Manager's guide: How to write a good performance review

Performance reviews should deliver value to HR, employees, and companies as a whole. Objectively, they provide an opportunity to assess performance, career goals and objectives, and also to plan for the future by identifying areas for growth.

Yet despite the touted benefits, they are almost always despised by managers and their reports alike. Why? Because it’s challenging to deliver actionable feedback and for it to feel aligned with the company’s overall objectives. Managers aren’t given enough guidance when it comes to writing performance reviews. It’s time to break the cycle! With these simple steps, our aim is to help managers make the performance review process easier and more beneficial for all involved

1. How to run a performance review

Make it comprehensive. It may seem like a cliché, but it’s better to do performance reviews right, or not at all. This means that they should be as comprehensive as possible, being a mixture of both positive and constructive feedback. Managers should make sure they take time to think of everything they would expect from the person they’re reviewing, related to their job description and goals previously set. It's important for managers to reflect on previous conversations they may have had throughout the year and ask themselves whether they noticed a visible change afterwards.

Performance review questions shouldn’t just look at past performance, they also have to serve as planning for the future. Both the person concerned and their manager should outline their aims and objectives, and establish joint priorities. By working together and creating a joint outlook, individual as well as company priorities are established, creating a more comprehensive work plan.

2. Support performance reviews with check-ins

One of the reasons employees dislike performance reviews is because they often feel blind-sided by them. Everything appears to be fine until all of a sudden, it isn’t. To overcome this, managers should do their best to carry out regular check-ins throughout the year. While you could hold more formal check-ins with the support of a platform like Impraise, managers can also simply have regular 1-on-1 conversations with their direct reports.

With regular conversations, managers can take the pulse of how their direct reports are feeling and discuss any problems that have recently arisen. It also allows people to course correct in time, rather than find out at the end of the year what could have been done better. Finally, it helps people have better clarity about what they’re doing and what they’re working towards. Through regular check-ins, you can ensure the end of year performance review contains no surprises. It also enables you to be more agile and redirect resources as business needs change.

3. Give employees constructive feedback

The next two tips for conducting performance reviews are inextricably linked. It is important to ensure that the feedback being given is constructive in nature. For example, “your work isn’t good, you need to do better” is not actionable and doesn’t help people know what to correct.

Constructive feedback should provide advice and suggestions for improvement. Instead saying something like “have you thought about trying this method, perhaps it would help you better streamline the process?” or “instead of doing this, you might want to do this because…” will help people have a better idea of where they can implement change. By giving feedback in this manner, managers are making it much more likely that the person will heed the advice as it is shows a desire to support growth, rather than solely giving negative feedback.

4. Feedback examples

Just like providing constructive feedback, an astute word choice is crucial when writing performance reviews. James E. Neal’s book “Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals” (Neal Publications, 2009) is a useful resource. Using the following 5 words or phrases from the book will help managers effectively emphasise their employee’s contributions, and personalise their reviews to highlight a person’s individual strengths.

5. End with positive feedback

Everyone prefers to receive positive feedback, who doesn’t like to be complimented? The Harvard Business Review conducted research examining the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. “Effectiveness” was measured according to financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members. The results demonstrated that in the most effective teams there were nearly six positive comments for every negative one.

Ensure you are regularly sharing positive feedback amongst colleagues to ensure people not only know where to improve, but what they should continue doing. Regular positive feedback will help people feel more valued and ensure their work is recognized throughout the year.

6. Make performance an ongoing conversation

Unless you’re watching a Shakespearean tragedy; no one appreciates a monologue. Performance appraisals are often dreaded by managers because they feel the burden is on them to provide the materials for the conversation around the performance meeting.

Not only does that not have to be the case, it’s also not the template of a successful performance review. Instead, it should be a 2-way conversation where issues and concerns, as well as successes and plans for the future are discussed on equal footing by the manager and their direct report. By carrying out performance reviews in such a manner, you ensure that concerns and grievances are dealt with in a shared way.

In addition, collaborating is a much more productive way to generate creative solutions to work problems, as well as being paramount in fostering a positive work environment.

If you want learn more about how to run performance reviews, download The 2019 Guide to Modern Performance Management.

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