How to give great employee performance reviews

Cory Shrecengost
May 30, 2023
min lästid
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For better or worse, employee performance reviews have become a standard business practice for evaluating employees all over the world. Whether they happen once or a few times a year, the goal of a performance review is to give you time to reflect with your employees on what went well, what could be better, and goals for the future.

But if you feel like your reviews could use some refreshing or you want to learn how to more effectively convey your thoughts, this guide will help you do just that.

We’ll show you some concerns employees have about the review process, the five best practices for writing a great performance review, and even an employee performance review template that you can use to get started.

Why are performance reviews important?

Performance reviews aren’t just valuable for assessing employees and providing feedback—they serve as an excellent check-in point for both managers and employees to slow down and make sure everyone is on the same page as far as expectations.

Plus, performance reviews can be used to incentivize employees to develop their skills because they help quantify progress over time. This is especially useful when reviewing any career development opportunities or changes in the company structure that an employee may need.

Why employees dislike performance reviews

Although performance reviews can be beneficial, as a manager, you know that writing reviews for employees isn’t always an enjoyable experience.

Turns out, receiving those reviews isn’t particularly exciting for the average employee either—90% find performance reviews painful and ineffective.

Here are a few reasons why.

Reviews can be biased

When managers don’t have sufficient hard proof or facts to back up their feedback, any critiques during performance reviews can come across as subjective at best and accusatory at worst. Even if the review is overall positive, biased performance appraisals can also make it difficult for employees to accurately gauge their performance and see areas for improvement.

Managers are out of touch

Employees often resent the review process because they feel managers aren’t in tune and don’t really understand their work. These employees worry that there won’t be any accountability or that their performance won’t accurately be reflected. This can happen if a review is being conducted by a non-direct manager or if the manager gives more attention to other coworkers.

Employees don’t feel heard

When employees feel like performance reviews are more of a reprimand than a thoughtful, honest discussion, they may start dreading reviews. It’s already nerve-wracking enough to go through the process and face potential shortcomings, but employees may shut down if they feel they can’t defend themselves or even discuss solutions for improving with their managers.

6 best practices on how to give a performance review

Even though performance reviews don’t have the best connotation, there are still some practices you can do to combat uneasiness and show your employees you’re on their side.

Here are six useful tips on how to give a performance review and get the most out of the process.

1. Control for bias

Although you may be going into a performance review with the best intentions, you should reflect on any implicit biases that you potentially have.

Implicit bias in performance reviews happens when a manager’s conscious or unconscious prejudices interfere with their judgment of another person. But unchecked biases can have unwarranted consequences for your employees, so it’s essential to correct them before the assessment.

Good company DEI policies help managers with confronting these biases, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check for yourself even if one doesn’t exist. In fact, taking one of the Harvard Implicit Associations tests can give you insight into any biases you may have.

2. Gather relevant information

To ensure your review is as accurate as possible, collect information that is factual and can be proven. This means doing research on the employee’s past performance to find out what milestones they’ve achieved, determine how well they’re performing their everyday job duties, and assess their overall contributions to the team.

Look through emails and notes that were sent throughout the performance cycle, and review any metrics used to evaluate the employee like customer satisfaction scores, sales records, and productivity logs.

You can also collect feedback from other co-workers or supervisors that work closely with the employee.

3. Share constructive criticism

A review isn’t just an opportunity to focus on the positives and negatives of your employee’s performance—it’s also a time to give them constructive feedback about how they can improve. This doesn’t mean being harsh but being honest and making sure your feedback is specific and measurable.

Focus on concrete things you want your employee to work on and give clear examples of situations where they can do better or grow in their role.

4. Provide clear goals for the future

Set realistic yet challenging goals, and be specific with these targets—they should be measurable and feasible within a clear timeframe.

For example, if an employee needs to improve their public speaking skills, you might set a goal for that employee to present on their projects during team meetings at least three times by the end of the quarter. This will help them focus on their development and track their progress.

5. Recognize achievements

Performance reviews are as much about making improvements as they are about recognizing what employees do well. Acknowledging and documenting your employees’ specific accomplishments reinforces positive performance, but doing so can also influence the employee’s future at your company.

As a manager, especially when resources are tight, you may need to make a business case for your employee’s promotion, raise, or retention. Good performance reviews can be effective in proving how much value your employee brings to the company.

On the other hand, when writing performance reviews for difficult employees, even if the review is more on the negative side, you can still end on a positive note. In most cases, employees aren’t all bad, they may just be inconsistent or struggle in a certain aspect of their job.

During the review, emphasize that you have faith in the employee’s abilities, you’re looking forward to seeing them improve by the next review, and you’re always available for more support.

6. Be open to discussion

After you’ve discussed the written review, allow space for freedom of expression and enough time for both parties to voice their opinions and thoughts during the review meeting.

While you ultimately have the final say, you should still be open to learning about your employee’s concerns and be willing to try different approaches. Doing this creates an environment where employees feel supported and have a voice without fear of retribution.

Finally, don’t forget that effective performance reviews need to be part of an ongoing dialog between you and your employee throughout the year, not just one-off annual conversations.

Nothing mentioned in an official review should come as a surprise to your employee, so it’s important that you communicate consistently about your expectations and provide helpful guidance in between reviews. That way, everyone can stay on track and move towards goals together.

What should be included in a performance review

While there are many attributes you can reflect on and discuss in a performance review, the main topics you want to highlight are your employee’s accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future.

If your company hasn’t already done so, it may be useful to define core responsibilities and competencies to measure employee performance. Then, make employees aware of these expectations when they begin their roles and provide gentle reminders between reviews.

This way, employees have some idea of how they will be assessed and managers understand the standards for any calibration process that may occur.

As you define your review standards and weigh overall employee performance, here are some attributes you should consider:

  • Quality of work
  • Produktivitet
  • Time management
  • Goals accomplished
  • Communication
  • Teamwork and cooperation
  • Customer service
  • Problem-solving
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Creativity
  • Leadership skills (for employees in management positions)

Employee performance review template

Now that you know the best practices for giving reviews, here’s a template you can use to write a performance review for your employees.

Employee Name
Reviewer Name
Date of Review
Achievements and performance Areas of strength Areas to improve Future goals and expectations
Describe your employee’s specific achievements and any goals accomplished. Include any favorable statistics, numbers, and actions.

Ex. Increased conversions by 15% over the last quarter through email campaigns.
Describe some positive, consistent behaviors or actions that you appreciate and want to see more of.

Ex. Well-organized and shows excellent attention to detail.
Describe some typical behaviors or actions that your employee needs to work on or correct altogether.

Ex. Coming back late from lunch breaks.
Define the specific targets that you want your employee to hit within a certain period or by the next review. For best results, make these goals measurable and realistic for the employee.

Ex. Close five more deals than the previous month.

Make your performance review easy to sign with Dropbox Sign

While signing a performance review isn’t legally required, doing so is still beneficial in showing that both the employee and reviewer acknowledged the review.

You may also feel that signing a performance review is impractical if you have employees on a hybrid schedule or working fully remote, but it’s simple with the help of eSignatures.

Dropbox Sign can help with performance reviews by creating standard templates sending the them to employees to view and sign electronically—from anywhere in the world.

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