Performance Reviews

7 Examples of Areas of Improvement in Performance Reviews

June 24, 2024
June 24, 2024
Pratika Yashawi
Lattice Team

Over decades, studies have consistently highlighted a striking workplace disconnect: While employees deeply value receiving constructive feedback, they often aren’t getting enough of it. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) underscores this persistent gap, with one key finding: People underestimate how much others want to receive constructive feedback.

As Lattice’s 2024 State of People Strategy Report emphasizes, employees need clarity, encouragement, and recognition in order to stay engaged. A robust performance management program builds upon this foundation, fostering an environment where employees feel supported in their journey toward continuous improvement. 

Whether focusing on upskilling, interpersonal relationships, or leadership abilities, highlighting areas of improvement is powerful for unlocking employee performance and driving organizational success.

7 Examples of Areas of Improvement in Performance Reviews

Effective performance review comments identify opportunities for growth while also providing helpful, actionable advice to develop skill sets. The following performance review examples outline ways to tackle the areas of improvement section:

1. Time Management Skills

Time management isn’t always about maximizing productivity or getting more done in less time. It’s about balancing priorities and optimizing one’s energy. 

Employees who struggle with time management may find themselves overwhelmed, miss deadlines, or produce a low quality of work. This can cause bottlenecks in critical projects, inconvenience the entire team, or lead to burnout.

Here are three tools you can recommend to an employee who needs to improve their time management:

  • The Pomodoro® Technique: Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, this technique involves working in short, timed intervals (usually 25 minutes) separated by brief breaks. This pacing helps sustain focus and productivity throughout the workday. Consider using tools like Pomodoro or Forest to help with this.
  • Eat That Frog: Mark Twain famously said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” This technique involves completing the most challenging or important task first thing in the morning. This not only ensures that the task is completed but also provides a sense of accomplishment that can boost productivity throughout the day.
  • Day Theming: Day theming is a productivity technique that involves dedicating each day of the week to a specific theme, type of work, or set of tasks. For instance, you could allocate Mondays to team meetings. Similarly, you could pick specific days of the week to focus on administrative tasks or creative projects. 

2. Communication Skills

Strong communication has a profound impact on an organization’s success, not just in its outward-facing associations with customers and other stakeholders but also within its culture. It’s the foundation of trust, transparency, respect, and team harmony. 

Communicating with clarity and empathy doesn’t come easily to everyone for various reasons, but a few things can help develop this skill set:

  • Active Listening: Active listening goes beyond being silent and undistracted while the other person communicates. Instead, the listener consciously tries to understand the message in totality, absorbing the nuances of body language and tone of voice. This involves reading the speaker’s emotions and feelings about the topic, identifying and acknowledging them, and periodically clarifying their understanding.
  • Empathy Mapping: Borrowed from design thinking, empathy maps are visualization tools used to develop insight into another person’s point of view. They serve as a structured method for capturing and analyzing what individuals say, think, feel, and do to get a finer understanding of their needs and behaviors. This technique can be used to resolve interpersonal conflicts and misunderstandings.
The four quadrants of an empathy map ask the individual to fill out what their user says, thinks, does, and feels.
Empathy maps give people a deep insight into those they are trying to understand.Image source: Nielsen Norman Group

3. Teamwork and Collaboration Skills

A 2022 study on workplace collaboration calculated that people spend an average of 3.2 hours collaborating daily. Adding to the challenges that remote, hybrid, and asynchronous work present, poor collaboration and interpersonal skills can choke otherwise efficient project processes, stretch timelines, and budgets, and damage workplace relationships.

Here are some ways to help your employees with teamwork and collaboration:

  • Asking for Help: Encourage team members to reach out to each other whenever they feel stuck. Managers can start by modeling this behavior, responding positively and constructively when help is requested, and celebrating instances when teammates help each other.
  • Project Management Tools: Industry-leading apps such as Asana and Jira streamline workflows and provide an easy way to monitor and stay on top of projects. Also, make it a habit to regularly communicate project statuses through tools like Lattice Updates and Slack.

4. Customer Service Skills

When it comes to customer experience, the stakes are high. According to NICE’s 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report, 95% of consumers would consider abandoning a brand after negative interactions with customer service. As a result, customer-facing employees need all the support and guidance they can get to stay on top of their game.

Here are a few ways to improve customer service skills:

  • Embrace communication skills training. As technology and customer behavior regularly present new challenges, continuous learning and development opportunities can help employees stay sharp. This can include training in channel-specific communication and cover broader skills like active listening, empathy, clarity, problem-solving, and positive language.
  • Accept feedback and take responsibility. Refrain from the temptation to retort defensively to customers, and maintain a positive attitude as you receive their criticisms. Take ownership of the issues at hand and do your best to resolve them at the earliest.
  • Improve your product and troubleshoot knowledge. Interact with the product hands-on and explore its features, functionality, and use cases as though you were the end user. It may also help to shadow a high-performing rep to learn best practices, effective troubleshooting approaches, and insider tips.

5. Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict is an inevitability in human relationships, and that holds for workplaces as well. Knowing how to manage conflict is essential to maintaining team harmony and good customer service. In a 2023 survey by Innerbody, respondents cited work ethic disparity, competition, inappropriate boundaries, and gender discrimination as the main causes of conflict in the workplace.

Here are a few suggestions to help employees build their conflict-resolution skills:

  • Understand the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). The TKI provides a useful framework for understanding and managing workplace conflict. You might choose any one of five conflict management styles or modes based on the situation:
  • Competing (high assertiveness, low cooperativeness): Taking charge of the situation and asserting yourself. Useful in crises or when standing up for yourself.
  • Collaborating (high assertiveness, high cooperativeness): Brainstorming a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of all parties involved.
  • Compromising (moderate assertiveness, moderate cooperativeness): Looking for a solution that may not fully satisfy, but is acceptable to all parties. Useful when you value the relationship, but not so much that you abandon your goal.
  • Avoiding (low assertiveness, low cooperativeness): Choosing not to engage when the relationship’s importance and goal are both low.
  • Accommodating (low assertiveness, high cooperativeness): Yielding completely to the other party. Useful where the relationship is of prime importance.
  • Manage your emotions. Maintain equanimity and self-awareness while communicating your problems with the other party. Practicing mindfulness techniques and grounding exercises before the conversation starts could be helpful.
A chart mapping out the five conflict management styles on the axes of assertiveness and cooperativeness.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument outlines five commonly used conflict management stylesImage source: Kilmann Diagnostics

6. Goal-Setting Skills

Industrial psychologist Cecil Alec Mace established in 1935 that without external goals, even intrinsically motivated workers perform below their abilities. Goals act as guideposts for behavior change, create more engaged teams, and drive business success.

When an employee is struggling with their performance, try the following:

  • Set SMART goals. The acronym SMART is a tool to frame goals according to five parameters. They are:
  • Specific — Outline the target and the steps to achieve it.
  • Measurable — Have quantitative or qualitative metrics for success, such as key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Achievable — Well within your capacity.
  • Relevant — Connected to a larger purpose, such as increasing sales.
  • Time-Bound — Set to be accomplished within a particular time frame.
  • Monitor your progress. Track, reflect upon, and document your progress toward your goals on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. Lattice OKRs & Goals provide teams with a suite of tools to do this.
  • Set up systems. As James Clear wrote in his best-selling book Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” Once you’ve set a goal, put a system in place to achieve it. For instance, if you need to meet a sales target, you could set up a system for tracking leads and staying on top of conversations with prospects.

7. Prioritization Skills

A McKinsey survey that evaluated the operating models of 400 cross-functional teams identified prioritization as one of the top five capability areas differentiating top- and bottom-performing companies.

And prioritization is just as important at the individual level. To help an employee prioritize more effectively, you could suggest the following tools:

  • The Eisenhower Matrix: This prioritization method uses four quadrants to help you arrange tasks based on their urgency and importance.
A chart describing the Eisenhower Matrix, a prioritization tool that allocates tasks into four quadrants: do now, decide when to do it, delegate it away, and delete it.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple tool to order one’s priorities according to their urgency and importance.
  • Warren Buffett’s Two-List Strategy: At the beginning of each day or week, create a list of 25 tasks that need to be accomplished, and circle five of your highest priorities. Put the 20 remaining items in an “avoid at all costs” list — that is, avoid doing these tasks until you have finished your first five.
  • Cost of Delay (CoD): CoD is a method of prioritizing tasks, initiatives, or projects based on the value of completing them sooner rather than later. Often used in Agile methodology, the term “cost” almost always refers to dollar signs, but it can be adapted to any context of rapid change and competitive priorities. Compare two deliverables on the same deadline: Task A is writing a detailed report on a project from a previous quarter due in three days, while Task B is prepping for three high-ticket sales calls for the upcoming week — a feat of scheduling, following up, and customer research. Both take the same amount of time. Delaying a report on a past project would not hold anyone back, nor affect the bottom line. However, a sloppy sales presentation would risk a potentially fulfilling client relationship and may cost your credibility. According to the CoD method, Task B costs more to delay and therefore should be prioritized first.

How to Identify Areas of Improvement in Performance Reviews

1. Leverage data.

Feedback culture relies on a mix of performance reviews and continuous feedback to drive employee performance. Draw from these and various other sources, such as talent reviews, 360-degree reviews, one-on-ones, and self-evaluations.

Lattice Performance Management allows you to track and analyze employee performance data objectively across the review period. These tools can provide quantitative insights into an employee's achievements and challenges, helping managers identify areas for improvement based on concrete evidence.

2. Support team goals.

Look at the big picture: What new skills would contribute to the team's overall performance? If the team has been struggling with punctuality or meeting deadlines, selecting time management as an area for improvement can help the employee contribute more to team efficiency and productivity.

3. Address skill gaps.

Identify skills that align with gaps within the company. As technology advances, employees must stay updated with new tools and processes. For instance, if the company implements AI-driven solutions, encouraging employees to learn how to use these tools can help bridge the skill gap and ensure a smooth transition.

4. Consider career aspirations. 

Based on your knowledge of the employee's long-term career goals, use a job leveling matrix to identify skills to help them progress within the company. For example, if an employee aspires to take on a managerial role, selecting areas for improvement related to leadership skills, decision-making, mentorship, or strategic thinking can help them develop the necessary skills for professional growth.

5. Align with individual development plans.

Review the employee's individual development plan and select skills they have already expressed interest in improving or have been actively working on. For example, if an employee has mentioned wanting to enhance their public speaking abilities, include this as an area for improvement and provide specific guidance on how they can further develop this skill.

Why You Should Include Areas of Improvement in Performance Reviews

Giving constructive feedback can be challenging — here's why you should do it anyway (and with care, of course).

Employees want to know.

Along with positive feedback, areas of improvement provide employees with the information they need to objectively see where and how they should continue to work on their professional development, but this section also serves leaders, according to Tim Elliott, founder of  Mr. Moxey’s. “It’s a call to action for managers to provide employees with the necessary support, resources, and training opportunities to help them address their areas of improvement.”

Feedback drives employee engagement.

“Employees who feel valued and see a clear path for growth are more likely to innovate, take initiative, and commit themselves to the success of the organization,” said HR consultant Bryan Driscoll. “Prioritizing [their] needs and growth, both personal and professional, builds a stronger, more capable, and more loyal workforce.” 

It fosters relationships.

The areas of improvement section of a performance evaluation is meant to help employees enhance their work performance, but often, it's simply nothing more than a critical “you don't do this well” section, said Driscoll. Using performance review phrases like these is a missed opportunity and can harm the work environment’s psychological safety.

Instead, being empathetic and transparent about areas of improvement sets the tone for an open and honest relationship between employees and management. “It's like any relationship,” Driscoll added. “You have to be open and honest for it to work.”

Free Performance Review Templates

How you frame feedback can be the difference between an employee feeling eager to take it on board and the employee growing defensive. Here are some freely downloadable templates you can use while writing your next performance evaluation.

Write better performance reviews for employees with Lattice AI.

The areas of improvement section is an invaluable part of the review process as it integrates performance and engagement. However, filling out performance appraisals for several employees at once can slow a manager’s work. 

But Lattice can help. A Forrester study on Lattice’s impact found that using the software decreased the time spent completing annual reviews by 50%.

Lattice AI augments this efficiency by providing managers with personalized suggestions to include when writing employee performance reviews based on goals, regular feedback, and growth areas. It also generates individualized development plans to help employees grow using these insights. This will help managers reduce recency bias and write more specific, meaningful evaluations that take the entire review period into account.

Learn how to empower your employees with effective performance reviews. Request a demo today.