Few tasks among a manager’s responsibilities stir up as many mixed feelings as writing performance reviews. We’ve scoured expert resources to bring you examples of how to communicate your company’s needs and encourage productivity without breaking morale.
It’s easy to extol an employee’s virtues, but things get tougher when you’re faced with assessing their challenges and keeping your feedback constructive. How will you find a way to discuss areas where your employees need improvement without raising their defenses?
Employees aren’t often thrilled about the performance review process, either. Employee engagement company TINYPulse surveyed over one thousand professionals and discovered that 37% think the process is outdated, and 42% feel that managers leave important elements out of their reviews due to bias. Nearly a quarter said they feared performance reviews, and the trend was especially strong among millennials, who also said the process stressed them out.
Although face-to-face feedback on a regular basis is an important tool for encouraging and motivating your team, the written review gives both the employee and manager something concrete to refer to. Let’s take a look at how to write a review that celebrates great performance and clearly communicates needed improvements.
What is a performance review?
There are many types of performance reviews, and they differ from company to company. Some have grading systems. Others have question and response formats. Some are expected to be free-form. Whatever the case, commenting with clear, positive language is the key to keeping the review goal-focused and productive.
Most reviews will include your evaluation of the employee’s performance in areas such as:
- Quality and accuracy of work
- Ability to meet established goals and deadlines
- Communication skills
- Collaboration skills and teamwork
- Problem-solving skills
- Attendance and dependability
How to keep your performance review constructive
A bit of psychology goes into writing a performance review that leaves both you and the employee feeling that the experience was valuable. This is where clarity of language comes into play. Let’s look at an example of the same critical feedback, one written with a negative tone, the other growth-focused and positive.
Jill is always distracted and finds it difficult to meet project deadlines.
This comment is both hyperbole (Jill isn’t always distracted; otherwise, she’d never get a single thing done!) and a generalization. Starting any piece of feedback with “You always do X” is bound to raise a person’s defenses and create negative feelings. It’s also not actionable. If distractibility is hardwired into Jill’s nature, how will telling her what she already knows help her improve?
A focus on prioritizing tasks early in the day will help Jill eliminate distractions to better meet project deadlines. I recommend we touch base briefly each morning to set daily progress goals.
This sort of feedback tells Jill that she needs to work on prioritizing and meeting goals, but it also offers a solution—a daily check-in to help her establish priorities.
Assume that most employees want to do the right thing. Unless Jill’s wasting time posting selfies on Instagram, it’s likely she’s well aware of her problem with meeting deadlines and wants to get better. Rather than pointing out the obvious (Jill struggles to prioritize), it’s important to offer a solution that will work for both of you.
Inc.com provides more examples of what not to write in any employee’s performance review. The Muse offers advice for giving honest feedback that won’t damage your relationship with your employee.
Three performance review phrase examples
Now that we’ve examined the psychology behind phrasing criticisms constructively, let’s take a look at some sample text from employee reviews.
1 The Good Performer
The first is a positive appraisal from the Snagajob blog:
2 The Adequate Performer
This more critical take, for an employee who meets expectations but doesn’t reach for higher aspirations, comes from Bright Hub:
3 The Underperformer
Writing negative reviews that are both honest about the employee’s underperformance and motivational in a way that encourages improvement is a challenging task. LearnThat.com gives an example of constructive feedback for an employee whose frequent tardiness is limiting his potential:
Think of giving critical feedback like making a sandwich. The criticism (Jack is often late) should be sandwiched between a positive comment (he can be a very effective team member) and some specific steps to help him improve (Jack should focus on attendance and be ready for work at 8:00 a.m. each day).
Writing performance reviews requires managers to be specific with their feedback, stay constructive, and provide solutions to help the employee grow. Pay careful attention to writing clearly, with a positive tone, and soon you’ll be writing performance reviews your employees won’t have to dread receiving.