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Lead Your Team Managing

4 Tips for Writing an Effective Performance Review

How to write effective performance review
Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Performance reviews are valuable for both employer and employee. Feedback can range from praise to guidance, allowing both the employee and the employer a chance to discuss what's working and what's not.

However, giving a review is more complicated than just saying "nice job" or "needs improvement." Sometimes, there are issues that need to be addressed and explored in more depth. If you want to inspire your employees to keep up with their work or do better, you'll need to dive deeper than the traditional review process. Here's how.

While performance reviews are typically scheduled to happen once or twice a year, feedback should not be limited to that short period of time. You should offering consistent assessments throughout the year so there aren't any surprises.

"Don't catch your people off guard in a performance review," said Erika Rasure, assistant professor of Business and Financial Services at Maryville University. "This should not be the first time that they are hearing from you that they are not performing as expected. Be clear in writing [and] sending calendar invites and setting expectations and the tone for the meetings."

Additionally, you might adapt your strategy to only address issues or employees who aren't performing as well as others. You don't want to neglect workers just because they don't need as much guidance. In fact, if you don't express your gratitude, they might lose passion or motivation.

"Highly valuable employees who do their job and do it well are often not the priority of concern in performance review cycles, resulting in missed opportunities to communicate how much the organization values the drive and the results of the top performers," said Rasure. "An unexpected 'keep up the great work' email, a quick phone call or text sends a consistent signal to your employee that you are paying attention and value what they do."

No worker is perfect, and there will always be room for improvement. Decide what is worth addressing and don't hesitate in doing so. If there is an issue that you know is affecting you and your team, you shouldn't avoid it. Tip-toeing around the subject will not get you anywhere.

James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business, said to be truthfully (but not brutally) honest with workers. Deliver feedback in a way that you would want to receive it if you were the employee. The discussion is crucial and unavoidable, so choose an appropriate approach and stick with it.

"If someone is a poor performer and you don't squarely address it, know that everyone else in the office knows that the person is a poor performer, and [employees] will brand you as weak or cowardly for not addressing the situation," Bailey said.

The written review should be a brief but direct overview of discussion points, making for a more nuanced face-to-face conversation. Schedule a meeting in a coffee shop or out-of-office location to provide a comfortable atmosphere. Or if you're reviewing remote workers, schedule a video chat so you're still having a live conversation. This approach leaves room for discussion and feedback on their end and prevents any miscommunications.

"The only way to deliver performance reviews is face-to-face, with ample time to present and process, listen and respond," said Bailey. "It's just too important to relegate to email or telephone. Doing so would send a signal that you didn't care enough about the subject to even take the time to meet."

After outlining any shortcomings or mistakes, take the time to discuss resolutions to those problems, and push employees to comment on the issues you raised.

Don't leave the review without mutual understanding and respect, and don't let any employee feel like they're in the dark going forward.

"Use the review process as an opportunity to set attainable goals specific to addressing the expectations the employee isn't meeting but which also makes the employee feel like they have a clear, reasonable plan of action that can get them back on track," said Rasure.

Encouraging your employees and expressing your appreciation gives an added boost to a primarily good review, or it 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 even better.

Pay close attention to how you phrase your evaluations. Here are five words and expressions 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 with/for ... "
  • Communication skills: Phrases like "effectively communicates expectations," or "excels in facilitating group discussions" 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," followed by specific examples and 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" can carry a lot of weight with your employee.

Additionally, Richard Grote, author of "How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals "(Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), said that instead of using terms such as "good" or "excellent" in a review, employers should opt for more measurement-oriented language. In an interview with Hcareers.com, Grote noted that action words like "excels," "exhibits," "demonstrates," "grasps," "generates," "manages," "possesses," "communicates," "monitors," "directs" and "achieves" are more meaningful.

Examples and templates of performance evaluations can be found on the following websites:

Additional reporting by Business News Daily staff.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.