How to Write a Performance Review for an Employee: 7 Steps to Success
There's a weight of responsibility when you sit down to compose a performance review.
You may find yourself staring at a blank screen, unsure where to begin or how to frame your thoughts effectively.
It's especially tough to strike the perfect balance between providing positive feedback and constructive criticism.
But with the right approach and guidance, writing impactful and insightful performance reviews is both achievable and an opportunity to empower your team members.
This guide will:
- Shows you exactly how to write a performance review for an employee.
- Delve into practical strategies and techniques to confidently navigate the process and create effective reviews that drive individual and organizational success.
🕵️♀️ What is the impact of employee performance reviews?
Employee performance reviews suffer from a poor reputation.
Workhuman research reveals that 55% of employees don't feel traditional reviews improve their performance.
To combat this, companies like Netflix, Adobe, and Deloitte have already overhauled their feedback processes to align with modern needs. Some have scrapped annual performance reviews altogether.
But well-crafted performance reviews can have a tremendous impact on employees and organizations in the following ways:
- Providing structured feedback.
- Setting clear expectations.
- Offering opportunities for growth and development.
- Fostering employee engagement.
- Enhancing productivity.
- Driving overall performance improvement.
💡 Tip: Knowing how to write a performance review for an employee is an essential part of the process. But ensure you have an effective performance management system before you start writing.
🪜 6 Steps for preparing for employee performance reviews
1. Understand the employee's role description and required competencies
Familiarize yourself with your employee's job description and its key competencies.
This benchmark will provide you with a clear understanding of the expectations and responsibilities associated with their position.
By aligning the review with these criteria, it's easier to assess how well the employee has performed in relation to their job requirements.
➡️ Here's a competency-based performance review template you can try.
2. Determine the employee's current performance goals
Evaluate your employee's individual performance goals. You'll set these goals by:
- Establishing them in previous performance reviews.
- Discussing and revising them in ongoing 1:1 discussions.
- Outlining them during onboarding.
Assess whether the employee has made significant strides in achieving their goals or note down any potential areas for improvement.
➡️ Need help setting goals? Use the SMART goals method to define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound performance goals.
3. Check performance review data and agreements
Gain a comprehensive overview of the employee's feedback history by reviewing previous performance review conversations and any agreements you made or they made with a previous manager.
This step provides context and allows a holistic assessment of the employee's performance trajectory.
If you set specific targets or metrics, evaluate how well the employee has performed against them.
"Decide with employees beforehand what metrics will be reviewed in advance. This could mean that you agree on focusing on task completion, meeting deadlines, quality of work, stacking skills, growth and learning development, or any other specific metrics that will allow you both to be able to track specific performance and highlight areas of strengths and weaknesses."
➡️ Want to create a performance appraisal form your employees won't dread? Check out our guide.
4. Consult mid-cycle performance notes
Whatever the cadence of your formal performance review system, we highly recommend that you consider feedback a continuous process and take detailed notes throughout your cycle.
- informal development conversations;
- performance-related notes that might appear in a 1:1;
- recurring feedback and observations.
Your notes will serve as a valuable resource, allowing you to refer to specific instances, achievements, or areas of improvement.
Tip: Maintaining confidentiality and ensuring you use these notes solely to enhance the employee's performance is vital.
5. Request and review the employee's self-evaluation
Turn your performance review process into a two-way (at least) dialogue by inviting reviewees to complete a self-evaluation. This collaborative approach encourages employees to:
- Reflect on their job performance.
- Identify their strengths and weaknesses.
- Provide insights into their own perspective.
Tip: Review the employee's self-evaluation and your assessment to understand gaps or discrepancies.
🪞 Check out these nine employee self-evaluation form examples.
6. Establish development goals during performance review meetings
Scheduling a 1:1 meeting between the reviewer (the manager) and the reviewee (the employee) is a chance to discuss the performance review results together.
This meeting provides an opportunity to:
- Clarify any feedback.
- Address questions or concerns.
- Establish performance and development goals for the future.
Involving the employee in goal-setting creates a sense of ownership and commitment to their professional development.
Ensure that the goals align with the employee's career aspirations and the organization's objectives.
💡 7 Best practices for writing an effective performance review for your employees
Craft a performance review that connects with your employees by following these best practices for performance reviews. We've included examples for each to guide your writing.
Use clear, objective language
The language used in performance reviews can significantly influence how employee feedback is received. Use clear, objective language that includes specific examples of the behaviors you want to highlight.
Netflix is a shining example of a company that does this well, always choosing feedback that is:
- in good faith.
But Netflix isn't the only company to embrace these feedback values.
"Avoiding jargon or overly technical terminology can make the feedback more accessible to your direct report. Additionally, be sure to provide concrete examples of successes or areas of improvement. This will help your direct report understand what they are doing well and also identify areas for growth.
To ensure that your direct report is receiving feedback in a positive way, use language that is both direct and supportive. This approach allows you to be clear about expectations without appearing too harsh or critical."
Here are some clear, objective examples of feedback you can write in your performance reviews.
Positive feedback example
Your contributions during this month's team meetings have been exceptional. During the brainstorming session last week, your suggestion to implement a new marketing strategy sparked a lively discussion and inspired innovative ideas from the team. Your ability to articulate your thoughts clearly, even when delivering negative feedback has motivated your peers to actively participate and work towards a common goal. These contributions have driven the team's progress and fostered a collaborative and productive atmosphere.
Constructive feedback example
You've not hit the expected task completion deadlines this month. For instance, the report due last Friday was submitted three days late, causing delays in subsequent stages of the project. To move forward, it is crucial that you prioritize tasks and time management effectively. Try to seek support or communicate any challenges that may arise to ensure completion of work in a timely fashion.
➡️ Check out more performance feedback examples, including how to provide constructive feedback, which can be a challenge.
Adopt a growth mindset
Feedback can be problematic, as so much of the detail focuses on what the reviewee has accomplished in the past.
But in the context of writing performance reviews, a growth mindset ensures you remain positive and focus on the potential of future performance rather than dwelling on what's already happened.
Tip: It's about framing weaknesses as development opportunities and using a feedforward approach to performance reviews.
One area to focus on in enhancing your skills is project delegation and effective teamwork. By actively seeking opportunities to delegate tasks and collaborate with team members, you can develop your leadership abilities and foster a sense of shared responsibility among the team.
I encourage you to engage in relevant training programs or workshops, which I'll share as a follow-up action. Additionally, I recommend exploring mentorship or coaching relationships within the organization. Seeking guidance from experienced colleagues can offer valuable insights and perspectives that will aid your professional growth. Their expertise can guide you in navigating challenges, developing new skills, and unlocking your full potential.
To track your progress, let's set specific and measurable goals related to project delegation and teamwork. We'll regularly assess your performance against these goals to monitor your development and identify areas for further improvement.
Use constructive and action-oriented language
Performance reviews aren't just about celebrating the wins and spotting room for improvement. They're about moving the needle with meaningful action plans. The key here is to provide action-oriented feedback that enables the employee to make tangible progress.
Actionable example of positive feedback
Your research and analysis for Project X yielded insightful results that improved our understanding of customer needs. When you suggested conducting surveys to gather direct feedback from customers, it provided us with valuable insights into their preferences and pain points. Your thorough data analysis skills also allowed us to identify emerging trends and adapt our marketing approach accordingly. The recommendations you presented based on your findings have had a tangible impact on our customer satisfaction scores and have contributed significantly to our overall success. Moving forward, I encourage you to continue developing your analytical expertise to identify new opportunities and drive continuous improvement in our marketing strategies.
Actionable example of constructive feedback
You've not used our project management system consistently, which has caused delays in completing tasks. For example, when you deviated from the designated task tracking tool and used a separate spreadsheet to update progress, it led to miscommunication and confusion among team members. Let's move forward by committing to our established project management processes and tools. Doing so will maintain transparency, streamline workflow, and ensure effective collaboration within the team.
Incorporate first-hand experiences rather than hearsay
As a manager, you may not be on hand to witness every aspect of your employee's daily work. But when writing a performance review, office gossip mustn't influence your ability to deliver an objective appraisal. Write about what you have seen and experienced rather than relying on hearsay.
This means actively seeking out first-hand evidence to boost accuracy and strengthen your review:
- Use data-driven metrics to quantify performance and validate your conclusions with fresh insights.
- Include first-hand comments from colleagues or team members directly involved in the project.
- Review the employee's work samples and documents to understand their performance better.
Example of first-hand experience feedback
During the evaluation period, I made it a point to observe your work closely. Here are a few examples of what I have seen and experienced first-hand:
Project X: I witnessed your exceptional problem-solving skills and ability to handle unexpected challenges during the implementation of Project X. Your resourcefulness and quick thinking allowed us to meet tight deadlines and deliver high-quality results.
Team Collaboration: I observed your effective collaboration with team members during the recent marketing campaign. Your willingness to listen, provide constructive feedback, and support your colleagues was crucial in fostering a positive and productive team environment.
Client Presentation: I attended the client presentation, where you showcased your excellent communication skills. Your ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and concisely left a strong impression on the clients. They expressed satisfaction with the level of professionalism and expertise you demonstrated.
Be mindful of bias
Bias is an unconscious form of prejudice that can unwittingly creep into performance evaluations. It comes in many forms, including:
- Recency bias: Reviewers may tend to focus on events that happened most recently and overlook prior accomplishments
- Halo effect: Good performance in one area can lead to the employee being judged more favorably in other areas, regardless of the evidence
- Confirmation bias: Reviewers may focus on incidents that support their preferred opinion of the employee rather than objectively evaluating their performance
Overcome this by keeping employee notes throughout your feedback cycles. These notes help you stay focused and provide a well-rounded review, reflecting the employee's performance throughout the entire period (not one-time events).
Example of mid-cycle notes
- Date: mm/dd/yyyy
- Employee: Jane Barnes
- Observation: Worked well in the marketing team's bi-weekly catch-up by listening to her colleagues' ideas and enhancing them
- Suggested improvement: Develop public speaking skills
➡️ Learn other ways to counteract feedback bias in our comprehensive guide.
Acknowledge progress and improvement
The key to a successful performance review is to recognize the employee's progress over time rather than just looking at their current status. Doing this can encourage employees to strive for higher standards and show that you care about their growth. Jack Underwood, CEO and Co-founder of Circuit, outlines how to do this well when writing a performance review:
"Mention, 'You excel in X, and we'd love to continue seeing more of that.' Or, 'Thank you for increasing your performance by X, just as we discussed during your last review. That is some impressive progress!'
Call out great behavior and make it as specific as possible to help your employee feel seen for their hard work. Don't let positive feedback fall through the cracks, but make it an integral part of the process."
Actionable example of acknowledgment of progress
You have made great strides since your last review, and I am pleased to see how much you have grown. Your ability to handle complex tasks and additional responsibilities has been especially commendable. For example, you volunteered to lead the project planning for Client X. You worked diligently to ensure plan completion on time and within budget. I am happy to see your commitment to developing new skills and growing professionally. Moving forward, I am confident you will continue demonstrating such dedication and excellence in your work.
Commit to developmental support
Your review should conclude by offering clear developmental support. These forward-thinking intentions demonstrate commitment to employee growth and serve as an incentive to motivate employees.
Do this by:
- Suggesting resources such as training programs, online courses, and other forms of support to help employee development.
- Setting specific performance goals to help employees track their progress
- Outlining how the employee can use their existing strengths to achieve set goals
Actionable example of developmental support
I am confident that you have the potential to excel in your role, and I recommend the following steps for your development:
Step 1—Skill Enhancement: Consider enrolling in training programs such as "Advanced Work Management Strategies" to enhance your skills in organizing your workflows. This program is renowned for its comprehensive curriculum and practical approach, which I believe will equip you with the tools to excel in your role.
Step 2—Mentorship: I suggest seeking mentorship from our Senior Marketing Manager, Sarah Johnson. Sarah has a wealth of experience in the industry. She has successfully led numerous campaigns similar to the ones you've been involved in. Her insights and guidance will be invaluable in refining your strategic thinking and elevating your marketing expertise to the next level.
Step 3—Goal Setting: I'd like to work with you to set clear, measurable goals to facilitate your continuous growth. For example, you could aim to increase your conversion rate by 10% within the next quarter or complete our internal digital marketing certification programs within two cycle periods. These goals will provide you with a clear direction and a tangible measure of progress as you continue to excel in your role.
➡️ Drive employee performance and growth with Zavvy's 360° growth system
Zavvy offers a selection of tools dedicated to progressing your employees throughout their professional journeys.
- Our performance review software enables you to run best-in-class employee evaluations without headaches. You'll unlock a new level of people insights by inviting peers, managers, direct reports, customers, and business partners to participate in 360-degree feedback cycles.
- Our talent development software allows you to solve people development in a single click. Combine focus areas with hands-on activities, complete with deadlines, to drive results and positive action from performance feedback.
Ready to foster a culture of continuous growth in your organization?
📅 Take Zavvy for a spin by booking a demo today.