Performance Review

What Is a Performance Review?

A performance review is a formal assessment in which a manager evaluates an employee’s work performance. Also called a performance appraisal or an employee evaluation, it can be structured in different ways to effectively identify strengths and weaknesses, offer constructive feedback, and set goals for the future.

What Are Common Goals for Performance Reviews?

Performance reviews should help employees understand:

Most managers use these evaluations to recognize high-performing employees or correct performance issues before they become insurmountable. They also communicate expectations, encourage growth and development, and foster employee engagement.

Do Most Companies Still Host an Annual Performance Review?

Many companies maintain an annual performance review cadence, but it's not required. In fact, less than half of companies give annual or semiannual reviews, and 7% don't offer them at all. However, other companies embrace frequent feedback and conduct quarterly, monthly, or even weekly review sessions.

While performance reviews can seem nerve-wracking, they don't have to be. Employees often value them to better understand what they can do to advance in their careers.

Performance Review Examples

Some organizations have done away with formal performance reviews in favor of more casual manager check-ins and one-on-one meetings. This helps account for the factors a yearly employee review may miss.

For example, by checking in at least every two weeks, managers and employees can have an ongoing two-way dialogue to discuss meaningful goals and action plans. Small steps can help make progress feel more manageable and ensure employee goals continually align with evolving company priorities.

What's a Self-Evaluation Performance Review?

A self-evaluation performance review invites employees to reflect on their work, skillset, and areas of improvement. These cultivate more balanced assessments and spark opportunities for discussion. If major discrepancies between manager and employee evaluations arise, human resources can provide additional support and mediation.

Performance Review Tips for Employees

If you're preparing for a self-assessment, try using the following tactics:

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7 Performance Review Comments to Avoid

For performance evaluations to succeed, managers and employees alike should come prepared to discuss and reflect together. However, managers have the authority to substantially affect their employees' careers—so it's their job to facilitate a civil and productive conversation.

Here are seven topics managers should avoid to keep things constructive:

1. Criticism Without an Example

Giving an example and providing ideas for improvement can help an employee better their performance rather than leave them feeling defensive.

For instance, instead of saying, “I don’t like the quality of the work you’ve been producing,” provide more constructive feedback. You could say, “I think the quality of your work could be improved if you focused on [action/responsibility].”

2. Comparisons

This isn't a space to rank employees or pit them against each other. Focus only on the performance of the employee you're currently evaluating.

Imagine you’re the manager of a sales team and your direct report, Tom, met his sales goal for the month. Hooray! While some may personally find a little friendly competition motivating, it wouldn’t be appropriate to say something like, “Jane actually doubled her sales goal. Let’s see if you can hit those numbers next time.” This comparison diminishes Tom’s achievement. Instead, celebrate his efforts to motivate him to keep up the good work.

3. False Praise

While you should look for something positive to say in every performance review, avoid giving false praise. This will only mislead an employee into thinking they're doing better than they are and rob them of the opportunity to improve.

For example, it can be counterproductive to praise an employee for their time-management skills if their work doesn't achieve the agreed-upon objectives. Instead, acknowledge their punctuality, while also providing constructive feedback about their work to help them fulfill your expectations on future projects.

4. Speculation

Sharing rumors about the company or raising hopes for a promotion that may not be possible causes unnecessary speculation and sometimes disappointment.

If an employee asks about pay raises, for example, you can be honest and say you’ve been notified that upper management is reviewing the budget. To be safe, it’s best not to predict which way you think they’re leaning.

5. Repetitive Commentary

Some important things bear repeating, but try changing things up if you find yourself giving the same advice and praise in every performance evaluation. Maybe the message isn’t getting through in the way you're currently sharing it or it needs further discussion.

If both managers and employees keep notes of what’s talked about in performance reviews, you can build off of advice and goals from each meeting rather than rehash the same thing over and over again.

6. “Always” and “Never”

There’s an exception to every rule. Ultimatums and blanket statements are rarely accurate and can make people feel defensive.

Let’s say an employee who usually meets deadlines was late in submitting their last two assignments. Recency bias might make it tempting to say, “You never hand your work in on time.” Instead, invite the employee to be honest about why they were turned in late and problem-solve together for future tasks. For example, perhaps the deadlines didn't give them enough time to complete the full scope of those projects.

7. “I Wish I Had More Time”

Performance reviews should be a priority for managers and employees. They help make sure everyone’s personal goals are aligned with the company’s objectives and give valuable insights on ways the employee and the manager can improve. When evaluations are put first, the entire company can benefit.

Even if your company only has one formal employee review a year, let them know that they’re welcome to keep discussing their evolving goals with you during your casual weekly one-on-ones and other times. Voicing this will let your team know you value their growth and development.

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