Getting through performance evaluations for each and every one of your direct reports can be tough. You're trying to be as thoughtful as possible while also articulating, in detail, what your employees are bringing to the table. All of which is more exhausting than it seems.
There's a reason there are so many lists of performance review examples out there. Most can give you a good start, providing certain phrases and action words to use. But they don't really help you figure out the formula for writing good performance reviews and questions. In fact, they can stick you in a loop of picking a word you haven't used in a while and just going from there.
So rather than just give a list of as many examples as we could think of, we're going to take you through a few examples and explain exactly why they do and don't work. You'll leave this article with a full understanding of how you can frame points in your performance review templates, comments, and conversation.
First, what you need to know for a successful performance review
Performance reviews are more than just lists of phrases about an employee.
Performance reviews should be a constructive conversation where you can give and get feedback, set goals, and think about an employee's development. They are not meant to be a pure critique or the time to “solve” every single thing wrong with an employee. They are tools comprised of a few different components, each of which you must nail in order to give a successful performance review.
The components we are going to focus on today are:
- Template questions. The wording in performance review templates that managers use to evaluate each employee on the same grounds can make or break a manager's review. Vague questions or questions that don't relate to job function are a waste of time that makes it very difficult to objectively evaluate employees.
- Evaluation phrases. The way you describe your employees is key to a successful employee evaluation. Rather than using generic phrases or generalized statements, being precise and connecting employee actions with their outcomes make your evaluations accurate.
- New goals. Performance reviews should cumulate in next steps to help employees develop. These need to be thoughtful and speak to the employee as an individual — writing out generic “best results” will discourage employees from reaching their potential.
For a complete overview of all things performance review, head over to “HR’s Guide to Performance Review Questions” and “How the Performance Review Impacts Your Bottom Line (and How to Make It Better).”
Performance review examples for: template questions
When done right, a key part of any performance review can be evaluating others through a series of standardized questions. These surveys can help your company create a more standardized component to evaluation, and can also help shape the types of feedback managers give, as well as what they focus on.
That's why taking the time to standardize a customizable performance review template for your company or by department is a great way to formulate a more effective performance review. When you set the criteria, you need to ask specific questions about how an employee is fulfilling a role without putting words in a manager's mouth.
Keys to template questions:
- Questions need to have a clear set of answers
- Questions should be reasonably limited in scope
- Questions need to be related to specific goals or job functions
- Questions do not rely on subjective or unclear measures, like “good to have”
Let's look at a few performance review examples for template questions and break down why they do or do not work. At the end of the examples, you should have the knowledge you need to craft your own expert question.
- Bad: Is this employee good to have on the team?
The first thing to notice about this question is that the wording of “good to have on the team” is very subjective. Is every single person good to have on the team at all times? No. But, overall, employees are mostly productive members of the team. That means that this question has too big a scope to be truly helpful to a performance review.
- Bad: Does this employee better the team through attendance and contributions at all-hands, including presentations?
After the open-endedness of the previous question, the specificity here might seem appealing, but this question is way too specific and packs in too much. It is asking about attendance, participation and presentations, which is too much to get through in one answer and combines to focus on one attribute that's a checklist of traits.
- Good: Does this employee contribute to the team by communicating criticism and praise effectively?
This is a much better question. It is geared towards a specific trait — giving criticism and praise — that directly affects an employee's contributions to the team. There are two parts to this question, which would make for a good short answer, but could also be split up into a multiple choice with both / just one / just the other / neither.
More good examples:
- Does this employee effectively manage their customer communication?
- Does this employee meet deadlines for projects they spearhead?
Performance review examples for: evaluation phrases
When you are heading in to write a performance review, you need to know how to write about your employees. Much like a résumé, performance reviews often rely on using action words to talk about employees — “improves,” “shows,” “displays,” etc. It's great to have a few of these handy up your sleeve, but they are not the be-all and end-all of writing a good performance review.
What you write about an employee makes a difference in their experience at your workplace and in their career. It is worth taking the time to understand what makes a good statement about an employee and why. Not only will it help them, it will also help you — when you have to go to bat for an employee or need to talk about the efficacy of your team, you will have a good foundation for those moments.
Keys to EVALUATION phrases:
- Use specifics and examples to back up claims
- Avoid sweeping language, which reflects a biased impression
- Think of your statements as starting points to elaborate on, rather than the end of the discussion
- Directly connect an employee's actions and their outcomes — Listens effectively by... rather than Good listener
Let's look at a few performance review examples for evaluation phrases and break down why they do or do not work. At the end of the examples, you should have the knowledge you need to write about your employees.
- Bad: Builds camaraderie and is a good part of the team
This is a generic statement that isn't backed upwith specifics. It reads as positive, but is subjective and unsubstantiated. A better way to say it might be:
- Good: Builds supportive team culture through participation in presentations and follow-up questions with teammates about their projects
This identifies what the employee is doing — participation and follow up questions — and what the outcomes of that action are — to build a supportive culture. It is showing that the employee is a driver of your team culture in a way that can easily be corroborated.
- Bad: Never on time to meetings
Every single type of meeting? Every day? Extremes like “always” and “never” are rarely true. Because of this, they can rarely can be backed up by evidence, which can rile up employees or make them feel singled out. (I'm not always! late!). Although recurring behavior can feel like an always or never, your points can be made in a more specific and less inflammatory way.
- Good: Frequently late to project meetings with coworkers and 1:1 meetings with manager
This is a better way to talk about a recurring behavior. It's more specific and more objective, and clearly takes into account multiple viewpoints. It also gives space for elaboration. How does the manager know the employee is late to project meetings? Have they discussed showing up late to 1:1s, and did the behavior change? How disruptive do others find it? Instead of being a blunt, negative statement, this opens the floor to discussion of the whats and whys of an employee's behavior.
More good examples
- Demonstrates willingness to learn by participating in [company's] optional sales seminar
- Takes a passive approach to their development and does not use initiative to suggest projects or start work before it is assigned
Performance review examples for: new goals
Performance reviews are more than the sum of their prep work and writing. They're also conversations with employees and a way to engage and develop them by setting new goals. If you're not collaborating to set new goals and talk next steps with employees, performance reviews aren't as effective.
But it's important that the way you're setting goals sets an employee up for success. Goal setting is a great way to shift from constructive feedback to empowerment to end on a note where employees feel supported — if the goals are well-constructed.
Keys to goal setting:
- Give employees concrete steps to take to reach their new goals
- Help employees to understand how to work on their weaknesses
- Make employees accountable for their improvements without hovering
- Be aware of what will best work for a particular employee
Let's look at a few performance review examples for goal setting and break down why they do or do not work. At the end of the examples, you should have the knowledge you need to help set constructive goals.
- Bad: Get more comfortable presenting
This goal is too broad and doesn't give the employee any next steps. Of course, an employee who is struggling on presentations wants to improve, they need help figuring out how. Because of that, this feels a little patronizing and doesn't empower an employee.
- Good: Book a conference room and practice team presentations in front of one other person on the team before each presentation
This is a much better goal because it helps an employee to understand how to work towards their desired result. It's also tackling a specific way the employee is bad at presenting: public speaking — not slide order or length or graphics choices.
- Bad: Turn in your work on time
This is a bad goal because it doesn't address the root of an employee's problem — they know work needs to be on time, but they're still having a problem getting it in. Chances are, they do want to be getting their work in, but there's a roadblock. When you understand what that roadblock is, you can set the goal — not when you simply identify the problem.
- Good: Create a shared calendar with due dates and set a reminder to check in with manager two days before big tasks are due
This, in contrast, tackles the organizational problem of an employee and forces them to be accountable because of a shared calendar system that they have to update. It is teaching them a skill of planning and coordination and helping them take charge of their own work.
More good examples
- Talk to [employee x], [employee y] about their follow-up email scripts and create new templates to warm up x% more leads this quarter
- Spend 2 hours/wk reading about [topic] and prepare an all-hands presentation for next month
You get out what you put in
At the end of the day, performance reviews only work if you do. They are hard to get right and require a lot of thought on the part of the manager. To reduce them to a list of phrases is not really helping you develop your employees or helping your company evaluate your direct reports.
Taking a little extra time to work through how you are talking about and to your employees will make a big difference when it comes to the efficacy of your performance reviews.