you could progress in your career, what support you need within the business, and to be proactive about expanding or crafting your current role. When someone highlights the bigger picture and how they see their own work fitting into the business’ goals, that demonstrates to me that they’re thinking about the company as a whole and that they are a team player, not just considering themselves. In turn, that singles them out as potential future leaders as it demonstrates a different way of thinking, a maturity and a sense of initiative.

Stefanie Hopkins, Founder and Managing Director, Faith PR



I had a check-in a couple of years ago with a high-performing female supervisee. There was almost no constructive feedback and much of it was me informing them that I thought they were now ready to put their name forward for promotion to director level. I was taken aback, though, when she said she wasn’t interested in that at the moment. Her rationale was that she wanted to continue to perfect the job she was doing, versus taking that next step. Many of her peers who were far less capable were getting these promotions, so I started wondering whether this decision was about a lack of confidence in the workplace as a woman, and as I reflected on her decision to not put herself forward, I reflected on the time I was going up for directorship and wasn’t totally confident that I was ready.  My boss at the time, who was a man, had confidence in my abilities, even though I did not; the male perspective to go after the job you think you can do is such an interesting contrast to the female one, which is often to go after the job a woman knows she can do.

It took me a while to just accept that was her decision and I then watched her do the same job for another year and perfect it. When she finally did become a director a year later, it was impressive to see how her decision had paid off. I could see the benefit of coming into that role with ease, confidence and authority versus feeling not ready to take on additional responsibility. She eclipsed all her peers who took directorships sooner than her because she was so good at her job from the start. As a leader, it made me more open to each person’s individual growth patterns and it impressed me because it highlighted the value of considered professional growth versus just doing it for the sake of doing it.

Shamineh Byramji, Acting Vice President of Programmes (UK), Chemonics International



I once did a review with a junior recruitment consultant who didn’t have much experience — she’d been with us for six months, having come from customer service. We were going through her activity to-date when she told me that she wanted to buy a house. She was quite young — around 25 at the time — and her big goal was to get on the property ladder, so she asked me straight out: ‘How exactly can I make enough money to save for my deposit? Because my basic salary won’t get me there’.

I was sceptical, but I could see she was very determined, so we wrote the plan for it together. I thought, ‘Well, she might not quite make it, but she’ll do well because she’s decided her own potential’. I didn’t think she would buy a house within three years to be honest — but she subsequently did. A lot of people that I see are quite happy to be told things and then be carried along. She wanted to break the barriers and that is a skill that is quite rare to see. Having someone who wants your advice and is really open to how you’ve achieved success and wants to replicate it is gold in a team member. Ultimately, she fast-tracked her own development and because she’s just been focused on buying her house up to now, she hasn’t necessarily wanted to lead others — but in doing what she has done she has indirectly shown the rest of the team ‘how you do it’ and inspired them. The team looks up to her and she’s showing what’s possible to others — that if they put in the work they could have success too.

Abby Robbins, Recruitment Director, Yellow Bricks



I was working at Sky when I held a particularly memorable performance review with a marketing manager — she had really done her prep for the meeting, looking at what we were doing with the magazine portfolio and working out where the company was going and what its objectives were. She came at the process in a mature business way and was immediately actively engaged with it. Some people treat performance reviews like school reports to say whether they’ve been ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but people like this particular manager stand out because they treat it as something positive and dynamic, like a working document for the next year that they can get excited about. She came in with ideas on how she could help further the business aims and showed that she was thinking strategically versus just about what she could get out of the company. I think there’s a lot of entitlement now, with people just asking, ‘How is my career working for me?’, which is obviously necessary, but it does need to work the other way around as well. You need to see the business map on which your own career boat is sailing and then figure out how you can benefit both.

This manager’s actions showed real self- and industry-awareness, commitment and a willingness to learn. A performance review is about showing your potential and your curiosity about where it’s going next. I read the other day a quote that said, ‘It’s not your skills that get you promoted, it’s your potential’ — and that’s probably very true.

Lysanne Currie, Founder and MD, Meet the Leader



Four months into a previous role I gave my team performance reviews and one of the managers that worked with me dropped the bombshell that she’d actually applied for the role that I had got. I initially thought the review might go quite badly if she had any animosity, but instead she said she’d really enjoyed the past four months and was happy to take a backseat and learn from me. She gave me the impression that she wasn’t going to just leave; nor was she going to try to usurp my position. What impressed me most though was that she recognised why she didn’t get the role, acknowledged the areas that she needed to work on — and decided to use me as a resource.

I offered to mentor her to help her improve her skillset and recommended some professional development that was completely new to her, which underlined my experience and signposted where she needed to be to progress. She saw this situation as an opportunity not a threat, and it told me that she was keen to develop herself as a professional while also having the humility to understand when she wasn’t quite ready — a powerful combination. She was happy to work on herself and then look at either a change in role or a promotion when ready. She had a great learning mentality and an eye firmly on her next step — and I was happy to promote her within the company 12 months later.

James Bennett, Corporate Security Director, online luxury retailer


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