Manager guide: How to Write a Good Performance Review

Performance reviews are valuable for both the employer and the employee. They provide an opportunity to assess performance, goals and objectives and also to plan for the future. Yet, despite the benefits, they are almost always universally despised by both managers and their reports alike. It’s time to break the cycle. Follow these simple steps and not only will the performance review process be easier, but it will also be more beneficial for all involved.


It’s a cliché, but like so many things, it’s better to do performance reviews right, or not at all. Doing them right means that they are as comprehensive as possible. Performance reviews should be a mixture of both positive and negative feedback. They should focus on the things an employee has done well this review period.

Not only should performance meetings be a review of past performance, but they should also be a discussion and planning session for the future. Both the employee and the manager should outline their aims and objectives, and establish joint priorities. By working together both individual as well as company priorities are established, creating a more comprehensive work plan.

Regular Check-ins

One of the reasons employees give for disliking performance reviews is they very often feel that they are blind-sighted; everything appears to be fine until all of a sudden it isn’t. Human resources online found that 62% of employees encountered the problem of being blindsided.  To overcome this problem, carrying out regular check-ins throughout the review period is advisable. With regular check-ins, managers can check in with their employees and talk about any problems that have recently arisen. Additionally, the contemporary business world is fast paced and ever changing. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that business priorities shift over the course of a business quarter. By having regular check-ins with employees, you ensure that the end of year performance review contains no surprises. It also enables you to shift focus and redirect resources as the needs of the business change.

Constructive Criticism

These next two tips for conducting performance reviews are inextricably linked. It is important when carrying out performance reviews to ensure that the feedback you are giving is constructive in nature. For example, “your work is really bad, you need to do better” is the opposite of constructive feedback. Constructive feedback should provide advice, built-in. Saying that something is not working, but not providing a solution or at least a suggestion is not constructive. Instead saying something like “have you thought about X, perhaps that would help you to better streamline the process”. By giving feedback in this manner you are making it much more likely that the person will heed the advice as it is coming from a helpful source, rather than one giving solely negative feedback.

Astute Word Choice

Just like providing constructive criticism, astute word choice is very important when writing performance reviews. James E. Neal’s book “Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals” (Neal Publications, 2009) is a useful resource for writing reviews. Using the following 5 words or phrases from the book will help you to effectively emphasise your employee’s contributions, and also to personalise your review to highlight your employee’s individual strengths.

  • Achievement – Incorporate this into a sentence to demonstrate your employee’s successes: “Achieved outstanding growth results as part of the acquisitions team…”
  • Communication skills – Personalising the review by noting the employee’s proficiency with communicating. “Very successfully communicates with members of the marketing and sales team to achieve…”
  • Creativity – When employees go above and beyond to uncover new and creative solutions, they appreciate recognition. Use phrases like “Created innovate solutions to reduce the drop-off rate”.
  • Improvement – Everyone likes to know that they are growing and improving in their role. "Continues to grow and improve," and "is continuously planning for improvement" are two constructive phrases to use in a performance review.
  • Management ability – The ability to manage others, as well as leadership skills are highly valuable skills to any employer. Therefore, if an employee possesses such skills; they should be acknowledged in the review process. “Showed great leadership in/with…” and “supported the team through a transitional period”

End on a positive

Everyone prefers to hear they are doing well, I mean, who doesn’t like to be complimented? The Harvard Business Review conducted research which examined the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. “Effectiveness” was measured according to financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members. Unsurprisingly, the results demonstrated in the most ‘effective’ teams there were nearly six positive comments for every negative one.

While the merits of positive reinforcement are well reported, the merits of criticism (when done in a constructive manner) should not be ignored. A healthy balance of the two is perhaps the optimum means with which to give feedback. Starting and ending on a positive can be the kind of positive motivation your team needs. Dr Anne Dohrenwend advocates this practice by ‘serving up the feedback sandwich’. She says that “negative feedback is never easy to give, but sandwiching criticism between layers of praise makes it more palatable and more effective”.

2-way conversation

Unless you’re watching a Shakespeare tragedy; no one appreciates a monologue. Performance appraisals are so often dreaded by managers because they feel as though all of the burden is on them to provide all of the material or conversation for the performance meeting. That is not the template of a successful performance review meeting. Instead, they should be a 2-way conversation, where issues and concerns, as well as successes and plans for the future are discussed together. By carrying out performance review meetings in such a manner, you ensure that concerns and grievances are dealt with in a shared way. Of course, collaborating is also a much more productive way to generate creative solutions to work problems, in addition to inclusion being paramount in fostering a positive and reinforcing work environment.

This article unmistakably highlights the importance of honest and open conversation in the entire performance review process. There are a myriad of apps that can help with boosting employee communication and engagement. Additionally, software solutions to simplify and streamline the performance review process can also be a useful addition to your performance review arsenal.



Photo by Matthew Henry