Performance Review Tips for Managers Who Hate Reviews

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. Well relax, because we’re here to help with our handy dandy performance review tips for managers!

Maybe you’re struggling with how to deliver critical feedback without hurting anyone’s feelings. Maybe you want to give the kind of praise that sets a team members up for promotion. Or maybe you’re just not much of a wordsmith, and you’d like some writing tips.

Whatever brought you here, we’ll give you the tools to turn your observations into articulate and actionable insights. We’ll start by reviewing the basic categories you run into in reviews, and then walk you through writing one.

Employee Performance Review Template

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:

  • Collaboration
  • Timeliness
  • Quality
  • Attitude
  • Development

How you weigh these areas other will depend on your company’s culture and structure. A lean startup may prize timely, high-quality work above all else. Meanwhile, more established companies often care more about positive attitude and willingness to learn. What’s important is that you’re transparent with your team members about what you’re looking for.

Start by explaining to your team members how their assessment is graded and what that grade means for their careers.

Performance Review Tips and Techniques

So you’re staring at this template and wondering how to write articulate responses. You want to deliver compliments that show you care. You want to deliver critiques that don’t make your team angry or defensive. (Above all, you don’t want to sound like a robot with an MBA.) The good news is that there are some tried-and-true writing techniques can use to make the right kind of impact.

Use Quotes from Colleagues and Customers

It’s always a good idea to pepper your reviews with some direct quotes. That way, it’s clear 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.

Example: “Leslie described Ann as ‘a joy to work with,’ and said she’d be happy to work together on future projects.”

Draw On Your One-on-One Notes

When delivering feedback, it’s much easier to rely on a written record than your own memories. 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.

Example: “While Tom’s independence is often an asset, he struggles to compromise. When Tom and Jerry were assigned a project, Tom said he felt ‘frustrated’ and ended up completing the work alone.”

Use Concrete Data

Sometimes, the numbers speak louder than anything you could say. Stats can help highlight a team member’s achievements, and they can shine a light on problems. Best of all, numbers are impartial, so you can use them to make sure you don’t seem biased.

But 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: “Amy submitted 85% of her paperwork on time last quarter, leading the team!”

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.”

Use Specific and Descriptive Language

Words like “nice” and “good” are bland. They don’t belong in a review because they don’t describe what makes something good. You could use the word “hard-working” to describe your whole team, but try and dig deeper for more nuance. One team member might be “methodical,” another “inspired,” and a third “tireless.” When you care enough to search for the right word, you ensure that you can’t be misinterpreted by HR. Not only that, you show your team you care enough to crack a thesaurus.

Example: “Chidi’s exhibits meticulous attention and requires minimal oversight. Not only that, his commitment to ethics pushes the rest of the team to be their best.

Show a Team Member’s Impact

It’s not enough to label someone’s behavior as “good” or “bad.” You need to use specific examples to show how a team member’s actions affect the team and the company. That technique is called impact feedback, and it’s very effective in getting through to team members you struggle to connect with. While showing impact is helpful in criticism, it’s also a great tool for praise. There’s no better way to highlight an employee’s achievements than by showing what a difference they made.

Example: “Jason is undeniably enthusiastic, but he struggles to deliver work up to the rest of the team’s standards. These quality issues led to multiple customers churning, and other team members had to work late to fix Jason’s mistakes.”

Position High Performers for Promotion

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 position your team members for advancement by highlighting their strengths and mentioning how those qualities will help them grow into new roles. Remember, you’re writing for an audience that includes HR, your own boss, and possibly this person’s next manager. Make sure those people will read this review and know who your stars are.

Positive feedback example: “Leslie inspires everyone around her with her professionalism and energy. She rarely complains, and she frequently assists her team members. She is a natural leader who would do well in a management role.

Describe Team Members in Their Own Words

How do you tell someone they have a bad attitude? If possible, you don’t. Instead, repeat their own self-reports back to them. If you’re struggling with a disengaged employee, this is a way to point out the problem without making them feel defensive. 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.

Example: “April displays a pointed lack of enthusiasm for her work. She often reports that she is ”bored,” “tired,” or “taking a second lunch.”

Don’t Mention Problems without Suggesting Solutions

Performance management is all about offering support, not finding fault. And this responsibility doesn’t pause just because you’re writing employee evaluations. If an employee is falling behind, you should accompany any constructive criticism with an action plan for how to fix the issue. Without a plan, your critiques feel more like insults, and that’s a surefire way to lose your team’s trust. But by sitting down with an employee and agreeing on a strategy to fix problems, you can direct their energy toward improving.

Example: “At the beginning of the quarter, Ann was enthusiastic about taking online courses to learn new skills. However, she has not met deadlines to complete those courses. Going forward, let’s develop time management strategies so that Ann can do her job without losing sight of her long-term goals.

Don’t Compare Team Members

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.

Example: “Andy has made significant progress on his professional development goals, including wearing work-appropriate attire each day. While there’s still room to grow, his dedication to improving is clear.”

Better Performance Reviews=Better Performance

Even if you hate writing them, you have to take employee performance assessments seriously. What you write and how you write it will have a direct impact on your team’s futures and their relationships with you. If you drop the ball, you can hurt your team’s feelings and damage their trust. But if you approach the review process with the same care and supportiveness you bring to your everyday work, your team will feel cared for, and inspired to work even harder.

At the end of the day, all our performance review tips for managers boil down to the fundamentals of management. Show that you care, be consistent with accountability, and always set your team up to succeed.

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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