Writing performance reviews of your employees can be extremely aggravating. As managers, we are busy. We correct behavior we don’t like when we see it, so taking precious time away from customers and emails can seem like a waste of our time. But performance appraisals are actually one of the most important elements of managing a team because they help us continually shape the growth and improvement of individual employees, and therefore, our entire team.
For some employees, receiving feedback is just a part of the job; for others, receiving feedback can actually be a pretty tough and uncomfortable experience. So while the most important part of an employee evaluation is actually the face to face conversation you have with the employee, the written document allows the employee to read the comments in a more objective setting later on, when any emotions have settled.
Effective performance reviews are the result of an open conversation between manager and employee, that use examples to illustrate points – both positive and negative – describing how the employee went about his or her job duties. But how should you write the feedback? What do you say? Are bullet points acceptable? The best way to write an employee performance review really comes down to two things: sincerity and specifics. The actual format is not that important.
Many people ask me if there is a recommended length for the written appraisal, and I routinely respond by saying that what you document should be thorough and comprehensive, but should not be overly cumbersome for you to write or the employee to read. So when it comes time to writing performance appraisals for your employees this year, try taking a systematic approach to documenting your observations. To help you get started, here is the model I follow when writing my annual performance evaluations of my employees:
1. Start with Positive Praise
I start every employee review by writing genuine and deliberate praise of the individual and his or her accomplishments that year. With a very limited exception, every employee must have some sort of positive commentary that can be said about them. Even your poor performers should have some sort of success or notable accomplishment that you can highlight. It is important you are very specific when writing your comments. Detailed remarks tell the employee that even if you can’t spend as much time as you’d like to spend with them, you still notice the contributions they make. Generalities, in contrast, are impersonal and may suggest their specific efforts went unnoticed.
Example: “Anne has had a great year on the product improvement project and had to overcome several scheduling and manufacturing setbacks during the year. And yet, she still managed to produce positive results when it came down to shipping our newly improved product in November as promised. Her continued drive to get things done and make things happened even after encountering unforeseen challenges is a testament to her performance.”
2. Identify Goals that Were Achieved or Exceeded
The next section of my evaluations discusses how the employee succeeded in terms of his or her goals and objectives. A specific evaluation of every goal and measure is typically not necessary, however, you should write down some notable accomplishments, and talk through others during your face to face conversation. Single out those that may have had the greatest business or department impact.
Example: “This year, Bobby successfully achieved his sales targets in his territory, exceeding his sales metrics by 4%. This marks the second year in a row that Bobby has over-delivered on his sales goal. In addition, he was able to secure 4 new Tier 1 accounts for the company, against his goal of 3. These new accounts promise to provide significant growth for us in the coming years.”
3. Identify Goals that Were Not Satisfied
Once you have highlighted the successes, you should then identify some of the employee’s goals and objectives that were not met. Be sure to offer fair and appropriate written commentary if the missed objectives were acceptable based on unique circumstances, business challenges, or alternate priorities. For example, if having an employee out on long-term medical leave impacted the sales goal, it would be inappropriate to still hold the team accountable for meeting the same targets given the resource limitations. Many managers often mistake circumstantial challenges for performance gaps. Again, full written documentation of every item is usually not necessary, unless you are specifically trying to document performance gaps to take further action with the employee.
Example: “As a customer service agent, Mary was able to meet her new order turn around time very well this year. However, she did struggle to meet the number of customer surveys that she was expected to hold, even after reducing the target as a result of staffing shortages. This will need to be a specific area of focus for Mary next year.”
4. Identify Constructive Feedback
Towards the end of an employee performance review is where you should spend time writing some of the areas where the employee can improve. The use of examples in this part of the write-up are particularly useful, to keep the discussion objective and to help repel emotions were possible. Constructive feedback should once again be specific, not general. Lastly, remember that opportunities for improvement are not just about fixing weaknesses, but more about maximizing strengths. Far too many managers and leaders of people focus on telling their employees to get better at something they struggle with, and forget to suggest how the employee can do MORE of something he or she does well. Again, when writing employee performance reviews, be sure the feedback is performance-specific and not tied to unique circumstances that limited the employee’s ability to be successful.
Example: “In the coming year, Ian will need to focus on his project management skills, to ensure he does not over-commit himself as he did last year. Specifically, Ian will need to improve how he builds project plans and schedules, such that he can work a reasonable number of hours to meet his commitments. In addition, Ian has demonstrated he can lead a team very well. Thus, to help him improve his planning and scheduling, Ian should work on using his team to help meet commitments.”
5. Outline Basic Expectations for Next Year
The last section of my written employee performance review framework supplies a brief set of expectations for the upcoming year. While this section is short and not intended to serve as the formal development plan for the employee, it is a launching point for the conversation about the employee’s growth and your future expectations. Finally, unless you are dealing with an employee who has significant performance issues, your comments should have a positive and optimistic tone to help erode any emotion that the discussion has triggered.
Example: “For next year, I am expecting Anna to grow into her new role, and to more effectively seek help when she runs into problems. She did a good job this year amid a steep learning curve. Though she struggled with some of her new responsibilities, I fully expect she will work hard to close the gaps and become an effective production planner.”
This article was written by Tim Gaur at managersresourcehandbook.com