Team Management

EMHub Roundup: How 3 software engineering leaders deliver effective performance reviews

The delivery of your performance reviews is as important as the content. Here's how 3 experienced engineering leaders facilitate smooth and productive review meetings.

This month, we heard from CTO Kevin Goldsmith about how to write meaningful performance reviews. But the process doesn't end there. Effective delivery is just as important as the content of your reviews.

Providing constructive feedback is never easy, and these conversations can cause anxiety for managers and engineers alike. However, performance reviews are also an opportunity to build trust and level up your team. 

To help you facilitate productive conversations with your engineers, we have curated tips from experienced engineering leaders about delivering growth-oriented feedback in review meetings.


James Stanier, Ph.D.

Director of Engineering at Shopify, author of The Engineering Manager

Performance Reviews

  • The key to a successful review meeting is preparation.
    • Share your written review with the engineer at least one day before your meeting. This gives them time to process the feedback and prepare questions and reflections.

  • Spend 50% of the review discussing work completed, and 50% discussing new goals.
    • Come prepared with your ideas for the future, and invite the engineer to share theirs. You don't need to finish this conversation during the review – if needed, schedule a follow-up meeting to finalize new objectives.
  • Sometimes, even with the right preparation, reviews become emotional.
    • If the engineer is angry or distressed, show empathy and listen to their concerns.
    • Don't let an emotional response change your feedback. Communicate that you are invested in the engineer's success and available to help them grow.
    • If emotions continue running high, pause the meeting for a break.


Gergely Orosz

Former Engineering Manager at Uber, author of The Pragmatic Engineer

Performance Reviews for Software Developers – How I Do Them In a (Hopefully) Fair Way

  • Discuss performance feedback first, then have a follow-up meeting to discuss compensation.
    • Make sure engineers know about this structure ahead of time – that way, they can focus on your feedback without anticipating salary information.

  • Set clear expectations at the start of the feedback meeting:
    • All of this information will be provided in writing.
    • There will be an opportunity to pause and have a dialogue after each piece of feedback.
  • Avoid the traditional "feedback sandwich." Instead:
    • Provide an overview of achievements from the review period.
    • Provide feedback on each competency or area of work.
    • Throughout the conversation, ask probing questions that encourage engineers to share their thoughts.
  • Work with engineers to set forward-looking goals. This will help struggling engineers level up their performance and high performers become promotion-ready.


Kate Matsudaira

Vice President at Splunk, former Director of Engineering at Google

Employee Reviews: Tips to use them as motivation

  • There should be no surprises in review meetings.
    • Any constructive feedback should be delivered when the concern arises.
    • If you are leveraging 1:1s to address issues as needed, you can spend most of the review meeting discussing accomplishments and the steps engineers have taken to grow.
  • Assume that every engineer wants to do their best work: if they knew how to do better, they would.
    • When you deliver "negative" feedback in reviews, make sure that it is tied to an actionable step that engineers can take to improve.
  • Focus on results, but question your interpretation of events.
    • For example: a project launches late and with several bugs. Instead of assuming the cause of these issues, present the results alongside open-ended questions. These might include: What do you think we could do to create a different outcome?
    • From there, work with the engineer to distill key takeaways and ideas for future improvements.
  • Set clear expectations for the behaviors associated with each review rating. Provide concrete examples of behaviors that will help engineers increase their ratings.
  • When someone is between ratings, round up. While you want to be candid in your feedback, positive ratings can be greatly motivating. 



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