perf review vs coachingWhenever I hear the question, “Isn’t management coaching a lot like a performance review?”

All I have to do is think back to my own experience. With confidence, I can answer “Absolutely not.”

The two are dramatically different. So, I usually respond, “Do great coaches only talk to their team players once a year?” Or, “How often did Vince Lombardi talk to his players?”

During the past few decades I have had the opportunity to work for several different organizations that all had some sort of performance-review process.

Whether the review was completed annually or bi-annually, it was typically tied to a pay increase and involved official paperwork of some kind. I sat through complicated form-driven sessions and short reviews of already completed assessments.

I received praise, guidance, and criticism during these sessions – all based on my past performance. One company did include a goal setting process as part of the review, but when the performance review was over, the subject was never revisited. Still, I thought I was experiencing “coaching.” Then several years ago I took a position at a company that really opened my eyes.

My employer at that time had a process that kept the conversation going throughout the year in such a way that it strengthened my interpersonal relationship with my supervisor and consequently my performance soared, my development progressed, and my horizons expanded.

These genuine coaching sessions made a huge difference in my professional growth—and greatly increased the value I brought to the business as a result. I learned from that experience that a performance review does not equate to coaching.

Performance Reviews vs. Coaching

Performance reviews are formal sessions designed to apprise employees of a leader’s perception of their job effort and success. These traditional, carefully scheduled meetings are designed to let employees know how they are doing and to relay their relative value to the organization.

Management coaching can be planned or spontaneous. It is an interpersonal experience where a leader can—in response to specific situations, critical incidents, or development opportunities—work with an employee to attain a specific goal, plan a behavior change, or develop a new skillset.

Coaching uses an interactive and integrative dialogue that builds an employee’s engagement and support for new direction and change. Coaching allows leaders and individual contributors to take advantage of growth opportunities as they occur and address issues and obstacles to professional performance while concerns are fresh in everyone’s mind. No organization that is truly committed to its employees should use “but we already do performance reviews” as an excuse not to coach.

A Coaching Evolution

The CMOE team originally became interested in coaching when a Fortune 500 corporation asked them to find solutions to current deficiencies the organization was experiencing with their performance-evaluation process. Across the board, managers asked for a less-formal, more-flexible process they could use more frequently with employees.

The research that was conducted in response to that request resulted in the development of a powerful coaching model— and the original eight-step coaching model has only been strengthened by CMOE’s ongoing research and development in the decades since it was first introduced.

If you have questions about the value of adding a coaching program to your organization, the table below will help you see the clear differences between coaching and performance reviews and the benefits that coaching provides.


Performance Review

  • Informal
  • Specific Feedback, Topic, or Opportunity
  • Interactive
  • Two-way dialogue
  • Includes goal setting and action plans
  • Supports ongoing development and change; helps to eliminate obstacles and promotes improved performance
  • Builds strong interpersonal relationships
  • Formal
  • General Feedback
  • Leader leads discussion
  • One-way presentation
  • Provides information to support management decision making (rewards, compensation, discipline)
  • Reinforces expectations and evaluates performance over time
  • Maintains the manager-individual contributor dynamic

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About the Author
Cyndi Keller
Cyndi Keller is the Director of Curriculum Design & Development at CMOE. She brings over 20 years of communication project management experience to the Design Team and CMOE clients. She works with the Design Team to guide the design, development, and production of innovative learning and development curriculum.

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