The 10 best performance review questions to ask your manager

Whether you are a manager yourself, or an arts professional stepping into your annual performance review, ArtsHub arms you with the best questions to ask.
two women in a casual job meeting

Last year ArtsHub tackled the topic of whether performance reviews are still relevant in the workplace today. It would seem, the overwhelming answer was yes.  However, how we do them has changed dramatically.

Part of that shift has been around the tone of the review process, with conversations having become more candid and personable.  And, like any good meeting or interview, the old adage that ‘the quality of the answers is largely reliant on the quality of the questions asked’, has become increasingly relevant in that more open dialogue.

Part of the shift of performance reviews has been that it is a two-way process, rather than just getting pummelled with a list of failed expectations with report-card verve.

Asking questions may allow you to get to know your employer on a more personal level, and understand the pressures and goals that they are working under to deliver to their manager. It is all interrelated.

So we have cross-referenced the checklists and help guides out there, and come up with this quick list of the 10 best performance review questions for you to put to your manager.

1. Is my work output meeting your expectations?

Put it out there – clear and transparent. If your manager is not happy with what you are delivering, then make them tell you, and why. Veiled tensions in the workplace can be destructive, and when it is felt by any team member that another is not ‘pulling their weight’, that can lead to an unproductive environment for all.

On the flip side, your manager may deliver the news that they are happy with your output, which gives you a good gauge for managing your workload and burnout moving forward.

2. What areas of improvement do you see as a priority for me?

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is pretty much performance reviews 101, but we suggest turning the tables here.

What you consider your weak points could be quite different to what your manager feels is letting you down – and perhaps they are also have them in a different order of priority. But putting the question to your manager, it not only opens up a frank and transparent conversation among colleagues, it is also a great cross check on your own self-awareness. After all, you may be worrying about something that is entirely trivial in your manager’s eyes, but missing a simple adjustment for better performance elsewhere.

Read: What we learned: top 10 career lessons from 2023

3. What do you consider are my strengths in the team, and are they grounds for career advancement?

Knowing your strengths and receiving praise from your employer is important for boosting your morale and confidence at work. After a tough few years – and the tolls of burnout for many being a real impact – to hear those wins is important.

This also offers a level of transparency about career opportunities within the company, especially if you are ambitious for advancement. Be upfront: ask your manager how they may see opportunities arising for you.

Read: How To Ask For a Raise ( With Examples)

4. Which skills or areas should I work on? And do you recommend I take any courses to address this?

Most companies have a budget, or can access funding, for skills advancement and education or CPD (continuing professional development). It can be a win to know what is available to you, and to have your manager suggest good options to pursue. This means that when you go to the table with a request it is more likely to tick the box and get approved.

It also gives you a clearer picture of what your manager feels are your weak spots, and also their priorities for sharpening up the team. Plus, asking about your weaknesses is proactive, and a sign that you are committed to delivering the best you can in the role.

5. How could I better support my teammates?

One thing COVID has taught us is that, while we may be physically working more independently, to coordinate and work as a team remains vital. A good team culture is instrumental to a healthy workplace. Aside from your functional responsibilities, belonging to an efficient and effective team is part of a fulfilling job. So ask whether you are a good team player – your perception may be different to that of your managers.

Asking this also shows your interest in your colleagues’ progression, and your sense of care in the workplace.

6. What is our organisation’s biggest challenge, and how do you see my current role fitting into that?

This, in many ways, is the foundation for your job for the year ahead, so you definitely want to know what the goal posts are, and how your company is planning on kicking in that direction.

Understanding this broader context, and how it impacts your department and deliverables, will help you prioritise you own workloads. It may also give you the opportunity to contribute new ideas towards solving issues and reaching goals, underscoring the value of your role with the organisation.

7. How do you measure my success, or progress?

We all feel we are overworked in the arts – stretched beyond our PDs (position descriptions) – but how does that sense of exhaustion relate to measurable outcomes?

Understanding how your manager monitors your progress can help you set benchmarks for what you actually need to deliver, which may lead to better management of your workflow.

Read: 10 tips for artists to increase their productivity

8. Are there additional projects or tasks I can take ownership of?

One way to track your professional success and build your CV is to take ownership of projects, which can be reported upon to show results. Asking to take on the responsibility of a project, or management of an office task, not only demonstrates your willingness to extend your skills, but also demonstrates that you are keen to take the opportunity to grow the company as a team member. It can be a win both professionally and personally.

9. What does this next year look like for our organisation? What is management gunning for, what are they pressuring you to deliver and how does that impact my role?

Asking this question helps clarify what upper management is focused on, and what results they will be looking for. Aligning yourself, and your output, with this wider company goal, will ensure job security and management satisfaction. It also is a great indication of where you may be able to grab opportunities for career advancement.

It also allows you to check in with your own values and goals, and ensure that you are personally aligned with that company vision. Often, unhappiness in workplaces comes from that fact that you no longer ‘like’ who your company is, and the ethics or power pushes on display. This question is a great litmus test on many levels.

10. What do you see as the greatest strength/offering to our clients and audiences? And how does that sit between what I am delivering and what upper management is wanting?

Perception is just as important as real deliverables in the workplace – both internally and externally. Knowing what your manager believes is your collective strength and core deliverable to your audience, is an opportunity for you to check in with how you believe you are aligned on those points.

It may be something that is very different to the company’s driving targets or goals, and rather something that builds your organisation’s reputation and value. For example, your collective strength may be your reputation for authenticity and truth, while the company’s goal may be to grow ‘bums on seats’. How these two things come together is less about management meetings and more about what you – as an employee – is doing at the coalface.

Mature and transparent conversations during a performance review can ensure that both goals can be met without compromising either. It also demonstrates your maturity in the workplace.

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Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina