Yearly Evaluations, 90-Day Reviews, and One-on-Ones: What’s the Difference?

One of the biggest HR myths is that employees don’t like hearing “negative” feedback. On the contrary, studies reveal that employees are better engaged and happier when they receive both reinforcing feedback (what some people call “positive” feedback) and redirecting feedback (or “negative” feedback). That means, believe it or not, your employees want you to critique their performance, letting them know when they need to change direction– a process known as constructive feedback.

The trouble is, sometimes employers think performance reviews are the best place or time to give employees “negative” feedback, which isn’t necessarily the case.  Also, there are all kinds of performance reviews, and, occasionally, managers think the only difference between them is when or how often they are scheduled. 

Yearly performance evaluations, 90-day reviews, and one-on-ones are not, in fact, interchangeable. Each of these evaluations serves a specific purpose which means certain meetings are better for, say, asking an employee for change, discussing day-to-day issues, or hashing out big picture problems. Because employers sometimes mistakenly tackle every performance review the exact same way, here is a guide to some common types of performance evaluations along with some general feedback advice that can apply to any review. 

Performance Evaluations Explained

Contrary to popular belief, yearly or quarterly evaluations should generally be an opportunity to focus on positive things, although every conversation you have with an employee is indeed an opportunity to ask for improvement and to recognize success. The problem with evaluations that take place quarterly or yearly is that they are not an effective means for immediate improvement in job performance. Waiting for a quarterly review to give feedback doesn’t give your employee the needed insight to be able to improve “the next day.” By the time the performance review rolls around, your employee may not understand where they could have improved while they continuously frustrate you.

There are several types of performance evaluations and accompanying documentation for each one.  Each kind of evaluation serves a specific purpose. As you will see, however, the best time to ask an employee to change is as soon as possible.

Weekly or Bi-Weekly One-On-One Sessions  

Weekly or bi-weekly regular one-on-one sessions with each employee are probably the best forum to sit down with your employee and ask for changes in job performance. While time-consuming, one-on-ones are the most effective way to discuss the challenges and areas that need improvement while celebrating the wins from the previous weeks established in previous meetings. During a one-on-one, in accordance with the principles of the FIRR method, you are constantly reviewing and engaging in a constructive discussion. 

Feedback, both reinforcing and redirecting, and problem-solving are the most important elements of one-on-ones, but that is not the only purpose of these meetings. One-on-ones are also a good place to ask if your employee’s dachshund Sir Diggory had a successful surgery or if little Sophia is planning on playing tee-ball again this year. While job-related issues should be the primary focus of your one-on-ones, it’s also a good time to engage with your employees personally. 

Weekly one-on-ones are difficult to pull off, especially at understaffed practices. Bi-weekly one on ones are a great compromise for busy practices. Employers with consistently full hands and little bandwidth can schedule monthly one-on-ones if it comes to that. Just keep in mind the more you engage in regular check-ins with each member of your team and engage in problem-solving discussions, the more growth and engagement you’ll see.

If you don’t want to wait for the weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one, the great news is, you don’t always have to schedule a specific time to sit down and redirect employees. You can ask for change as soon as the issue crops up wherever you are! Progressive Corrective Coaching is a method by which a specific behavior or issue can be addressed in real-time. In conjunction with one-on-ones, PCC can be used to address attitude, tardiness, failure to perform key functions of the position, and a myriad of other things. Generally, it is one more way to document and ask for a team member to progress along the path towards becoming a better fit for your practice and their job position. 

In PCC, you are encouraged to address problems as they crop up rather than waiting for a structured meeting to do so. If Amy didn’t have the tray ready in time, you can use the principles of PCC to address the issue as soon as possible rather than waiting for a one-on-one or an evaluation. Later, during the one-on-one, you can get specific about the issue you addressed in the moment. “Amy, are you comfortable preparing the tray now?” If Amy is still struggling, you can get her input during the one-on-one. “Is there anything we can do to help you remember? Why do you think you’re having trouble?” What is important to remember about PCC is, you never have to wait until a particular time to address a job performance issue. In fact, the faster you let the employee know what they’re doing wrong, the sooner you can ask for and expect change which is exactly why CEDR has spent so much time developing PCC for owners and managers.    


Here is some more information on how to implement Progressive Corrective Coaching.


90-Day Evaluations

90-day evaluations serve a very particular purpose which is to welcome a new team member, let them know what they are doing well, and set goals for their first year of employment. During these meetings, it’s best to focus on goal setting in place of criticism. 

For example, let’s say Darnell is taking much too long inputting patient’s information into the computer because he gets distracted chatting with people in the waiting room. You might say something like, “Darnell, by next year, I’d like to see you get the employee’s paperwork done in less than five minutes. Do you think that’s a reasonable goal?” Wait for your one-on-one to ask Darnell to stop getting distracted by chatting with patients. For now, check in with your new employee, see how he’s adjusting, and tell him what you expect to see when you do your first annual review.

Annual Performance Reviews

Yearly reviews should be a mostly positive experience for your employees. Rather than a meeting for employees to arrive at with their heart beating out of their chest, one-year evaluations are generally reserved to talk about the progress of a team member and not much more. They are simply a check-in whereby you can ask them all sorts of things. For example, you can ask how they are getting along with their manager or if they feel challenged, underutilized, or if they have anything they need to talk about.

If you have an employee you suspect you won’t be keeping, annual reviews aren’t the best forum to give the employee more criticism. In fact, one-year evaluations should be reserved for employees who are performing adequately. If you have an employee who is struggling to perform their job correctly and is not making an effort to address issues discussed with one-on-ones, you will most likely want to postpone the performance review. If the employee asks about it, you can say, “We’re putting off the evaluation because, right now, I’d like you to focus on addressing the lateness that we’ve spoken about repeatedly.” Instead, annual performance reviews are a place to acknowledge your employee’s professional growth and hear what they have to say about their role at your company.

The Right Mindset for Feedback

While delivering feedback via progressive corrective coaching or during regular one-on-ones, it’s important to have the right mindset in order to create a cooperative environment where the employee feels capable and empowered to make the changes you need. One way to do this is by thinking in terms of “reinforcing and redirecting” rather than “positive and negative feedback” or “compliments and criticism.” It’s also a good idea to remember your employees making mistakes at work is not only inevitable but an essential element of your team’s professional growth. Reflecting that attitude helps employees understand failure is nothing to get defensive about. They don’t have to argue or stand up for themselves when, you, their boss, ask them to change. They simply have to change their behavior. 

Of course, you want to make sure you reflect the gravity of serious mistakes and the impact that poor job performance has on your patients and the rest of your team, but you don’t want to do so in a way that makes your employees shut down completely. That’s why it’s a great idea to adhere to the FIRR Method anytime you ask your team members for change. The FIRR Method is a set of guidelines for discussing performance-related issues with employees in a manner that lowers the employee’s defensive response and creates an environment that fosters problem-solving. This can help you address an issue without making it all about the person. By adhering to this method, you can remove judgment from the feedback you offer your employee but still let the employee know the impact of their actions on your practice and the rest of your team.

Anytime you’re offering feedback, be sure to focus on the outcome you want rather than how the employee arrives at the outcome. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the employee grabs the pick then gets the gauze, as long as the tray winds up next to you with the proper instruments in a reasonable amount of time. Keeping the outcome you want in mind can help you avoid the trap of micromanaging– an endless source of frustration for employers and employees alike. 

Don’t forget to include the employee in the solution when you deliver feedback. A good way to do this is by asking the employee what they think might help. “I realize you’ve been doing this procedure a certain way for five years, and now we’re doing things totally differently. What do you think might help?” Occasionally, when redirecting feedback is delivered, employees may try to lay the blame at the feet of a coworker rather than taking ownership of the solution. If that happens, try to shift the employee’s focus back to the things they can control which does not include the behavior of other employees. 

Remember, it is not a good idea to dress an employee down in front of others. Shame and embarrassment are simply not effective, and none of us operate well under those conditions. This highlights the need for you to set positive expectations around feedback and learn how to deliver it in the moment and in the appropriate manner. Tough talks about attitude, tardiness, their repeated failure to improve, or the like are best saved and delivered in private which means, in these cases, you might have to wait a day or two.

If you take some time to get into the right mindset, rather than a tug of war breaking out, employees learn to engage in problem-solving conversations that get lasting results. That being said, employers sometimes wait to deliver feedback because they feel like it’s better to hold back criticism until a private, scheduled, formal setting. Just keep in mind, whether you decide to give feedback immediately or a day or two later, from the first time the employee makes a mistake until the issue is addressed, whatever is going wrong will continue the entire time, making the poor job performance of that employee even more entrenched. While you don’t want to dress an employee down in public, you want to address issues as soon as reasonably possible so you don’t inadvertently give your employee permission to continue making the same mistake.


For the most part, the best time to ask your employees for change is not during a scheduled meeting, but right now. Don’t confuse performance evaluations with more effective ways to ask someone who works for you for change like one-on-one meetings and progressive corrective coaching. As a matter of fact, the annual or quarterly review is a very poor place to address poor job performance. Bottom line, a combination of progressive corrective coaching and a frequent one-on-one approach is best if you want to get the best results from your employees.

Sep 27, 2021

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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