Performance review examples for a manager’s 5 toughest scenarios

Woman and man holding performance review meeting

Performance reviews can be scary, especially if you’ve got bad news to deliver or you’re not sure what to say. So we gathered advice from experts on the exact performance review phrases and questions that will get the job done. These 40+ performance review examples will help you deal with the 5 most common scenarios that managers face:

If you’re an employee who wants to take charge of your performance review, check out our post on how to write a self evaluation that will impress your boss.

There is one caveat…

While these performance review examples are powerful, they won’t be effective unless you also have a healthy work environment where it’s safe to give or receive feedback. We think the best way to build that environment is through regular one-on-one meetings.

1. How to build rapport in a performance review

While meeting in person

  • What questions do you have?

The easiest way to build rapport throughout the review is to simply listen to your employee after delivering feedback. But instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?”, turn it around and say, “What questions do you have?” And then wait. You’ll be surprised at the quality and quantity of feedback you get by making a small change to the phrasing. Source: Laura Flores, regional director at Oracle

Continue to build rapport with these phrases

  • Before we get started, I want you to know that I see this time as a celebration. Of course, there are always ways to improve—and we’ll talk about that—but you should know that we’re really pleased with your work.
  • How do you feel about the past [quarter/6 months/year]?
  • I’m glad you brought that [question/problem] up. I appreciate the trust it shows in me.
  • I don’t know the answer right now, but I’ll make sure I find out. If I get back to you by [date], will that work for you?

2. How to give negative feedback in a performance review

While giving feedback in writing

  • I’ve observed a pattern of [describe negative behavior]. I’m concerned because this impacts the team/business in these ways: [describe impact]. What I’d like to see instead is [broadly describe desired behavior].

Point out patterns, not details. While it’s smart to focus on the present while giving constructive criticism, you should prepare a few specific examples of the negative behavior in case anyone needs clarification. This helps you avoid biases like remembering recent moments more vividly than past ones. Source: Aytekin Tank, founder and CEO of JotForm

While meeting in person

  • I wanted to let you know about some concerns of mine. I’ve noticed [describe negative behavior]. I’m worried because [describe impact on team/business/employee]. Now that you understand how I see things, I want to hear from you. What’s your understanding of the situation?

If you’re worried about giving critical feedback, following a script like this can help you communicate clearly. Don’t forget to document the solutions you come up with, or set up a follow-up meeting if you need more time. Source: Mary Dunlap, CFP of Mary Dunlap Consulting

Soften negative feedback with these phrases

  • It seems like something is off lately. Let’s talk about what’s going on.
  • I’m bringing this up because you’re a really important part of our team.
  • This may not seem like a big deal, but I want us to fix it so it doesn’t become a bigger problem.
  • Let’s make a plan so we can put this behind us.
  • What this isn’t about is [area of anxiety for employee].

Follow up on your negative feedback

  • Do you have all the tools and resources you need to do this?
  • Is there something you need from me or a team member to move this forward?
  • Can we touch base in a few days to see how you’re doing?

If you want advice on specific performance problems, from blaming others to constant tardiness, check out these guides:

3. How to give positive feedback in a performance review

While giving feedback in writing

  • I’ve observed a pattern of [describe positive behavior]. I’m pleased because this benefits the team/business in these ways: [describe impact]. I’d like to see you build on this success by [broadly describe desired behavior].

While meeting in person

  • I’m so impressed with the way you took on this challenge. What stood out to me, and the rest of the leadership team, was [add details of desired behavior]. We’re excited to see more of that from you.

Details will make your praise more powerful. If you want employees to replicate their success in the future, tell them what was impressive and who noticed. Pleasing the manager is nice, but impressing the whole executive suite is better. Source: F. John Reh, small business consultant and The Balance writer

  • I hope I’ve made it clear how much we value your contributions. While I have you here, I was hoping to get your opinion on [upcoming project/decision]. What’s your take on it?

By engaging your employees in rigorous, upfront discussion about big issues, you ensure that they’re looped in and ready to act when the time comes. Source: Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts and Multipliers

More phrases to praise and recognize your employees

  • You stepped up without being asked.
  • I noticed all the extra work you put into [project].
  • You showed the team what [leadership/pride in your work/professionalism] looks like.
  • You’ve made my job so much easier.
  • I’m impressed by the way you continually challenge yourself.
  • [Team member] looks up to you, and I can see why.

Follow up on your positive feedback

  • How would you feel about mentoring [team member] in [skill]? I think they could really learn from your expertise.
  • I’m going to let [top leaders] know how well you’re doing in this area.
  • Let me know if you’d like me to write a recommendation on your LinkedIn. I’m happy to do it.
  • Are you comfortable being recognized [in our next team meeting/in the newsletter/on our website]?
  • I know not everyone likes being the center of attention. Would you prefer private recognition like a gift card or a night out, courtesy of the company?

4. How to get honest feedback from employees

  • What are you getting from me that’s most valuable?
  • What am I doing that’s getting in the way?
  • If I could only focus on three things as a manager in the next year, what should they be?
  • Would it be better if I focused on [priority 1] or [priority 2]? Can you tell me more about your thinking?

When people receive negative or even neutral feedback, they often experience stress responses: racing hearts, elevated blood pressure, and a desire for it to end ASAP. By asking your direct reports to give you feedback, they feel like a partner in the conversation instead of a target. And if they feel safe, you’re more likely to have an enjoyable conversation and get valuable information from them. Source: Samuel Culbert, professor and author of Get Rid of the Performance Review

More phrases to get direct feedback during performance reviews

  • What am I not seeing?
  • Is there any talk going around that I should know about?
  • You know more than I do about this. Will you help educate me?
  • If people on your team were going to leave, what would be the reason?
  • If I could change one thing about my management style, what should it be?

5. How to give useful feedback when you don’t know the team well

  • I hope I’ve been clear about this, but if not, I want to talk about how I define success for your [team/role]. What’s most important to me is [add details]. Does that square with your expectations?

Whether your team is brand new or you’re taking over an established team, you should focus on how you want them to work. In this new role, the first 90 days are your chance (maybe the only one) to develop group norms, share your expectations, and build a solid team culture. Source: Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days

  • Do you mind if I clarify how I approach performance reviews? To me, a good performance review looks like [add details]. I want to make sure at the end of this meeting, you feel, know, and are ready to do [add details].

If there’s one thing new managers should remember, it’s that over-communicating is better than the alternative. “It’s always better to start with more structure, more touch points, more check-ins at the beginning,” says Mary Shapiro. Clarifying what a successful performance review looks like can help your employees relax, because now they know what to expect. Source: Mary Shapiro, author of HBR Guide to Leading Teams

More performance review phrases for new managers

  • What should I know about the team that’s not obvious at first glance?
  • I’ve noticed that the team really respects you. Why do you think that is? Is there anything you choose not to do?
  • Thank you for being patient with me as I get up to speed with this [role/team].
  • How can I be the manager you need me to be?

We hope these performance review examples will make this process as pain-free as possible. But we also hope that the business world starts to see reviews differently. What if performance review examples came from real life, rather than a manager’s imperfect memory? What if they were part of an ongoing conversation that built trust instead of fear? What if performance reviews made people feel valued and cared for, instead of crummy?

We’ve seen it happen. Our tool Uptick helps you have small, meaningful conversations that add up to major growth in team productivity and happiness. Try it free and see for yourself.

Our pick for best performance review template

We developed a template that’s simple to use, backed by powerful research, and tested in over 100 performance reviews.

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