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Thanks to Dilbert and modern sitcoms, many workers think of performance reviews as an annual exercise in humiliation by management, a prelude to an underwhelming raise. Yet, at its best, a well-crafted performance review can solidify work-product expectations and provide employees with incentive and a clear path toward improved behavior. Fortunately for business owners, designing an effective performance review is a straightforward process.
The foundation for a solid review is objectivity. Avoid blanket statements about character, intelligence or competence and instead let the evidence make the case. Performance reviews that are heavy on subjective statements, especially negative statements, often engender cynicism and can turn the employer-employee relationship adversarial.
Provide employees with concrete examples of good and bad performance, and avoid critiquing an employee on vague concepts like “professionalism.” If professionalism is an issue, then cite instances of late arrivals, inappropriate attire or missed deadlines. By focusing on well-defined incidents, the performance review can focus on behaviors instead of attitudes.
Praise Good Behaviors
If an employee does outstanding work, mention it. Praise initiative or workplace successes. These “feel good” parts of the review help to soften the blow of the negative parts and send the message that the supervisor is interested in a fair review and is willing to acknowledge good behaviors as well as missed opportunities.
You can gain good insight into an employee’s self-assessment by asking him to rate himself before his supervisor shares the review. Organizational psychologist David Javitch suggests that supervisors should “compare your version with the individual’s version, allowing the latter to go first in stating the pros and cons of the past year’s performance.”
Plan Improvements for Bad Behaviors
For those areas where an employee falls short of the mark, let the performance review offer a clear plan for improving behaviors. Use SMART goals (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited), and identify potential consequences if the improvements do not materialize. Avoid simply listing bad behaviors; instead, use the review as a structured opportunity to redirect the employee’s behavior to meet expectations.
Younger employees often benefit from using performance reviews as career-counseling sessions. If an employee is on the lower rung of a career ladder, use a part of the review to provide structured counsel about training and education opportunities to help the employee achieve raises and promotions in the future. Be a partner in your employee’s long-term personal success, and you will often be rewarded with her loyalty and solid performance.