Employee performance reviews can be a nerve-wracking experience for everyone involved, no matter how often or infrequently you perform them.
This is especially true for new managers who have never evaluated employees before. If you approach performance management wrong, the manager-employee relationship can be tarnished, and your overall leadership image could be damaged.
If you don't know how to conduct a performance review, here are a few different formats, questions and templates to consider.
Performance review formats
As Liz Ryan stresses in a Forbes article, preparation is one of the most important factors in a performance review for both parties. Assess an employee's performance before the actual performance review evaluation to help you develop a fuller picture of their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Invite your employee to do the same to prepare, because a performance review should be an assessment of a relationship rather than one-sided.
If your company doesn't already have a standard performance review appraisal form, Human Resources at MIT offers ready-to-use templates for three basic formats that are used by many employers.
- Descriptive performance review: This type of review ranks different competencies and aspects of an employee's performance on a descriptive scale (i.e., exceptional, highly effective, proficient, inconsistent, unsatisfactory). Each scale rating should be clearly defined, and each rated area should leave room for a brief explanation from the reviewer.
- Numerical scale performance review: This review is nearly identical to the descriptive review, but instead uses a numerical system (1 for unsatisfactory to 5 for exceptional, for instance) to assess the employee's performance. Again, the scale should be defined and each score should be explained on the review. Another iteration of this type of review could be a letter-grade system similar to those used in schools.
- Narrative performance review: Instead of assigning a rating to each competency area, managers simply answer written questions about an employee's performance and cite specific examples to support their responses.
For each review format, HR at MIT leaves space for a performance summary and suggestions for improvement where necessary.
Kevin Higgins, management expert and author of "Engage Me: Strategies from the Sales Effectiveness Source," (Double Digit Sales, 2013) prefers less formal employee evaluations with a more fluid and personalized approach.
"Performance reviews are meant to be thoughtful and provide a chance to look at someone's overall performance from many perspectives," Higgins told Business News Daily. "A rigid structure that managers are forced to apply to all employees is not very engaging at all." [How to Write an Effective Performance Review]
Higgins uses this five-step employee review format to provide maximum feedback and perspective on an employee's performance:
- Agree to a list of reviewers. This step is very important. You must get a list that will give great representation of different relationships and varying viewpoints. The goal is to have multiple people provide feedback for each employee.
- Collect feedback. Get responses from everyone on the reviewer list. Employees should also submit their own feedback during this part of the process so they aren't biased by the responses.
- Create a feedback document. Read each reviewers' feedback in full, and categorize it into either positive responses or opportunities for improvement. You may need to slightly alter comments so that you protect the anonymity of the sources.
- Feedback meeting 1: Present and discuss. Share the feedback document with the employee. Read it together, reflecting on strengths first. After identifying key messages in the strengths section, move on to opportunities. Be sure that you take time and allow the employee to process the review with you. Do not allow him or her to leave in an emotional state, and end on a positive note.
- Feedback meeting 2: Agree on an action plan. The first step in this meeting is to revisit the review. Ask employees if they have any questions, or how they feel now that they've had their review for some time. Next, create an action plan to make the suggested improvements. Ask them how you can help, and gain their commitment to improving and ensure they see the value in doing so.
Sample questions to help evaluate performance
Regardless of the format, your questions should apply to any employee in any position. Likewise, the answers should successfully demonstrate whether or not an employee is meeting their goals.
Based on our research, here are some of the most commonly used performance evaluation points.
- Has the employee mastered the basic skills and requirements to adequately perform the duties in their job description?
- How well does the employee meet their daily, weekly and monthly goals as set by their supervisor?
- What is the quality level of the employee's work?
- Does the employee complete their work in a timely manner and meet their deadlines?
- How does the employee get along and communicate with their supervisor and team members?
- How reliable is the employee (i.e., coming into work on time, following through on requests, etc.)?
- Does the employee adhere to company policies and guidelines?
- Is the employee self-reliant and confident enough to solve problems with little outside direction?
- (If applicable) Does the employee represent the company in a positive, respectful manner when dealing with clients, customers, vendors, etc.?
- What does the employee do exceptionally well?
- What does the employee need to improve upon?
More employee evaluation samples can be found on the following websites:
For general tips on conducting a performance review, check out Business News Daily's guide.
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.