Annual Reviews Don’t Have to Suck

Wahoo. Yippee. Hallelujah. And gazinga. This year, all around the world, Courageous Leaders in organizations of every genus and phenotype are finally (finally!) getting rid of (or dramatically updating) annual reviews. 

Not because you hate them. Not because you had a vindictive boss that one time. Not because your current boss is avoiding them. Not even because remote work makes them harder.

The main reason we’re scrapping annual reviews is this: there are so many myths and misperceptions around annual reviews, nobody has been able to figure out how to do them effectively. So we just keep doing them badly. 

I can think of three important misperceptions that are holding us back …

Misperception: Reviews should be done annually

Can you remember what happened a year ago? Neither can I! We don’t learn and grow all of a sudden at the end of the year, we do that daily, hourly even. Minute-ly? 

As Courageous Leaders, coaching is something we should be doing all the time … every day. According to Gallup, “ … consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher engagement.”

The best leader I ever had told me, “If you have a conversation with someone and they don’t get better at something, you’re wasting their time and yours.” That’s what being a leader is all about—helping teams and peers get better as a result of your attention, knowledge, and coaching. Think about how you can make every conversation a learning experience for those around you. Keep reading for details on how to do this.

Misperception: We’re trapped in a review format

In an attempt to help people prepare for reviews, most organizations have developed some sort of annual review questionnaire. The path of least resistance for many leaders is to answer the questions and then deliver the results. 

But not us. Because we are Courageous Leaders. And as Courageous Leaders, we get that there’s a lot of things we can do around the org’s standard format to identify, evaluate, and boost our team members’ powers of creativity, productivity, and profitability.

Misperception: Everybody hates annual reviews

Done the right way, people actually like to sit down with their leaders and go over how they’re doing. In fact, study after study indicates that one of the things employees most want from their managers is one-on-one time. 

Yet dreading annual reviews has become a cultural phenomenon—we love to hate them. Hop on Google, and you’ll find memes and GIFs galore, all designed to help us laugh through the pain. I like the ones from The Office and Game of Thrones.

Soooo … is there going to be a big yawning void in our end-of-year schedules? Bwahahaha. Of course not. In 2023, Courageous Leaders are replacing annual reviews with annual previews and ongoing in-the-moment coaching. And you can too.

Here are four easy ways to wrap this year up on a positive note and give the next 12 months the kind of energizing forward momentum we all deserve.   

4 Ways to Turn Annual Review Frowns Upside Down


Give your “We Need to Talk” talks a makeover

You can try to avoid these prickly tete-a-tetes. You can wait for someone else to say what needs to be said. You can issue passive aggressive policies and hope people just get it. Or? Or you could decide to guide errant team members in a way that leaves everyone feeling respected and energized.

This is about having “courageous conversations” that fine-tune attitudes, behaviors, and skills; promote understanding; and drive mutually satisfying outcomes, cohesive teams, and overall business success. How do you do them? With a 5-step process I teach in my workshops.

In these intense sessions, we practice how to be SPECIFIC about the desired outcome or expectations. TIME discussions for the right moment. Discuss the EFFECT of the actions on others. Keep the focus on the PERFORMANCE, not the personal. And offer ongoing SUPPORT.

Collect the best moments throughout the year

When you see somebody doing something great, where they had an outstanding result, don’t just congratulate them. Don’t just pat them on the back and say thank you. Actually give them detailed feedback about what, specifically, they did well. 

When you offer a correction, take time to notice them doing the revised behavior, and then, you guessed it, let them know you witnessed it. These real-time, one-on-one moments throughout the year are essential to each team member’s professional development. Take time to do them in person, over the phone, or in a video call. 

Here’s the important part: follow up with an email so you have a written record that you can put in your “Jane Smith Rocks” folder. Next year, when you sit down together for a review, you won’t need a company form to talk about what a great year she had. 

Have your team collect their own best moments

Another thing I used to do as an employee, and now I ask people to do it for me as their leader, is what I call “Weekly Update.” 

First thing Monday morning, every team member sends a quick, bullet-pointed email that says, “This week, these are my three big priorities.” Not only does this promote autonomy, it also holds people accountable for getting these three things done. 

If there’s a mismatch on Friday, you get to have either a “great job” moment or a “let’s get you realigned” moment. Right there, right then. No wins ever get forgotten. Struggles don’t have 11 months to fester. Plus (bonus) at the end of the year, you both have a record of what got done. 

Out with the reviews, in with the annual previews

One of the biggest issues with annual reviews is that they’re reviews—they’re based on the past; they’re backward-looking ugh-a-thons. How do you turn that around? By replacing your annual reviews with annual previews

Energizing annual previews go over what you, as the leader and the employee, can do together for the future to either continue or boost performance, productivity, and profitability. Instead of talking about what went wrong, you’re talking about what can go right. You’re sitting down to envision a bright future together.

Annual sit-downs shouldn’t feel like report cards. Goodness knows we had enough of those growing up in school. Annual previews set everybody up for a positive, productive New Year. What could be more fun than that?

WHAT’S NEXT? Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are having a blast helping Courageous Leaders coach and lead for success. If you’re an executive or leader seeking guidance in how to engage, inspire, and develop teams of your employees, go to to grab a webinar, workshop, or keynote customized to your organization’s specific needs. 

Signature of Cindy Solomon, Courageous Leadership expert and keynote speaker

Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a thriving leadership and customer experience training organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of leadership. Learn more at

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