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Lead Your Team Managing

6 Tips for Writing an Effective Performance Review

Credit: Mohd KhairilX/Shutterstock

Performance reviews are valuable for both the employee and the employer. It's a chance for the employer to give constructive feedback to ensure their business is operating the best it can. It also allows the employer to give praise for a job well done, guidance for what an employee is doing wrong, and have an open discussion about the future of the company and the potential for employee growth.

"The ideal outcome for a performance appraisal is for managers and employees to have meaningful, reflective conversations together," says Julie Rieken, the CEO of evaluation software company Trakstar, and Applied Training Systems, Inc. "It's a chance to document the year's accomplishments, … understand expectations and celebrate progress."

While face-to-face conversations are integral in the review process, the written review is also an important tool to help your staff find out where they stand. It is something concrete an employee can refer back to make sure he or she is staying on track.

Business News Daily spoke with human resources administrators, managers, and executives, and based on their responses, we've compiled a list of the best tips for writing an effective performance review.

A healthy balance of positive and negative feedback about an employee's work is necessary to help team members evolve in their roles.

"[In] a formal evaluation . . . the feedback should be relevant and specific, with examples for both the good and bad points," said Don McIver, COO of 5W Public Relations. "Employee strengths should be acknowledged, and corrective action needed in weak performance areas should be identified."

Performance reviews should also establish performance goals for the upcoming year and cover the employee's role as part of a collaborative team. Bill Peppler, managing partner of staffing firm Kavaliro, also advised providing employees with a formal objective of the evaluation beforehand.

"A good manager will explain the purpose of the review, what they will go over and how frequently performance reviews are given," Peppler said. "This manages employee expectations and helps everyone involved be more fully prepared for the meeting."

There's no need to call a meeting for every individual issue that comes up, but there also shouldn't be any surprises when workers read their reviews.

"Employer feedback [should] be given throughout the year as performance issues, good or bad, arise," McIver said. "A formal evaluation is ideally a recap of things that have been addressed during the year."

Address issues as soon as possible after an incident occurs to avoid introducing that tension into the evaluation. If an employee's behavior (positive or negative) doesn't warrant immediate feedback, make a note of it and use it as a reference point during a formal or informal performance discussion, Rieken advised.

You'll want to be careful about the exact way you phrase your evaluation of an employee. Here are five words and phrases that will help you effectively highlight an employee's contributions, based on James E. Neal's book, "Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals" (Neal Publications, 2009).

  • Achievement – Incorporate this into a phrase such as "achieves optimal levels of performance and accomplishment with/for ... "
  • Communication skills – Saying something like "effectively communicates expectations," or "excels in facilitating group discussions" will go a long way with an employee.
  • Creativity – Appreciating employees' creative side can make for happier, more motivated staff. In a performance review, try "seeks creative alternatives, such as [examples] that drove [results]."
  • Improvement – Employees like hearing that they are improving, and that it's being noticed. "Continues to grow and improve," and "is continuously planning for improvement" are two constructive phrases to use in a performance review.
  • Management ability – Having leadership skills and the ability to manage others is key for employee success. Incorporating phrases such as "provides support during periods of organizational change," or "provides team with support through [example]" will carry a lot of weight with your employee.

Our sources advise being as specific as possible when using these phrases. Doing so will relay to your employees that their performance review is taken seriously and done on a personal level regarding their achievements.

Be as clear and direct as possible about shortcomings or mistakes, but also take the time to provide solutions to those problems.

"Fully explain what the issue is, and then expand on options for improvement," Peppler suggested. "If you see a problem in an employee's work, then he or she should have a solution to how it can be fixed. Also, let employees know where this improvement can take them, such as a promotion to a management role."

In the case of serious performance issues, Rieken said the best approach is to ask the employee open-ended questions, such as "How did you see it?", "What would you suggest?" or "Did you get the result you wanted?"

"Most employees work hard and [want to] do the right thing," Rieken said. "Asking open-ended questions can start an honest conversation that allows both sides see each other's perspective and realize why the other reacted in a certain way. Questions can create positive discourse when two sides see things differently."

Most managers agree that it's frustrating when an employee has nothing to say in response to his or her performance evaluation. Push employees to give you feedback on the issues you raised. The written review should be a brief but direct overview of discussion points, making for a more nuanced face-to-face conversation, and this requires employee feedback.

If the conversation gets heated and you want to avoid saying something you might regret, put the conversation on hold, to be continued later via email or in another meeting, after the employee has had a chance to cool down.

Always end performance reviews on a positive note. Encouraging your employees and letting them know you appreciate what they do for the company gives an added boost to a primarily good review, or lifts your employee's spirits after a somewhat negative evaluation. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in giving workers the confidence and drive they need to perform their jobs even better.

Additional reporting by Katherine Arline and Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Jennifer Post

Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a freelance contributor for Business News Daily. When she's not working, you will find her exploring her current town of Cape May, NJ or binge watching Pretty Little Liars for the 700th time.