10 performance review tips to drastically move the needle

August 3, 2021 - 16 min read

 

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What is a performance review?

What is involved in the performance review process?

What should you include in an employee review?

What are some effective phrases to include in an employee performance review?

10 tips for how to write a performance review

What is the future of performance management?

Performance reviews at work are evolving

Performance reviews can motivate employees, boost employee engagement, and help meet organizational goals. But they only work when done effectively.

Many managers struggle with not knowing what to write or how to deliver their feedback in a constructive way.

Navigating a performance review is a challenge that requires sensitivity and preparation. Understanding the performance review process can help you conduct more effective performance reviews.

So let’s take a deep dive into a few areas around performance reviews: 

  • What performance reviews are
  • What to include in performance reviews
  • Ten tips for effective performance reviews
  • The future of performance management

What is a performance review?

An employee performance review is a process by which a manager gives an employee feedback on their work. The manager evaluates the employee's performance based on the expectations for their role. 

When done well, performance reviews can help employees understand: 

  • What is expected of them
  • What they’re doing well
  • How they can improve
  • How their work supports the company’s goals 

Managers can recognize high-performing employees and correct issues along the way. Performance reviews encourage growth and development and build employee engagement.

Performance reviews have evolved from annual reviews to an ongoing process. A manager and their direct report discuss their goals, performance, strengths, and weaknesses. 

This ongoing conversation helps the employee improve their performance and meet organizational goals.

A performance review may also be called a performance appraisal or evaluation. 

What is involved in the performance review process?

The performance review process is cyclical. It has three main phases:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Follow-up
  3. Performance conversation

Let’s take a look at each stage in detail, as well as performance review examples of what each of these stages looks like.

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1. Goal setting

In the first step of the appraisal process, an employee has an opportunity to discuss goals with their manager. This usually happens at the beginning of the year. This conversation sets expectations for the year and helps the employee know what they are striving to achieve. 

2. Follow-up

Throughout the year, the manager and employee can meet regularly to discuss the employee's performance. 

They can explore whether the employee has met their goals and where they might need to improve. 

In some companies, these meetings take place with regularity, such as quarterly or monthly. The manager documents their feedback in writing. 

In other organizations, these discussions are more informal and do not require written documentation.

3. Performance conversation

The final step of the performance review is a formal discussion of how the employee performed throughout the year. 

The manager provides written feedback to the employee, and together they discuss how the employee performed. From this review conversation, they set new goals for the following year. 

Let’s take a closer look at how to write a good employee evaluation.

What should you include in an employee review?

Effective employee reviews generally cover three things: 

  • The employee’s self-review
  • An assessment of how well the employee met goals
  • An evaluation of how they worked throughout the year

Let’s take a look at each in more detail.

1. Self-review

The employee’s self-evaluation helps the manager understand how the employee sees themselves. It also gives them an idea of what they are expecting to discuss. 

It gives the manager the information they need to set expectations and steer the conversation. 

2. Assessment of progress on their goals

This part of the performance evaluation is the manager’s assessment of the employee's performance goals. 

Here, the manager describes how the employee performed well or how they did not meet expectations. 

Managers should always be specific and include examples. This will help the employee see specific instances related to their work. 

3. Evaluation of how they work

The performance review should include an evaluation of how the employee fulfilled their role.

These evaluations describe whether the employee worked in ways that support the company culture. It also helps the manager evaluate their core competencies.

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What are some effective phrases to include in an employee performance review?

The most useful feedback is clear, specific, and measurable. People managers should take care to offer feedback that is easy to interpret and actionable to address.

Effective performance reviews use clear and concise language. They describe how an employee’s performance compares to expectations. 

Reviews include key accomplishments and examples of both strengths and weaknesses. They should also include expectations and goals for the coming year. This will guide the employee’s performance.

Performance reviews should focus on observable and measurable performance. 

They include specific examples and next steps to take. In other words, employees should be clear about how they can make improvements. 

Managers should avoid vague statements or exaggerations. They should point out opportunities for learning and adjustment rather than focusing on failures.

Effective performance review phrases could include:

  • Improved production by X% by… 
  • Exceeded the original goal of X by X% through efforts to… 
  • Created a program that delivered X results, which were beyond our goal of Y… 
  • Continuously seeks to improve processes by… 
  • Effectively communicates status updates on important projects to key stakeholders… 
  • Has built strong working relationships with key partners, including… 
  • Initiates and executes innovative ideas such as… 
  • Makes a concerted effort to learn new skills and stay up-to-date on industry trends such as… 
  • Has made considerable progress offering solutions to problems, including… 
  • Goes above and beyond in their work. Examples include… 
  • Could be even more effective if… 
  • Can exceed goals next year by improving… 

These phrases are a start, and you can use them to create a performance review template. But they should be followed with relevant examples, numbers and data, and ideas for future improvement. 

10 tips for how to write a performance review

According to research by Gallup, only 14% of employees agree that performance reviews motivate them to improve in their work. 

This is a challenge for managers, who need to find new and more effective ways to carry out performance reviews.

But you might be wondering how. Let’s take a look at 10 performance review tips to help you get started.

1. Set expectations and goals from the start

Managers should ensure employees are clear about what the company’s expectations are and what their goals are. Doing this from the outset makes the feedback process clearer. 

2. Gather relevant information

Managers should gather useful inputs, such as the employee’s self-review and goals, as well as helpful data and examples. 

This can include: 

Documenting performance and gathering data throughout the year makes it easier to write reviews. 

3. Make the time

It can take time to write a thoughtful and helpful review. Managers should set the necessary time aside to ensure they have ample opportunity to be as thorough as possible. 

4. Keep the review objective

Managers should base their comments and feedback on observations and data and not opinions. 

5. Use a coaching mindset

It is important to approach the review as an opportunity to coach the employee. Offer feedback on strengths and key areas for improvement. Developing a mentor-mentee relationship with your employee can help make the performance review process more effective.

6. Use language carefully

Language matters. Managers should make sure their language is specific and measurement-oriented. They should use powerful action words. They should focus on the individual and avoid comparisons to others.

7. Include the positive

Performance reviews are an opportunity to reinforce great performance. Managers should take the time to capture what has gone well and how the employee has performed positively.

8. Share constructive criticism

At the same time, it’s important for managers to share constructive criticism in the review. 

Constructive criticism can provide employees with clarity on how they can improve in order to be even more effective. 

9. Avoid biases

When writing reviews, managers should take extra care to avoid key biases

Avoid:

  • The halo effect (seeing everything an employee does as positive)
  • The horn effect (seeing everything an employee does as negative)
  • The just-like-me bias (rating someone positively because you perceive them as similar to the manager) 

10. Prepare for the discussion

Beyond writing a review, managers should take time to prepare for the discussion. 

Consider:

  • How will you share feedback?
  • What questions will you ask the employee? 
  • How will you structure the discussion? 

The performance review discussion is critical for clarifying expectations and shaping future performance. 

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What is the future of performance management?

Performance reviews have a long history within organizations and will continue to evolve in the future. 

There are four main trends to watch as performance reviews evolve:

  1. Use of performance management software
  2. Frequency
  3. Future focus 
  4. Whether to do performance reviews at all

Let’s take a closer look at each trend.

1. Performance management software

Most organizations no longer rely on paper versions of reviews. Performance management software systems are now available to streamline the review process. 

Performance review software helps to: 

  • Guide the process
  • Support the manager in documenting helpful feedback 
  • Encourage the manager and employee to follow all the steps in the process 

These tools encourage collaboration and transparency in the performance review process. In the future, more organizations will leverage this type of software for their performance reviews. 

2. Frequency

Many organizations are rethinking the frequency with which reviews take place. 

We have long known that frequent feedback is more effective and helps to guide employee performance. Ongoing conversations help ensure that employees understand what to do to improve before too much time has passed. 

The traditional model of annual feedback is too infrequent. Many organizations have moved to weekly, monthly, or quarterly reviews. 

But companies will need to balance employees’ need for feedback with ensuring they are not creating too much work for managers. 

3. Future focus

Many companies are considering making their performance review process more future-focused. This is in contrast to traditional reviews that focus on past performance.

In a survey at Deloitte, more than 58% of the executives said their performance review system didn’t deliver the intended results because it focused too much on past behavior.

They found their traditional performance review process was no longer meeting their needs. Setting goals and receiving feedback annually didn’t give them the agility to meet emerging challenges.

So, Deloitte shifted the focus of their performance reviews to the future rather than the past.

They look at how the employee should plan to work and behaviors they expect to see. Many organizations are following this example by redesigning their performance review processes.

4. Whether or not to even have employee performance reviews

Employees like the predictability of knowing when they’ll receive feedback. However, performance reviews have come under fire in the last decade for many of the reasons covered here. 

That’s why some organizations have experimented with eliminating formal performance reviews altogether. They replace them with more informal conversations about performance. 

For some organizational cultures, the elimination of performance reviews has gone well. 

Managers have stepped up to offer more continual feedback, and they have foregone the formalities of the process.

Other companies have eliminated reviews but found that employees stopped receiving feedback. 

Managers need to continue to find ways to help employees understand what is expected of them. This requires ensuring they have feedback on how they’re performing.

This may take place as a traditional performance review process or as something completely different. 

Time will tell whether more organizations will eliminate performance reviews or simply find ways to make them more relevant.

Performance reviews at work are evolving

The goal is for the performance review to be accurate, timely, and future-focused.

Rather than spending too much time on the past, effective performance reviews focus on the employee's future actions.

The best managers set expectations, review priorities, give feedback, and provide guidance along the way. Whatever performance review process a company follows, managers need to be empowered and trained properly. 

The future of performance management promotes speed, agility, and constant learning. This is good for the employee and good for the company. 

If you need support adapting your performance review process, discover how BetterUp’s expert coaches can help you.

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Published August 3, 2021

Bethany Klynn, PhD

BetterUp Fellow Coach and PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology

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