We’ll start with a bold statement: We really believe managers and employees can learn to like the performance review process.
Hear us out: When managers and employees universally dread performance review, the problem isn’t an attitude thing — it’s because they’ve not been given the actual tools to do them well.
This article will take you through some examples of great and not-so-great feedback, and equip you with a winning formula to run better performance reviews that lead to a high-performing culture.
Three Key Components of Successful Employee Performance Reviews
The performance evaluation is an essential part of an effective performance management strategy. It’s a two-way process that analyzes your employees’ overall performance, identifies successes and areas of improvement, sets goals, and takes a future-focused look at their professional development.
Every good performance review requires three key components to succeed:
- Template questions: Structured performance review questions and criteria that managers use to evaluate employees in a standardized way.
- Evaluation phrases: Specific examples of the employee’s work that connect their performance and actions to outcomes.
- New goals: Next steps that guide employees towards self-evaluation, developing new skills and competencies, and setting career goals needed to help them perform at their best.
For a complete overview of all things performance review, download our free ebook, HR’s Guide to Performance Review Questions.
Standardize Employee Evaluations With Template Questions
During the performance review process, evaluate employees using a set of standardized questions — this will help you streamline your process, create more consistent feedback, and eliminate the potential for unconscious bias.
Using a customizable performance review template — either for your organization or for each department — will help scaffold more effective manager-employee conversations.
The most effective template questions are:
- Pegged to a clear, consistent set of answers or rating scale
- Reasonably limited in scope
- Related to specific goals or job functions
- Measurable, and do not rely on subjective or unclear evaluations
Examples of Good Template Questions
- Does this employee contribute to the team by communicating constructive feedback and praise effectively?
- Does this employee communicate effectively when working with internal stakeholders?
- Does this employee consistently meet deadlines for projects?
- Does this employee demonstrate strong interpersonal skills when dealing with customers?
When creating standardized template questions, you need to make sure all questions are geared towards specific traits and attributes that enable you to give accurate employee feedback on how well an individual contributes to their team.
In our examples above, you can see how each question focuses on one core trait that relates directly to an employee’s role, core competencies, or overall performance.
Examples of Bad Template Questions
- Is this employee good to have on the team? This question feels a little loaded and subjective. This could introduce bias, because it doesn’t describe what ‘good’ means in this context, leaving it open to interpretation across different managers and departments of your business.
- Does this employee better the team through attendance and contributions at all-hands meetings, including presentations? This question offers more specificity in terms of what traits are being evaluated, but it covers far too many topics, making the question unclear.
Connect Behaviors and Outcomes With Evaluation Phrases
Understanding what makes a good employee evaluation — and being able to formulate your own — means employees have concrete evidence on how they did something well, or what they need to improve.
But writing good evaluation phrases during a performance review isn’t just helpful to shape your employees’ behavior — it’s also helpful for you. In promotion or raise cycles, you’ll have a documented record that points to specific examples of how successfully your employee delivered on their work.
To shape employee behavior and drive high-performance, evaluation phrases must:
- Use specific examples to back up claims.
- Avoid sweeping language, which reflects a biased impression.
- Represent a starting point for further discussion.
- Directly connect an employee’s behaviors with their outcomes.
Examples of Good Evaluation Phrases
- Builds supportive working relationships with team members by participating in the onboarding process and mentoring new employees.
- Frequently struggles with punctuality in project meetings with coworkers and one-on-one meetings with their manager.
- Demonstrates management skills by taking the lead in team meetings and new projects.
- Struggles to demonstrate adaptability and flexibility in response to changing project deliverables or priorities.
In the examples above, each evaluation phrase connects the action the employee performs to its direct outcome on their performance or organization. This is especially helpful when writing constructive criticism, because it provides a non-judgmental, concrete example of how employees can improve their behavior.
Examples of Bad Evaluation Phrases
- Builds camaraderie and is a team player.
- Demonstrates a positive attitude.
- Never demonstrates effective time management.
All of these examples — both positive and constructive feedback — offer fairly generic and subjective statements as to an employee’s performance. None are backed up with examples or evidence that point to how the employee acted or the impact of their actions.
When writing evaluation phrases, you’ll also want to be careful of words like ‘always’ or ‘never’. Not only do they communicate an unlikely extreme, but they may also communicate an unintentional value judgment that makes your direct report feel singled out or ashamed, harming employee engagement.
Connect Feedback to Future Performance by Setting New Goals
Once employees have a clear grasp of exactly what they need to improve, setting new performance goals will help create a roadmap for next steps.
Goal-setting is a critical part of the performance review process, because it ties past actions to future performance, tells employees which behaviors they need to adjust or continue, and fosters growth and professional development. This will help employees feel supported — rather than downhearted — in improving their quality of work.
Effective goal-setting also helps employees build new skills and capabilities in line with your strategic goals, positively impacting your future business performance, too. In short, it’s a win-win.
Goals that effectively drive performance must:
- Give employees a set of concrete steps to take.
- Break down larger goals into manageable subgoals where needed.
- Help employees to understand how to work on their areas of improvement.
- Encourage accountability with goals that are meaningful and realistic.
- Be tailored to specific feedback.
Examples of Good Goals
- Book a conference room and practice team presentations in front of one other person on the team before each presentation.
- Talk to employees [X] and [Y] about follow-up email scripts and create new templates to warm up Z% more leads this quarter.
- Focus on improving the customer experience by maintaining a customer satisfaction score of over X% for the next quarter.
- Create a shared calendar with due dates, and set reminders to check in two days before big tasks are due.
To drive high performance, goals need to be specific, clear, measurable, and action-driven. They should make it evident when an employee has successfully accomplished a goal — whether the goal is tied to an outcome or a numerical target. In the examples above, each of the goals is designed to help an employee reach a clear target, and is aligned with a specific development need, which encourages greater accountability and self-sufficiency.
Examples of Bad Goals
- Develop better communication skills.
- Complete tasks on time.
- Demonstrate a more positive attitude.
Effective goals point us to next steps and concrete actions we can take. In the three examples above, the goals are far too broad, and don’t fully address what’s causing employees to struggle or how to overcome the challenge. This means employees lack enough clarity over what actions they need to take to improve their performance.
Performance Management That Drives Your Organization Forward
Effective performance reviews create a runway for employee growth and professional development, and help employees connect their contributions to the bigger picture. But ultimately, we think creating a great review process is far more about the “how” than the “what.”
Understanding how to evaluate employees fairly and consistently, provide specific employee feedback, and set measurable and impactful goals will give you the tools to foster a company culture where every employee has exactly what they need to perform at their best. Repeating this process regularly will lead to a workforce that’s not only motivated to exceed expectations — but to see your company succeed.
Got a review cycle coming up? Here’s what you should read to prepare for your performance reviews.
Trusted by 5,000+ organizations globally, Lattice is the leading People Success Platform that enables teams to drive a high-performance, high-engagement culture. Find out more by booking a demo.