Performance review verbiage

Most of us complicate employee reviews. We want employees to know we appreciate their hard work, help with motivation, and want them to get some useful feedback on how they can continue to grow.
The two most common mistakes in review writing are:

1) Not being specific enough – a review of 95% “meets requirements” or average marks usually points to a reviewer that didn’t pay close enough attention throughout the review period to support marks requiring improvement or exceeding requirement.

2) Being overly detailed – when the comments become half to full pages for one section of a review to explain the marks, you’re treading on being overly detailed. You just need 1-3 of the most relevant examples to support employee evaluation phrases on why something exceeded requirements or requires improvement.

The way to navigate through these hurdles is to ensure you have enough relevant, specific information after measuring performance to cite as you write the review.

Purpose of Performance Appraisals

Reviews are extremely important in any organization. Aside from providing valuable feedback to employees and encouraging feedback through their comments, reviews lay the groundwork for several situations:

1) Promotions or raises
2) Motivate B players to A player status
3) Document incompetence or inferior performance for future dismissal
4) Document skill set and progress of all personnel for possible transfer to other divisions

Key Performance Indicators in Evaluations

Before you write the review make sure the form you’re using focuses on the core competencies of the position. If it doesn’t apply to their performance in the position, it doesn’t belong on their review.
Whenever possible, use measurable data as support for why they ranked as you’ve marked them in specific areas when writing employee evaluation phrases.

Use SMART goals to evaluate their performance. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-based. These are usually listed at the end of a performance review and are measurable goals with specific dates they need to be accomplished. For more information, read this article I wrote on SMART goals.

Ban Emotion From Evaluations

Some insurance companies require their adjusters to only “write what you see” when writing repair estimates for damaged vehicles.
They are not allowed to “assume” a fan housing attached to a radiator is damaged, even when the radiator is obviously smashed in such a way the other part couldn’t possibly be in tact.
They can only write an estimate for repairing or replacing something they can see, so the shop has to rewrite the estimate when they tear it apart.

In other words, don’t document motives.

You don’t know what someone is thinking, you only know what they say or do. You don’t know WHY they did something, only that they did it for the purposes of writing employee evaluation phrases.

Keep emotion out of reviews; I have to admit this is hard when you have an employee who is struggling or whose behavior is wreaking havoc on the rest of your team.

Keeping emotion out of employee performance appraisals will keep you out of court (for biased reviews anyway)! If someone has a bad attitude, don’t use the words “bad attitude,” but instead cite specific examples of “inappropriate behavior” like:

  • A coworker overheard you disparaging the company openly
  • You arrived late on the 22nd and when brought up to you, you said it doesn’t matter
  • Our top account did not receive a reply from you for four weeks and then not until they asked

Sandwich Method: Constructive Criticism

One way to make sure you’re delivering a balanced review is to use the popular sandwich method. More specifically, sandwiching constructive criticism or areas needing improvement between praise or acknowledgement of things well done.

Start the comments for each section with praise for good work they’ve done then add in things they need to work on then end each section on a positive note with other things they did well.

Starting off with bad news sets the tone for the rest of that section. You can usually think of one example of something they did well even in areas they perform poorly in most of the time.
Using this approach forces you to balance your commentary with both good and bad feedback which is always a more meaningful review than simply stating “meets expectations in this area.”

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