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How a performance review template improves the feedback process

September 6, 2022 - 12 min read
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    What’s the culture around performance reviews at your organization? Are they scary? Welcome? Just something that needs to be done? Does your team look forward to them, or groan that it’s “that time of the year again?”

    Feedback is necessary for growth, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always welcome — or that people are comfortable giving and receiving it. The problem with feedback, in fact, is that most people and organizations aren't good at it. It’s often associated with punitive measures, and that makes sense. Many teams are very uncomfortable giving it despite wanting it for themselves, so they save it until it can’t be avoided.

    Feedback and reviews are not synonymous. A performance review is a periodic opportunity for managers and co-workers to assess outcomes against specific metrics. They happen at certain times. Feedback is ongoing and part of organizational culture. When the two are conflated, they turn into something of a powder keg.

    Performance reviews can bring up a lot of feelings for your team — not the least of which is apprehension. And that makes sense if reviews aren’t talked about. If you don’t know what to expect, when reviews will happen, or what they consist of, you’ll be (understandably) apprehensive.

    An employee should never be blindsided by a review — either by the questions you ask or by their current performance. Whether formal performance reviews happen monthly, quarterly, or annually, feedback should happen consistently. The review is just one tool in a manager’s toolbox for promoting employee growth and creating a healthy culture. A performance review provides benchmarks — an opportunity to set goals for the upcoming term and review performance to date. To help improve transparency, it helps to standardize the questions that you ask in your performance reviews.

    Creating a performance review template helps you issue consistent, accurate feedback based on set criteria. This kind of intentionality helps you create a coaching culture on your team. In this space, performance reviews are a tool to assess areas for improvement and develop skills — not something to “get through” or be afraid of. 

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    How do you structure a performance review?

    In general, a performance review consists of four main components: self-evaluation, manager evaluation, review, and goal setting.

    Self-evaluation and manager evaluation

    These two phases of the performance review process usually happen simultaneously. Generally, there’s a set of questions or prompts provided in an employee evaluation form. Both the manager and the employee answer the same questions asynchronously. 

    Providing direct reports with an opportunity to self-assess can help you spot whether or not you’re on the same page. Ideally, there’ll be quite a bit of overlap between the manager’s and employee’s assessment of job performance. There should also be alignment around areas for improvement.

    Review

    The completed performance review form becomes the basis for the review meeting between manager and employee. Reviews are a two-way conversation, and shouldn’t feel punitive or threatening. While they do (and should) include a performance evaluation, managers should also be sure to highlight employee strengths. If there are a lot of areas of improvement, the review shouldn’t be the first time the employee is hearing about it.

    Goal setting

    Performance reviews should also encompass opportunities for professional development. Part of this is covered in the review discussion section, which typically includes goals from the past period and for the upcoming term. But in addition to specific benchmarks, it’s a good idea to include some career planning. This can help them create competencies and skill sets that can benefit them as they grow — and boost engagement.

    two-people-speaking-at-a-desk-performance-review-template

    How templates make reviews more effective

    A template is a guideline that helps you create and think through the process of having a performance review. The template will help you not to omit any steps, which is key when conducting a performance review. It's all too easy to forget that area or important steps while conducting the process. 

    In addition, having a template can help formalize the process — which is especially important as your organization grows. No matter what team or leader a person reports to, the feedback process should be a standard one. Otherwise, a lack of feedback on a smaller team can negatively affect the culture of an entire department. 

    More than anything, when you develop a good process, it’s more effective and efficient to keep reusing it. Performance reviews and company culture aren’t something you want to leave to trial and error.

    When performance reviews aren’t done well, they may lead to failure in the work environment and poor relationships between managers and employees. When they’re considered unfair, biased, inconsistent, or a thinly veiled punitive measure, they actually hurt your employees and your team. A poorly-handled quarter or annual performance review can damage employee engagement, motivation, and work ethic. 

    Another common challenge in companies is manager bias. And that doesn’t just happen along demographic lines, like gender or race. Managers also tend to be subconsciously in favor of employees that work in office, the ones they hired, or those with (recent) stellar performance. In fact, Culture Amp noted ten cognitive biases that affect performance appraisal. A standardized process can help to eliminate bias in the review process — if managers, HR, and leaders are diligent about checking for it.

    What are the different types of employee performance reviews?

    Most companies offer an annual performance review. This process is typically aligned with salary reviews and merit increases. However, they’re not the only type of review that your team can do. Depending on the needs of your organization and how you measure performance, a review period can be monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually. You may also offer an initial, shortened review at the end of new hire onboarding.

    Not all reviews are conducted by a manager, either. Teams also benefit from peer reviews and 360-degree feedback. In this kind of review, team members who work closely with a given employee answer questions about employees' competencies, overall performance, and areas of improvement.

    printed-grading-rubric-performance-review-template

    What to include in your performance review template

    An employee performance review template usually includes, evaluation items such as goals, how the employee performed against goals, and comments. It also usually offers space to set goals for the upcoming review period and an employee self-evaluation. Finally, many forms offer a place for both manager and employee to sign off on the review. 

    Basic information

    Usually at the top of the form, this part of the review asks for employee name, date, and the manager participating in the evaluation.

    Review period

    Since every company sets their own fiscal year (and quarters) it helps to specify the review period. Try to avoid listing potentially ambiguous periods, like Q3 or H2, that many confuse new employees. Instead, specify “Q3, July 1st through September 30th” (or whichever dates apply).

    Ratings system

    Many companies opt to give their employees one of just a few ratings. This often includes “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “meets some expectations,” and “does not meet expectations.” These should be clearly defined in a rubric at the top of the performance review document.

    Evaluation criteria

    In addition to the ratings criteria, companies should include any internal values, metrics, or specific behaviors that employees are being evaluated on. These may be in the employee handbook, but can also vary from team to team.

    Goals

    In addition to reviewing prior performance, you should make time to discuss and plan goals for the next review period. These shouldn’t be limited to areas for improvement. They should also include career goals and upcoming opportunities for professional development.

    Comments

    You may also consider including some open space for evaluation items the employee can add based on their strengths or additional feedback they'd like to provide. It's important that employees have a voice and know their strengths, so they feel fully equipped to take on new challenges in their careers.

    Acknowledgements

    Last but not least, you’ll need space for employees and managers to sign off on the review. They should acknowledge that any comments, as well as the rating, have been discussed and reviewed.

    Although it’s not always a formal part of the template, consider upfront how much time you expect employees and their managers to spend on this. Be realistic when testing out your template as to whether it fits that intention. Is goal-setting most important in your organization? Make that clear by devoting more space and detail to that section of the review template. Will the review be used as “evidence” to justify ratings, promotions and compensation changes? Make that clear as well. It’s a good idea to explicitly provide guidance in the template itself for how long each section should take.

    person-holding-pen-performance-review-template

    What not to put in an employee performance review template

    As mentioned, it’s really easy for a performance review to backfire. If the culture at your company is tense and toxic, your next performance review might just set the kindling aflame.

    It’s a good idea to be sensitive throughout this process. Reviews are likely to be stressful and emotional for managers and employees. They’re not an opportunity to air hidden grievances or spring six months' worth of feedback on someone. Rather, a review should feel similar to a check-in. There shouldn’t be new information — especially if that information is negative. 

    In the template itself, be mindful of how design plays a role in responsiveness. Your template should not be too long and complicated, or ask employees unexpected questions. Exclude any information about salary increases, time off requests, or anything that should be handled outside of the review process.

    There is a cost to employee performance reviews, and it goes beyond the hours spent completing, reviewing, and discussing performance. There also tends to be days, weeks, or even months of confusion or bad feelings that can arise and linger in this process. Why is your team conducting reviews? What do your leaders, managers, and employees stand to gain from it? If your reasons for doing performance reviews warrant the cost, then design them to meet your objectives.

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    Published September 6, 2022

    Allaya Cooks-Campbell

    BetterUp Staff Writer

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