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Talent Management

Tips on Writing Performance Reviews [Sample Comments Included]

One Minute Takeaway

  • Writing effective performance reviews takes real skill
  • The good news is, following these best practices can help
  • We also share sample comments to show how great reviews can look

We’ve all been there. It’s performance review time again and you’re desperately searching for what you wrote last year to find inspiration. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This can be avoided if you move to more regular reviews, where feedback becomes more-or-less continuous.

At some point, though, managers will have to put words on paper. Gallup polling shows how difficult it is: only 14.5% of managers strongly agree they are effective at giving feedback. Too often, this means managers simply don’t try: only 17% of Millennials say they receive meaningful feedback at work.

Better Feedback is Possible (and Necessary)

The answer isn’t to give up. Feedback matters. The right feedback rewards employees for their effort so far and inspires them for future success. It keeps them engaged and makes it more likely they’ll stick around. If an employee is underperforming, carefully chosen feedback can help get them back on the right track.

Remember, performance reviews don’t exist just to evaluate past performance. Your biggest goal should be to improve future performance. Think of yourself as a coach, not a manager. It might be tempting to dwell on mistakes. But ask yourself, will negativity help or harm the employee’s development?

Writing a Performance Review

Nobody said writing performance reviews would be easy, but these tips will help:

  • Make it Regular
    Whatever your current performance review cycle, making it more regular will help. You won’t be trying to cover so much, so it’ll take less time to prepare. A 90 day performance review cycle can work, but monthly is even better. The goal is for the process to become a continuous conversation, a back-and-forth where you’re always targeting new areas for improvement.

  • Begin with Wins
    It always pays to start a performance review positive. If you can’t think of anything, try harder. (If an employee has achieved literally nothing, they should be on a performance plan.) Even if you’re going to move on to harsh criticism, reminding an employee of what they have achieved with your company sets the right tone.

  • Listen!
    Traditional performance management fails because it’s a one-way conversation. Here’s a secret: you can ask employees how they feel they’re performing. Understanding their challenges allows you to better target your feedback. When employees take time to reflect on their own performance, they may also be more receptive to what you have to say.

  • Be Specific
    Whenever you can, use examples. It’s true for positive feedback: being able to put a number on how much an employee has contributed adds power to praise. It’s even more important for criticism. Employees can only understand where they can improve with reference to actual situations.

  • Be Future-Focused
    Managers aren’t teachers and performance reviews aren’t school reports. If an employee has made a mistake in the previous quarter, it’s okay to forget all about it. Criticism can be merited, but will it help future performance? You can point out an employee’s flaws, but they have no incentive to improve if they aren’t inspired by goals. Meanwhile, employees who are truly inspired by their work have a habit of figuring out their own way to success.

  • Set Measurable Goals
    Performance reviews should be future-facing, concentrating on the work an employee will do, rather than what’s gone before. It’s called a review, but it should be just as much about setting targets for the future. What’s key is that these goals are measurable. Vague goals may sound inspiring, but it’s hard to judge whether or not they actually get achieved.

  • Align with Company Vision and Values
    Performance reviews should never be written in a vacuum. It’s not all about you and your direct report. You need to ask how you both fit within the overall business. An employee’s actions should be judged by how they align with company core values, and goals you set should be oriented toward the organization’s overall vision.

  • Use 360 Feedback
    Why rely on one person’s perspective, when you’re part of a team? Great performance counseling and management includes the impressions of multiple team members. Employees should be judged not just by their managers, but by their peers, teammates and their own direct reports. This way, you’ll get a more rounded picture of how an employee performs day-to-day.

Sample Performance Review Comments

Getting performance reviews wrong can be an engagement killer. While it’s always better to put things in your own words, here are some performance review comments that work:

  • “Jill did a great job on the Spring Sales Project. She showed real leadership potential and played a major role contributing to a bumper quarter with 115% increase in booking year on year.”
  • “Martin has been a joy to work with ever since he joined the team. He shines at whatever task he’s assigned. In fact, I believe that he has even more to give. In the next quarter, I hope he’ll proactively look for new projects where he can develop his talents and collaborate more regularly with other departments.”
  • “It has been a delight to manage Caleb. He has gone above and beyond to help clients on countless occasions. If he continues to show dedication, a promotion is not far away.”
  • “Roger has shown great potential in his current role. He is adaptable and capable, and was a great help during the end of year rush. However, we were disappointed in his conduct at the Yearly Gala. Roger has enough experience to know that as a company representative he must act with professionalism at all times. If he remembers this, there’s no limit to what he can achieve in this company.”
  • “Maria struggled with the pace of business in her first months with us. We know it can be hard switching industries. However, we were all very impressed by her resilience and good nature and she is now thriving. We couldn’t have hit our record production pace without her.”

How Paycor Helps

Paycor builds HR solutions for leaders. With Paycor, you can modernize every aspect of people management, from the way you recruit, onboard and develop your team, to the way you pay and retain them. See how Paycor can help the leaders of your organization solve the problems of today and tomorrow.