Updated November 18, 2020:

What is Writing Performance Reviews?

Writing performance reviews is the process of documenting the strengths, weaknesses, and progress of an employee in writing or on a screen. It is a necessary step in managing a team. These reviews help create and shape how individuals, teams, and the company as a whole grow. Understanding how to write performance reviews is a crucial piece of keeping the company in top shape.

A performance review or appraisal helps give insight to employees on how they perform. In many companies, these performance reviews create a standardized way to decide among employees who most deserves salary increases, bonuses, and other performance-based incentives. These reviews offer helpful feedback, not only to employees but also to managers. Also, when writing a performance review, you can identify areas of needed improvement for employees.

When written performance reviews and appraisals are collected, a company can see where employees' strengths and weaknesses lie, not only on an individual level but on a department and company level.

Methods for Conducting Performance Reviews

When offering a performance review, you can choose between conducting the review in writing or face-to-face. In-person reviews are beneficial because they help with the flow of communication. However, with a written review, employees can see exactly where they stand. They have a concrete copy of the review to which they can refer. This helps keep employees on track with their development.

Performance Review Types

Deciding on the right type of review for employees can be a challenge. There are many options. The most common is a scale-based rating system, comments in free form based on performance questions, or a combination of the two types.

It's important to remember that evaluating and appraising employees is a sensitive topic, so it deserves undivided attention. Because of how closely linked reviews and promotions or raises are, the majority of companies use a numerical or scale-based system. This helps explain and justify future career moves and benefits.

What is Required When Writing Performance Reviews?

No matter what position employees hold, the type of company, or the kind of review the employer is conducting, several items must be included in written reviews:

  • Name of the employee
  • Name of the manager and/or reviewer
  • Date of the review
  • Review period (such as yearly, quarterly, etc.)
  • Employee's position, level, or job title
  • A list of the evaluation criteria
  • Instructions for the review
  • Overall rating (generally this is levels such as needs improvement, meets expectations, and exceeds expectations)
  • Comments and general feedback section
  • Specific examples of the employee's performance to support the rating

While these items are not required in a written performance review, you can add value to your appraisal of employees by adding:

  • Specific job description performance objectives
  • Additional numerical ratings on the same scale as the overall rating for performance objectives
  • Specific activities in the workplace that are being reviewed
  • Specific job results
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the employee
  • Training opportunities the employee can take part in
  • Development goals to be discussed with the employee

What are Optional Additions When Writing a Performance Review?

Adding additional information to a review allows a more well-rounded view of the employee's performance. These items can be added to the review:

  • Supporting information and examples for each numerical or overall rating
  • Feedback from clients and peers
  • Exact descriptions of what is being reviewed and evaluated for each criterion
  • Information on how the review can be used, with the criteria required, for bonuses, salary increases, promotions, and more

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Start Positive and Be Comprehensive

At the beginning of each review, make sure to include deliberate and genuine praise for the accomplishments of the employee. It's crucial to ensure that every employee receives positive feedback at the start. Even those with low-performance scores generally have a few areas in which they shine or have contributed to the company in a meaningful way.

Keep in mind that when an employee receives a bad performance review, their productivity lowers. Low review scores lower morale. In many cases, negative reviews can actually lead an employee to leave the company. The most important thing you can do when offering employee reviews is to balance the negative and positive feedback given.

Negative feedback is not always a bad thing. Think of it as constructive criticism. This helps employees see where they can improve and on what they need to work. Even outstanding employees have areas in which they can grow.

Make sure feedback and free-form reviewing are specific. Supervisors should offer details or examples to show the employee that they pay attention to what they are doing. All feedback needs to be explicit and relevant to the job and review objective.

When opening reviews with employees, let them know the purpose of the review. They should understand what the supervisor is going over, specific metrics, and criteria for those metrics. The more prepared an employee is, the better.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Point Out Goals Achieved or Exceeded

Make sure to note any accomplishments or goals that the employee achieved since their last review. While supervisors don't need to go over every measurement and goal with every employee, they should walk through the areas in which the employee excelled.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Discuss Unsatisfied Goals

Not all goals can be achieved all the time. Identify the goals that the employee did not achieve appropriately and fairly. Use this as a time for constructive feedback. Keep in mind that not all unsatisfied goals are because of problems with performance. In many cases, this is a circumstantial situation.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Identify Future Expectations

Use the time of the performance review to help employees create their goals for the next review period. Discuss their role in the team and company, how they can grow over the next review period and any future changes to the review expectations. Keep the tone optimistic and positive, especially with low-performing employees to help alleviate any additional stress this may cause.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Offer Constructive Feedback

Suggestions on where employees can improve allow them to work toward a better rating in their review in the future. Consider wording feedback to show employees what they are doing well. Make this the focus, rather than telling the employee to get better at something else.

Make sure you're specific with the constructive feedback. All constructive criticism should be based on the employee's performance, not specific and unique circumstances. Feedback should also be as direct as possible.

Don't forget that improvement opportunities come in different forms, and may include more than just fixing weaknesses. Make sure to discuss maximizing your employee's strengths.

During difficult discussions on serious performance problems, supervisors should talk to their employees in an open-ended way. Ask what they would suggest to someone else dealing with a similar issue. Find out if they achieved the result for which they were hoping. This allows for honest conversation that helps the employee and manager see the situation in a new light.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Be Careful with Your Words

Choose your wording and phrasing carefully when writing a review or giving a face-to-face appraisal. Stay away from words such as "always" or "never." Remember that this review will impact your employee's overall morale.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Recap Informal Feedback

Throughout the review period, supervisors usually give employees feedback and suggestions. Make sure to recap this information during the formal review. This helps solidify previous comments.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: Encourage Discussion

Communication is the key to successful relationships. Performance reviews open the door to honest communication. Rather than dread, supervisors should feel this is an opportunity for in-depth discussion. Give employees the chance to respond to the overall review, suggestions, and feedback. Many bosses discover other circumstances or issues are affecting their review.

Tips for Writing Performance Reviews: End on a Positive

In the same way that managers want to start the review on a good note, they should end it with something positive, as well. Ending on a positive note is encouraging and shows employees they are appreciated. Remember that positive reinforcement boosts confidence and increases overall performance.

Watch Out for These Review Pitfalls

During your review, make sure to avoid common errors:

  • Severe or excessive negativity and criticism
  • Detailed discussions on bonuses, salary increases, or promotions
  • Threatening discipline for poor performance
  • Discussing only recent or memorable performance activities as the basis for the review
  • Bringing up severe performance problems that haven't been discussed in some capacity previously
  • Being general in your feedback, with no specific information or examples
  • Focusing on the employee's personality, rather than his or her overall performance

Sample Phrases to Use: Communication Skills

  • Communicates his/her point of view, expectations, and ideas effectively
  • Effectively facilitates meetings and manages group discussions
  • Promotes task-oriented meetings and goals
  • Effectively enforces policies and values without creating negativity
  • Works and communicates effectively with clients

Sample Phrases to Use: Achievements

  • Originally set a goal of X and exceeded this goal by Y
  • Accomplishes highest performance levels in such areas as…
  • Displays outstanding team player abilities while executing…
  • Consistently developed and improved strategies with excellent performance in…
  • Improved productivity levels overall by X percent
  • Acted proactively in areas both within and outside this specific project

Sample Phrases to Use: Coaching and Training Abilities

  • Offered support and guidance to peers by….
  • Showed honest interest in hearing and addressing problems other employees shared
  • Showed strong training abilities by using X techniques to solve B problems
  • Stepped up to offer regular training for…
  • Gained respect and support from peers by patiently listening to their concerns
  • Created numerous opportunities for other employees by…

Sample Phrases to Use: Interpersonal Skills

  • Works diligently to create effective professional relationships by…
  • Offers a helping hand and understanding to peers
  • Promotes a cohesive team by…
  • Follows company culture and helps others do the same
  • Creates mutual reliance and understanding

Written Performance Appraisal Examples

Sarah exceeds manager expectations continuously while in the role of a recruiter. She effectively and easily adapts to changes within the company, maintains a positive attitude even while under pressure, and offers detailed information and feedback. Sarah goes above and beyond by regularly seeking out additional tasks and responsibilities and follows through with the projects she takes on. Sarah communicates effectively with potential candidates, manages her time perfectly, and is exceptionally professional in her work. While Sarah excels at following company culture and communicating effectively, she could benefit from leading team meetings to further her leadership skills.

Mike has not met the manager expectations in his employee development role. He has trouble adapting to fast-paced changes and unique circumstances, making it difficult for other employees to approach him. Mike effectively enforces policies and values that are important to the company, without creating negativity in the workplace. He shows adequate communication skills with peers and superiors. This year Mike achieved his goal of implementing a standardized training system. However, he struggled to get this produced in the requested time frame. Over the next year, Mike should focus on time management and project management skills.

In her role as a customer service consultant, Karen has shown outstanding performance. She not only communicates effectively with customers to rectify their concerns, but she has also shown an aptitude for active listening and showed honest interest in hearing and addressing problems other employees shared. Karen struggled with unforeseen scheduling conflicts this year, which made her time management less than stellar. However, Karen's overall project management skills allowed her to excel in the additional projects she took to help unify her team over the year. While Karen displays great communication skills with her peers, I have noticed that these skills are not as strong when talking with superiors. I would encourage Karen to become more confident in communicating her suggestions and ideas for the company over the next year.

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