Writing a Good Performance Review: Honesty & Guidance Are Key
Performance reviews allow you to praise employees, correct what they're doing wrong and discuss their growth and future at the company. / Credit: Shutterstock

As a manager, you need to give your employees constructive feedback to make sure the business is operating at its peak. Annual or semiannual performance reviews give you the opportunity to praise employees for what they've done well, correct what they're doing wrong, and discuss your vision for their growth and future at the company.

"The ideal outcome for a performance appraisal is for managers and employees to have meaningful, reflective conversations together," said Julie Rieken, vice president of marketing and customer experience at evaluation software company Trakstar. "It's a chance to document the year's accomplishments, journal about accomplishments, understand expectations and celebrate progress."

While face-to-face conversations and regular informal feedback should always be included in the review process, the written review is an important tool to help your staff find out where they stand. An employee can refer back to this document to make sure he or she is staying on track between now and the next review period. For this reason, it's especially important to make sure the reviews you hand your team members are thorough, well-written and easy to understand.

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. [Employee Performance Reviews: Tips for Bosses]

Make it comprehensive

A good written performance review covers all the bases of an employee's work. It shouldn't be all positive or all negative — a healthy balance of both is necessary to help your 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."

In addition to highlighting strengths and weaknesses, a review should 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."

Recap regular, informal feedback

Formal review periods shouldn't be the only times employees receive feedback about their performance. 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 from the boss.

"Employee 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."

When there is a problem with an employee's habits or actions, address it as soon as possible after the incident occurs to avoid bringing 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.

Give honest, constructive criticism

It's never easy to tell an employee what he or she needs to do to improve, but giving constructive criticism about your workers' performance is an important part of the review process. Be as clear and direct as possible about any shortcomings and 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."

If there have been any serious performance issues, Reiken said that 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," Reiken told Business News Daily. "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."

Encourage discussion about the review

Most managers agree that it's frustrating when an employee has nothing to say in response to his or her performance evaluation. You don't want your staff to fight you on every point, but you also don't want to meet with silence if you have suggestions. Push your 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; this requires employee feedback.

If the conversation starts to get heated and you want to avoid saying something that you might regret, put the dialogue on hold. You can continue a more serious discussion later via email or in another meeting, after the employee has had a chance to cool down.

End on a positive note

Always end performance reviews on a positive note. Encouraging your employees and letting them know you appreciate what they do for the company will give an added boost to a primarily good review, or lift your employee's spirits after a somewhat negative evaluation. Positive phraseology and 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, Business News Daily contributor.

Originally published on Jan. 14, 2014. Updated Jan. 27, 2015.