Newsflash: employee performance reviews don’t have to be stressful, tedious or boring. Once you learn how to write reviews that are inspiring, impactful and actionable, these goal-setting sessions are a great opportunity to realign and re-energize your team.
So if you’re looking for tips to write effective performance reviews that motivate employees to reach their highest potential, look no further. In this article, I’ll show you how to write performance reviews that inspire meaningful growth, plus tons of examples and customizable performance review templates to get you started.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is a performance review?
- What is the purpose of writing a performance review
- How to write a performance review
- How to write a negative performance review
- Performance review FAQ
What is a performance review?
A performance review, also known as a performance appraisal or evaluation, is a formal assessment of an employee’s contributions within a certain time period. During an employee performance review, managers or team leads will evaluate an employee’s work, provide constructive feedback, identify strengths/weaknesses and help set goals.
The review process typically involve filling in a document to keep record of the assessment and any expectations communicated, like so:
Employee performance reviews also give staff the opportunity to ask questions and share feedback with managers.
The time and scope of the review process can vary depending on the company, company size and their goals for conducting the review. They may take place monthly, quarterly…
…annually, or at some other frequency decided upon by leadership.
Prefer watching instead? Check out this video for a summary of our article 21 Engaging Performance Review Examples [+ Tips From an HR Manager] for best practices, templates and more.
What is the purpose of a performance review?
Performance reviews are key for aligning team members and cultivating the continued success of a company. As a talent management tool, these formal processes give managers the opportunity to
- reflect on an individual’s performance and achievements
- communicate expectations
- increase employee engagement
- course-correct and find solutions for any issues
- provide reinforcement and assurance
On the administration side of things, performance reviews are used to…
- offer employees advice on how they can improve
- decide bonuses or raises
- identify opportunities for internal promotions
- justify letting employees go in the future
But remember: these reviews aren’t just a chance for managers to relay observations. When conducted effectively, they offer a space for conversation, consideration and collaboration from both parties.
Employees should ask questions and share feedback with their manager. Filling out a self-evaluation may be part of the review process too.
(Psst! If you like any of the templates you’ve seen so far, know that you can 100% customize their content to work for your evaluation needs. Just click the template and sign up for free to get started. Select any text box to change the words or the font — i.e. your brand font — or any other visual asset on the page.)
All in all, the more people are on the same page, the better the team alignment and output will be.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: with all these positive outcomes, how come performance reviews are so…scary?
Well, it all depends on the kind of feedback you provide. In fact, research shows traditional methods for giving feedback are received so poorly that one-third of employees’ performance actually gets worse!
That’s why knowing how to write a performance review with impact, and one that pushes people to meaningfully improve, is so important.
What to include in a performance review
While performance reviews may touch on a number of topics, virtually all involve assessing an employee’s…
- Areas of strength
- Areas of improvement or development
- Contributions (or opportunities for contributing) to the team and company culture
- Alignment with a company’s core values or goals, as demonstrated through their actions
Here’s a customizable performance evaluation template that provides some examples.
As you can see, common things taken into consideration include an employee’s communication, teamwork, punctuality, reliability, quality of work, work ethic and goal completions. During a performance review, everything from day-to-day behavior to big project outcomes are up for discussion.
Self-assessments can include space for the employee to comment on all the above. You may also want to ask what kinds of personal development goals they have, or learning areas they may be interested in. This is key for showing staff that you value them as people.
Ready to write a performance review that truly paves the way for more good to come? Let’s get to it.
How to Write a Good Performance Review (+ Examples & Templates That Motivate)
No matter whether this is your first time or your fiftieth, here are eight tips and performance review examples that’ll guide you through the process and empower your team.
Organize your thoughts and streamline the process
Before you even begin to consider holding a formal review, it’s crucial you have a system in place to help you organize your approach. This helps you call up specific examples from their past performance and evaluate all actions that took place over the review period easily.
That way, you don’t fall victim to recency bias — in other words, considering an employee’s recent behavior only.
Employee evaluation forms are a key piece of your performance management system. In addition to saving you time, these forms ensure everyone receives the same evaluation.
Without them, you may fall into an inconsistent method of evaluation, which isn’t exactly fair to your team.
What’s more, these visual documents allow employees to reference everything said during a review. And when it comes time for promotions or firings, you have a track record to look back on.
(Psst! Once again, feel free to customize any of the templates you see to suit your own needs. It’s super easy!)
Be honest, objective and empathetic
In order to build trust and respect with the employee — not to mention, maximizing their potential for growth — being honest, objective, and empathetic during the performance review is essential.
First, honesty is key in order to provide employees with an accurate assessment of their performance. All communications should be made in good faith, and staff shouldn’t have to feel like they need to read between the lines to understand what your feedback really means.
Similarly, you should aim to be as objective as possible. If you don’t qualify statements with tangible examples, it’ll give the impression you either failed to pay attention, or worse, based your observations on personal opinion.
This is where correct documentation comes into play!
Use performance checklists whenever possible prior to your review. A well thought-out list is your secret weapon for evaluating employees objectively and thinking critically about areas they can improve.
The employee checklist templates below can easily be adjusted to reflect critical improvements and action steps.
Treat these documents as an important part of your performance management systems for keeping employees engaged and motivated.
Finally, it’s vital to be empathetic and open to conversation when delivering feedback. Only then will you get the full picture and insights into what might hindering their performance, so you can both find solutions that work.
Use specific examples to back up your points
Providing specific examples and observations you’ve made is integral to a productive performance review process.
While the overarching theme of their work performance may seem clear to you, the only way you’ll be able to clearly demonstrate where employees hit or missed the mark is by providing concrete evidence. So do your very best to give employees an accurate representation of their performance by pointing out specific instances.
(Hint: this is why organizing your thoughts is so important!)
For added assurance, relay these instances in an editable performance review document that employee can reference easily, like the example below. (If you need more room, just use Venngage’s intuitive visual editor to apply changes in a flash).
By using specific examples, you provide them with a more tangible understanding of how their performance has been, rather than just general statements which might be hard for them to comprehend and correct.
Additionally, concrete examples serve as a reference point for their future performance, as well as a means of measuring progress made. Ultimately, they allow the employee to have a better understanding of their performance and provide them with the motivation to do better in the future.
Choose your language carefully
When writing or communicating your observations during a performance review, it’s crucial you choose your words wisely.
Of course, honesty is key. But you also want to frame the conversation so that employees feel inspired to improve. A Gallup survey found employees who feel inspired to do better after receiving feedback were nearly four times more engaged than employees who felt negatively.
Here are some best practices to follow while writing or delivering a performance review:
- Use action verbs to clearly articulate the behavior demonstrated: check out this appraisal action verbs list for inspiration.
- Use specific examples to back up your assessments: discussed in #3.
- Don’t speak in absolutes, i.e. “He’s always late” or “She’s never a team player”: even if the behavior is repetitive, these statements demonstrate a black and white way of thinking about something (or someone!) and rarely reflect the truth.
- Focus on solutions, not problems: when bringing up undesirable behavior, do your best to specify a path forward — you may want to create an action or development plan to delineate these steps clearly.
As far as the last point goes, you can easily edit this template to record your plan effectively and set everything into action. Simply edit the sections and text content to create your ideal document.
Looking for concrete examples of what to write or say?
Here are a few adapted from the articles 13+ Constructive Performance Appraisal Examples & Phrases to Simplify Review Season and 21 Engaging Performance Review Examples [+ Tips From an HR Manager]:
- Highly organized and excellent at time management — responds to all communications in a timely manner (within 24 hours).
- Collaborative with others and available to assist when needed.
- Maintains a culture of transparency and encourages knowledge-sharing across all teams in the department.
- Consistently provides reports the training and resources needed to meet their goals.
- Talented at thinking outside of the box and finding creative solutions to blockers.
- Actions constructive criticism and strives to improve performance.
- Not afraid to ask questions to clarify or resolve issues before they become major problems.
- Develops innovative solutions to problems and works proactively to avoid future issues.
- Struggles to adapt to change and embrace new technology or processes.
- Struggles to deliver work on time.
- Shows a pattern of failing to communicate or ask for assistance when it’s needed.
- Hesitant to cooperate with requests from other departments.
- Shows bias when addressing team, openly favoring some employees over others.
- Fosters disconnect by consistently communicating different messages to different reports.
- Excels when working alone, but has trouble working collaboratively with a team.
Pair critical feedback with positive observations
A phrase that’s always stuck with me is, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.
Now look, I know no one is in the business of catching flies. But the gist is: you get better results by treating people with kindness and respect than you do with condescension or disregard.
The same applies for performance reviews — it’s best to bolster any less-than-favorable observations with positive comments or constructive solutions.
Not only will team members feel their existing strengths are appreciated and remain open to your critiques, but they’re more likely to see the review as an opportunity to improve, rather than a stain on their tenure.
This editable template contains a few examples of ways you can frame these observations in your writing. Note the focus on solutions rather than problems!
Another way to action this advice is to comment something positive before giving a critique. For example, “Jennay consistently produces high-quality work, however she often struggles to deliver work on time.”
Then, follow up with ideas to mitigate this issue.
Encourage employee input at every level
The most valuable and productive performance reviews foster open dialogue between the employee and manager. And when it comes to writing them specifically, getting employees to fill out a self-assessment prior to the review is smart.
By providing a robust employee evaluation form that poses thoughtful questions, you’ll tease out nuggets of important info and get a better understanding of their perspective — before you’ve even talked.
Below is one such example:
As you can see, these forms provide employees the opportunity to reflect and share their thoughts on their responsibilities, goals, and any aspects of their role or environment they may be struggling with. It also prepares them for the review process at large.
At Venngage, we ask our employees to fill out a self-assessment about their favorite projects and moments of discouragement, team contributions and requests for support. Employees then assess how well they’ve embodied Venngage’s core values out of five, and whether they’ve achieved their goals.
We also ask them to place themselves on a matrix, so everyone can visualize their growth as time goes on. Edit the template above to try this out with your team!
All in all, we’ve found self-assessments are instrumental. They help employees know exactly what to expect from the performance review process, and encourage them to be proactive in figuring out how they can improve.
Visualize performance with a skills/values matrix
As mentioned, our own performance reviews involve placing an employee on a matrix. This is an incredibly effective way of visualizing progress, streamlining the performance review and making any development goals stick.
As an evaluation tool, both parties can plot where they think the employee ranks for certain core values or skills. Since each quadrant corresponds with key learnings, you can find worthwhile discussion points and paths forward.
Here’s another take on a performance matrix that could work for your team. You could use one for each core competency and skill. Or, give your employee a bird’s eye view by creating a matrix that encapsulates their wholesale performance.
End on a positive note
Last but not least, it’s a good idea to wrap things up in a way where mutual respect is apparent.
Even if the review was more critical than complementary, use your final moments as an opportunity to set action plans into motion that address areas for improvement.
And no matter their behavior and output, be sure to express good feelings about their future prospects at the company.
Now with all that said, you might be looking for some advice specific to less-than-favorable performance reviews…
How to write a negative performance review
As a lead, it’s your job to deliver performance reviews that are both honest and constructive — no matter what kind of feedback you’re delivering. For a negative performance review this is especially important.
Consider it a chance to show your own managerial strengths as someone who can drive change and inspire others.
Begin on a positive note before providing any constructive feedback. Be sure to note a few things they’ve done well in the time period, so they’re more receptive to what you have to say.
Afterwards, you may start identifying areas in which the employee has underperformed (e.g. missed deadlines, mistakes, poor communication). Provide specific examples that support your points so they know exactly what behavior you’re referring to.
Make sure to provide clear and actionable feedback on how the employee can improve, and leave room to hear what they have to say. This will give you a better understanding of their mindset, and any blockers you may not have known about.
Offering support and resources can help them make progress too — it’s one way you can end a difficult conversation on a positive note. Here’s an HR infographic template with some ideas:
Above all else, remember to remain professional and courteous throughout the review. Focus on facts rather than personal opinions, and provide action steps rather than accusations.
Instead of saying “You make careless mistakes constantly and everyone is frustrated”, try: “I encourage you to take some extra time once you’re done to review your work. This will help speed up our processes and make things much more efficient.”
The bottom line: just because you’re giving a negative review doesn’t mean you have to deliver the news negatively.
Performance review FAQ
What should you say during a performance review?
When conducting a performance review, it’s important to give honest, fair and constructive feedback. Do your best to provide positive reinforcement for good behavior and use constructive criticism when explaining areas in which the employee can improve.
It’s also important to discuss the employee’s goals and the progress they have made towards those goals, and provide specific examples of how the employee has contributed to the success of the team or organization. Finally, make sure to provide clear and achievable steps the employee can do to improve in the future.
How do you start a performance review?
Before beginning a performance review, ensure the employee is comfortable and ready to engage in a productive, two-way conversation. Then, outline the purpose of the review, its format and how it will be conducted (providing a time range and setting expectations in advance is always helpful).
It’s a good idea to outline the goals and objectives of the review, and how they relate to the employee’s career development. Finally, give them a chance to ask any questions prior.
Motivate meaningful progress with an effective performance review
Conducting performance reviews can be a daunting task. But hopefully with the examples, tips and best practices I’ve outlined, you can feel confident writing performance reviews that leave employees determined — not disheartened.
Venngage’s customizable performance review templates and intuitive visual editor make it a breeze to streamline the entire process. With these tools, you can organize, document and deliver motivational performance reviews that inspire employees to reach their goals. Start writing reviews that empower today!