Hi there, beleaguered manager! Presumably, you’re here because it’s time to write performance assessments for your team, and you’re feeling a bit stuck. Maybe you’re struggling with how to deliver critical feedback without hurting anyone’s feelings. Maybe you’re unsure how to weigh the different aspects of an employee’s performance. Or maybe you’re just not much of a wordsmith, and you’d like to pepper your assessments with some compelling phrases.
Whatever brought you here, we’ll give you the tools to take your observations of employees and turn them into articulate, actionable, and sensitive insights. We’ll start with a basic template and then go over example responses for varying situations and why they work.
Employee Performance Review Template
You may be conducting this assessment as part of quarterly reviews or an annual performance review, or you may just want to build more feedback into your regular one-on-ones. There are a host of performance-review templates out there (if that’s what you’re looking for, we compiled over 70), but they all share some basic features for grading employee performance:
How you weigh these areas against each other will depend on your company’s culture and structure. A lean startup may prize timely, high-quality work above all else, while more established companies often place greater importance on positive attitude and willingness to learn. What’s important is that you are transparent with your team members ahead of time about how their assessment is graded and what that grade means for their careers.Get your free copy of the best employee performance review template out there. Download now ⬇️
Performance Review Tips and Techniques
So you’re staring at this template and wondering how to write responses that show your care and investment in your team instead of seeming like they were written by a robot with an MBA. The good news is that there are some tried-and-true rhetorical methods to deliver the kind of feedback that makes an impact without alienating your team. Let’s go over them, one section at a time.
Positive feedback example: “April successfully collaborated on a project with Leslie, who described April as ‘a joy to work with.’”
The technique: It’s always a good idea to use quotes from colleagues and customers in your performance appraisals so you’re not just relying on your own opinions. In general, use quotes from colleagues for praise, not criticism, since you don’t want to play your team members against each other.
Negative feedback example: “While Tom’s independence is often an asset, he struggles on tasks that require compromise. When Tom and Jerry were assigned a project, Tom told his manager he felt ‘frustrated’ and ended up completing the work alone.”
The technique: When delivering critical feedback, sometimes the most effective person to quote is the team member themselves. That’s why it’s so crucial that managers keep detailed and organized notes from one-on-one meetings for reference when it’s time to write performance appraisals. You can also refer to a team member’s self-assessment to make sure your evaluations line up. If there are discrepancies in your perceptions of a team member’s job performance, address them in your review meeting.
Positive feedback example: “Amy submitted 85% of her paperwork on time last quarter, leading the team!”
The technique: Whenever possible, use concrete, measurable data in your performance assessments. It’s incontrovertible, so it lets you avoid any perception of bias.
Negative feedback example: “Jake arrived late to work an average of twice a week last quarter. While that leaves room for improvement, he was also adjusting to a new commute and has improved in recent weeks.”
The technique: While your team’s stats are important, they can also fail to tell the whole story, so don’t forget to include context. Otherwise, team members can feel like your review has reduced them to lines on a spreadsheet rather than seeing them as three-dimensional people.
Positive feedback example: “Chidi’s work has gone above and beyond expectations. His attention to detail ensures that his work requires minimal oversight, and his creativity continually pushes the rest of the team forward.”
The technique: Use specific, descriptive language to describe your team’s performance. Words like “nice” and “good” are bland and don’t communicate what makes something good. You could use “hard-working” to describe your whole team, but you can dig deeper for more nuance. One team member might be “methodical,” another “inspired,” and a third “inexhaustible.”
Negative feedback example: “While Jason’s enthusiasm is undeniable, he has struggled to deliver work at a level consistent with his job description. These quality issues led to multiple customers churning and other team members having to work late to fix Jason’s errors.
The technique: Simply labeling someone’s work as good or bad isn’t enough; you need to use specific examples to show how a team member’s actions affect the rest of the team and company. That technique is called impact feedback, and it can be very effective in getting through to team members you struggle to connect with. You don’t have to reserve this technique for critical feedback, either; there’s no better way to highlight an employee’s achievements than pointing out its impact.
Positive feedback example: “Leslie combines professionalism and enthusiasm in a way that inspires everyone around her. She rarely complains, and she frequently assists her team members. These qualities make her a natural leader who would do well in a management role.
The technique: Performance assessments aren’t just about reviewing what your team did in the past; they’re about charting a course for their professional development. You can help position your team members for advancement by focusing on their positive attributes and how those qualities will help them grow into new roles.
Negative feedback example: “While April is a treasured team member in many ways, she displays a pointed lack of enthusiasm for her work and often reports that she is ”bored,” “tired,” or “taking a second lunch.”
The technique: How do you tell someone they have a bad attitude? If possible, you don’t. Instead, repeat their own self-reports back to them to get an unbiased picture of their demeanor at work. Collecting this information is one more reason why you should start every one-on-one meeting by asking, “How are you?” If you keep your review grounded in conversations you’ve already had with team members, nothing you say will come as an unpleasant surprise.
Positive feedback example: “Andy has made significant progress on his professional development goals, including acquiring basic proficiency with our software and wearing work-appropriate attire each day. While there’s still room to grow, his dedication to improving is clear.”
The technique: If you judge every member of your team according to the same yardstick, your highest performers will get complacent while your lowest performers will get discouraged. Instead, assess each team member on their own terms, not compared to other people. Harvard Business Review reports that people are much more likely to feel that a performance assessment is fair (and are thus more likely to accept it) when their work is judged in comparison to their past performance, not to the performance of their peers.
Negative feedback example: “At the beginning of the quarter, Ann was enthusiastic about taking several online courses to learn new skills. However, she has not met deadlines to complete those courses and reports feeling too overwhelmed with her other tasks to absorb new information. Going forward, let’s develop time management strategies so that Ann can do her job without losing sight of her long-term goals.
The technique: Performance management isn’t just about pointing out problems; it’s about offering support.This responsibility doesn’t pause just because you’re writing employee evaluations. If an employee is falling behind in any area, you should accompany any constructive criticism with an action plan for how to fix the issue.
Better Performance Reviews=Better Performance
Employee performance assessments are important not just for your human resources department but also for your team’s relationship with you. If you don’t give these appraisals the attention they deserve, or you fail to fully support your statements with evidence, the result will be hurt feelings and damaged trust. But if you approach the review process with the same care and supportiveness you bring to one-on-one check-ins, your team will feel seen, understood, and inspired to work even harder.