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The Complete HR Manager's Guide to Writing Great Employee Performance Reviews

It may take years for researchers to sort out all the effects of the pandemic on the workplace. However, one thing is clear. Employers must reassess how they manage their teams, including how they conduct performance reviews. It’s as if the collective voice of workers everywhere has realized they want more from the companies for which they work. It behooves leaders to listen.

Traditionally, an employee review was an annual thing. The individual would learn how well they did—or didn’t do—based on their manager’s opinion. It was typically a one-way conversation with little employee feedback. However, that’s not to say they weren’t necessary. A performance review serves a vital purpose. Nevertheless, it’s time to dig deeper and instill meaning into the process.



What You Need to Know Before You Start Writing

Let’s start with what’s wrong with the traditional performance review process, beginning with the timing. How helpful is it really to have this formal assessment done annually? Is it reasonable to expect an employee—or manager—to remember accurately what happened that long ago? It puts an unfair burden on all individuals.

You may wonder, how often should reviews happen? Our advice is when it can better serve the employee and the organization, putting it at a quarterly or even mid-year cadence. The benefit of a shorter window is that it gives both the individual and the company’s performance time to right the ship for the end-of-the-year numbers.

Other helpful tips for writing reviews include transparency. The employee should know when it’s happening with no surprises. They should also have an agenda of what’s going to be discussed. Employers should encourage the individual to come prepared with notes and questions. It’s their time to be heard. 

The other critical point includes the underlying purpose. Yes, it’s important to assess employees and address accountability. However, it’s also an opportunity for growing talent, particularly in light of the Great Resignation and quiet quitting. Organizations simply can’t afford to miss chances to nurture their people and shift the focus to employee development.


Importance of HR Managers Writing Employee Performance Reviews

HR managers should consider employee performance reviews carefully. There are not just graded scorecards. Roughly 92 percent of team members want this feedback from their employers. The door is open for meaningful discussions. You may wonder, what should go in employee performance reviews?

The document should be real and sincere, without any vague statements or false praise. It’s also honest and transparent. We strongly urge you not to use words like never or always. Neither rarely rings true and can have negative connotations. The goal of an employee performance evaluation is a positive move forward with a shout-out for the individual’s contributions and accomplishments.

If you’re wondering how do you write a great employee review, focus on the future and how the team member can improve. It’s also a chance to recognize the little things, like the quality of the person’s work or their excellent communication skills. They may not be measurable, but they certainly can be noticeable and acknowledged.


Purpose of Employee Performance Reviews

Interestingly, the purpose of an evaluation report has evolved over the years. In the 1940s, the focus was on accountability to meet quotas or other milestones. Gradually, companies turned their attention to growth in the 1960s. Employees were an investment in an organization’s future. Later, economic pressures caused the pendulum to return to accountability.

The purpose of evaluation reports changed yet again, reflecting the new challenges facing companies. It became evident that the annual review process wasn’t relevant, nor was it beneficial for organizations or its employees. If you’re questioning what are evaluation reports now, it’s a hybrid process, just like the workplace.

Instead of the dreaded annual review, the modern model emphasizes more frequent and informal feedback. Research has found that 72 percent of employees prefer monthly assessments, while 49 percent want it on a weekly basis. These findings add another layer to the purpose of the performance appraisal. Team members value frequent communication with their managers.


Different Types of Employee Evaluations

We can categorize performance reviews for employees in several ways. One approach is accountability as per the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology. The goals are well-defined, making for a reasonable assessment of their performance. Quarterly milestones are baked into the process so that everyone is on the same page, making constructive criticism an easier process for everyone.

The other method that came on the scene in the mid-20th century considered growth. It’s something leaders must embrace to retain talent and improve engagement. It’s worth noting that 94 percent of employees would stay with their current employer if they offered training as a means to invest in their career paths. 

Therefore, incorporating this piece into a performance evaluation aligns with want staff members want from their workplace and can go a long way toward increasing employee engagement.


The Structure of Your Review for Maximum Effectiveness and Readability

We’ve discussed the importance of an employee performance evaluation. Let’s look at the elements within the document to optimize its benefits. The accepted format of many performance appraisal examples gives you a blueprint from which you can customize it to your organization’s needs. It also provides the manager with a clear path for the follow-up to address training and development.

There are 3 parts of a performance review. They include:

  • Criteria for which the employee is being evaluated
  • Individual goals for each item
  • Rating based on the person’s performance.

The criteria address the expectations and transparency as they fit in with the organization’s OKRs and the individual’s role in the big picture. Ideally, they mirror the employee’s job description. This part of the review also considers the manager’s role. According to Gallup’s Employee Burnout Report, one of the leading causes of work-related stress is an unmanageable workload.

Think of it as a rallying call against the insidious yet pervasive “other duties as assigned” dogma.

It’s the manager’s responsibility to lay out the individual goal for each employee. They must know the bar that they must meet. It’s not a time for surprises or moving the goalposts. This part is what makes staff members so worried about performance reviews. It’s worth paying attention to this vital piece, considering that 85 percent of individuals would consider quitting if they perceived it as unfair.

Remember that it can also erode the valuable trust that must exist within an organization.

Ratings are the subjective part of the process. However, the OKRs and goals can help the assessment make sense to the individual and the process clear-cut for the manager. We recommend that you don’t use an A–F or 1–5 grading system. Both have negative connotations and set the wrong tone for what should be an overall positive experience. It’s also demeaning.

Instead, simplify the system with wording such as Getting It Right, Strive for Better, and Needs Work. It’s more matter-of-fact without placing undue judgment on the person. It is also a checklist for the necessary post-review training. If an employee must improve on an aspect of their work, have a strategy to accomplish this goal. We suggest asking for the individual’s input so that they can own it.


Performance Review Dos and Don'ts

Remember that an employee coming in for a performance review is already stressed. That makes the language you use in the document and conversation vital to the outcome. If you’re wondering how do you write an employee report, keep that point as your focus.

DO: We suggest specific examples when reporting feedback to make it actionable.

DO: Recognize the employee’s accomplishments, again, with specific examples.

DO: Practice your emotional intelligence skills of active listening and being empathetic.

DO: Make the time, place, and setting comfortable for the employee.

DO: Give the individual sufficient time to prepare.

DON’T: Leave the review without a plan for the future.

DON’T: Fail to ask for the employee’s evaluation of your performance.

DON’T: Neglect to ask the team member what they need from you.

What should you include in a report are three parts we discussed earlier. Document the main points of your discussion with the individual. If an improvement plan is warranted, you should provide details about what it’ll include. If there are deadlines or due dates, note them, too. Finally, end on a positive note. After all, you both are strategizing to improve the person’s performance. That’s a good thing.



How to Write Your Employee Performance Review

When considering how to write an employee review, keep the long-term and fairness on the front burners. The outline you use should be the same for all team members to make it unbiased. Of course, the criteria and goals will vary with the individual. The point is that the yardstick is the same for everyone. That makes it transparent and fair.

You might think about writing a good performance review style guide to with the form. Details about the ranking system are particularly essential for new managers to maintain consistency. That’s also necessary for building and safeguarding trust.


Items to Include in a Good Performance Review

A good job appraisal form incorporates the things we’ve outlined previously, with an agreed-upon rating system and criteria that match the job description duties. You can use the latter as a template for creating your performance review. While you want consistency, the process should work for your organization and adapt with it. It’s a valuable lesson that General Electric learned.

We recommend leaving ample space for notes and comments with your employee performance review format. It’s the outline for what happens post-appraisal. If you promise a follow-up on a point your employee raised, it’s the documentation and the proof an individual needs that you’re going to stand by your word. This simple gesture will have profound impacts on employee morale.


The Right Approach to Successful Employee Reviews

We suggest brainstorming with management and employees when developing a performance review template. Keep your OKRs in mind to ensure the appraisal helps team members reach these milestones and goals.

You’ll likely find it practical to have different employee evaluation templates for various roles in your company, particularly with management. The fact remains that a team is a reflection of its leader. An enthusiastic person will inspire others.

Best practices for successful employee reviews include scheduling with the individual. It’s imperative to give plenty of time for these conversations. A self-evaluation form is an excellent way for the person to assess themself. Ensure you allow them this valuable opportunity for you to learn from your team. One of the traits of the most successful leaders is the willingness to explore and discover.

Active listening is the key to opening new doors.



Common Pitfalls and How They Can Be Avoided

The common pitfalls of performance reviews are the dated practices that still linger in the workplace. The one-sided conversation is one of the most serious of them. It grew and morphed with old-school ways because the employer probably didn’t have many one-on-one meetings. The best way to avoid it is with frequent, informal talks for you to get to know your people better.

Another issue lies with assumptions. It’s just as vital for you to ask questions as it is for your team members. You may benefit from taking a slower, philosophical approach to solving issues within your company. Your employees’ feedback is the best place to start. It’s probably the most important aspect of a successful performance appraisal because it gives you information you can use.


Final Thoughts

The performance review is in dire need of a makeover so that it can be relevant and meaningful in today’s workplace. It’s essential to remember that companies aren’t just corporations. They’re people. These one-on-one meetings have tremendous potential for improving your culture of accountability and employee engagement. It all starts with active listening and a willingness to begin the conversation.





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