Finding the right words can be challenging — especially when it comes to performance reviews. To help employees hit their performance goals and feel motivated to grow, managers need to strike the delicate balance between acknowledging their employees’ successes, and giving constructive feedback to highlight key areas of improvement.
In this guide, we’ve shared some best practice examples of performance review phrases, broken down by some of the common themes seen in employee performance reviews.
Most of the phrases we’ve highlighted are used to indicate that an employee is meeting or exceeding expectations. But at the end of each section, we’ve also included a few examples of how to indicate when an employee’s quality of work isn’t quite making the grade, and they need to improve their performance.
These performance review examples are meant to inspire managers who are struggling to find the right words and phrases to describe behavior. Think of them as more like a template — they’re generic phrases that you can build on to reflect individual employee traits and overall performance by adding in your own specific examples.
People’s communication and interpersonal skills can vary widely, so it’s important to specifically highlight how an employee’s ability to communicate supports their success in their role — whether by deepening relationships with team members, managing difficult customers, or providing clear direction and constructive feedback to direct reports.
When evaluating employees on communication skills, make sure you consider their ability to promote clarity, specificity, and collaboration.
Positive Feedback Examples for Communication
- Often asks for immediate feedback to clarify and ensure understanding.
- Regularly asks well-prepared or thoughtfully composed questions.
- Quick to ask follow-up questions that pinpoint misunderstanding or a lack of foresight.
- Comfortable saying, “I’m not sure. Can I get back to you?“
- Asks others for their opinions and makes coworkers feel comfortable contributing.
- Collaborates cross-functionally and builds strong working relationships with other internal departments.
- Promotes cooperation, communication, and collaboration by sharing their own knowledge and inviting others to do the same.
- Explicitly communicates expectations, objectives, and key results to team members and direct reports.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Communication
- Can be verbose, which makes it difficult for them to communicate a clear message
- Exhibits difficulty breaking down complex issues into manageable parts
- Is unwilling to commit their staff’s resources to other departments when asked
Teamwork and Collaboration
Teamwork and collaboration skills are essential for a high-performing, engaged workforce. Good team relationships not only increase job satisfaction and psychological safety for the individual, but they also make the whole team perform better too, supporting greater knowledge sharing and innovation.
Positive Feedback Examples for Teamwork and Collaboration
- Elevates their team’s performance and productivity by [include one to two specific examples].
- Promotes collaboration on teams and encourages participation from individual members.
- Builds effective teams by helping team members play to their strengths.
- Fosters a sense of unity on teams, which encourages individual buy-in and helps the group reach its common goal.
- Insists on mutually respectful dialogue when resolving interpersonal problems or challenges.
- Provides positive affirmation and encouragement to balance constructive criticism.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Teamwork and Collaboration
- Fails to provide emotional encouragement or hands-on support to struggling members of the team.
- Discourages coworkers from volunteering ideas by interrupting others in team meetings.
- Responds aggressively when their authority is challenged.
Evaluating how well employees have set and met their goals is a core part of the performance review process. As much as possible, managers need to tie what employees did to its outcome on the business. Linking the two clarifies to employees how their actions are helping advance the organization’s goals and agenda.
“I like to use phrases that home in on key positive traits of the employee that are benefitting our business, then back them up with specific examples,” said Ravi Parikh, CEO of RoverPass, a SaaS company that helps individuals book campsites. “If I can tie it to a clear outcome, I do.” Parikh offered this phrasing as an example: “Your implementation of chatbots on our websites contributed to a 21% rise in online sales this past year.”
Positive Feedback Examples for Goal Achievement
- Improved communication by [include one to three specific examples].
- Improved our service and/or production of X item or X service by Y%.
- Led X project leading to higher-than-expected profits in Y quarter.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Goal Achievement
- Has consistently struggled to achieve OKRs over the last X quarters.
- Often reports a lack of necessary resources to perform their job description adequately.
- Has trouble setting measurable goals that align with company strategic objectives.
Creativity, Problem-Solving, and Critical Thinking
Evaluating your employees’ creativity and problem-solving skills during the performance appraisal process means considering how they generate ideas, approach new challenges, and use their problem-solving ability to complete tasks.
“[It’s important to] acknowledge an individual who develops creative strategies and seeks creative solutions to challenging obstacles,” said Lori Rassas, SPHR-certified employment attorney and author of It’s About You, Too: How to Manage Employee Resistance to Your Diversity Initiatives and Improve Workplace Culture and Profitability. “You want to be sure to acknowledge those who carefully evaluated the pros and cons of challenging decisions and excelled in seeking solutions.”
Positive Feedback Examples for Creativity, Problem-Solving, and Critical Thinking
- Identifies new approaches to complex problems or obstacles.
- Translates creative ideas into practical application to solve everyday issues.
- Analyzes possible barriers and bottlenecks to reduce delays.
- Resolved long-standing X problem with the creative workaround of Y.
- Understands when to take creative risks and when to stick with more conventional solutions.
- Drives creativity across the team by seeking out different perspectives and embracing experimentation.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Creativity, Problem-Solving, and Critical Thinking
- Struggles to adjust their work in the face of a client’s changing needs.
- Unwilling to explore the creative ideas of peers.
- Struggles to see the patterns in recurring issues.
Flexibility and Adaptability
During times of change — like a merger or acquisition, layoff, or economic instability — adaptability is vital for keeping your employees motivated, engaged, and performing at their best. It’s what helps your people adjust quickly to a new work environment, maintain their work ethic during trying times, or proactively learn new skills to help them overcome new challenges.
Positive Feedback Examples for Flexibility and Adaptability
- Shows a positive attitude when the team has to pivot quickly.
- Maintains composure when faced with stressful or unexpected situations.
- Quickly adapts to a new action plan when plans change or unexpected issues arise.
- Proactively focuses on professional development to accomplish new tasks or team goals.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Flexibility and Adaptability
- Unwilling or unable to listen to others’ points of view.
- Becomes frustrated and unfocused when faced with unexpected challenges.
- Resists implementing new company policies or programs in their day-to-day work.
Time Management and Dependability
Time management skills and dependability are a key component of a well-oiled, productive team. When evaluating this skill in performance reviews, it’s important to consider how well your employees manage their time in their individual tasks, as well as how this impacts the wider team’s goal accomplishment and engagement.
Positive Feedback Examples for Time Management and Dependability
- Meets deadlines and delivers high-quality work on time.
- Demonstrated excellent task prioritization and project management skills when working on X project with Y team.
- Communicates in a timely manner when extra time is needed to complete a project.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Time Management and Dependability
- Appears to find time management difficult when working on specific tasks, including X and Y.
- Struggles with onsite punctuality when required.
- Struggles to manage time effectively when required to deliver under pressure.
Leadership and Management
Leadership and management isn’t just about evaluating how well your leaders lead. Instead, it’s just as much a chance to see how readily your individual contributors will support and mentor their colleagues, show initiative when making decisions, and take the wheel on team projects or company-wide initiatives.
Positive Feedback Examples for Leadership and Management
- Demonstrates willingness to lead the onboarding process for new employees to the team.
- Founded and led a company-wide ERG.
- Mentors junior employees to help their professional development in X skill.
- Takes charge when required in group projects.
Constructive Feedback Examples for Leadership and Management
- Struggles to make effective decisions when leading a team project.
- Shows an unwillingness to participate in company mentorship program for junior employees.
- Can appear unsupportive or unhelpful when colleagues need help or advice.
3 Things to Avoid When Writing Performance Reviews
Getting the words right in a performance review means your employees have clear, specific information on what they’ve done well, what they need to improve, and critically, how they can get there. But beyond saying the right things, there are a few key rules of thumb when it comes to what to avoid saying in a performance review.
1. Don’t be vague.
You’d be surprised how often ambiguous wording slips into our written and verbal communication. This is even more true in business settings — we’re at greater risk of speaking or writing in vague terms because using jargon or clichés is so common.
Dholakia said this is why he avoids the term ‘team player,’ for instance: “It’s a meaningless term that doesn’t say anything concrete or specific about how the employee collaborates with others.”
For greater clarity and specificity during performance reviews, avoid business jargon, acronyms, or team-specific cultural references that might confuse a team member. Instead, opt for simple sentences and specific details that clearly point to next steps.
2. Avoid absolutes.
Use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ sparingly, if at all. It’s rarely accurate that an employee always or never does something. If an employee is often late to work, avoid saying,“You’re always late” or, “You’re never punctual.” Rebecca Southern Mills, HR consultant and founder of Simplecated, said managers should provide more accurate and specific feedback, like, “You’ve been late to work at least twice a week for the last six months.”
3. Skip surprises.
Because managers and their direct reports should have open communication and exchange regular feedback, “nothing in a performance review should ever come as a surprise to a team member,” said Arron Grow, PhD, CEO at management consulting firm AP Grow and author of How to Not Suck As a Manager.
Great managers ensure employees know how they are performing, and whether they are meeting expectations or not. “If something needs to be said to help a team member improve, have that conversation (or two) long before the performance review,” Grow advised. “Surprises are great for holidays and birthdays, but not for performance reviews.”
Performance Reviews Are Just One Piece of Performance Management
Words matter — and finding the words and phrases to accurately describe employee performance can be tough. But remember, even if you provide the most incisive, accurate, and motivational performance review, doing so in a vacuum absent of other feedback won’t get you far.
To be effective, performance reviews must exist within the ecosystem of greater performance management, which includes mid-year and annual reviews, but also regular check-ins, like one-on-ones; affirmations, like sharing everyday praise; and a consistent culture of feedback.
Balancing all of these essential feedback processes requires you to match the specificity and clarity of your feedback with compassion, sensitivity, and empathy so that your employees feel recognized for their successes, understand their opportunities for growth and development, and understand what to do next to perform at their best.yal