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Helpful Performance Review Tips and Phrases

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Performance review season is just around the corner. For many employees, this is the most dreaded time of year. Managers can also feel the same – many managers struggle to know what to say to their employees, particularly if they have to give constructive feedback.

What is the purpose of a performance review?

Performance reviews serve to provide feedback about job performance, facilitate good working relationships, and to look at ways to contribute to professional development. Topics that are often covered include:

  • Strengths & weaknesses of an employee
  • Employee progress/objectives (e.g., how well did the employee meet objectives)
  • Career development and training opportunities 
  • Future goals
  • Compensation (although this can be addressed in a separate fashion)

What performance reviews are not…

Performance reviews should not be used solely to force a conversation about poor performance and/or justify dismissing low-performing employees. While performance should be addressed during reviews, it is imperative to address poor performance in real-time with continuous feedback. Continuous feedback not only helps mitigate biases in performance appraisals, but it also helps develop, motivate, and engage employees much better than once or twice a year reviews. 

In this blog, we list some helpful performance review tips and phrases to help managers ace these conversations with top performing, average, and underperforming employees. 

Performance review tips

1) Ratings are useless without sufficient quality and quantity of feedback 

Metrics/ratings/gradings are heavily embedded in most performance management practices. (In fact, manager ratings (70%) and employee self-ratings (55%) are the two most commonly used metrics associated with most current performance management practices). One point we want to stress is ratings will provide little value without sufficient quality and quantity of feedback. Feedback has to be effective. Rating an employee ‘3/5’ or ‘meets expectations’ will not motivate employees nor will it improve performance. In addition to the metric/rating/grading, feedback should be provided on what the employee did well and how they can improve. Specific examples should always be used when possible. 

Compare: 

Example 1: You need to improve your communication skills.

Example 2: You tend to go through your slides too fast when presenting, like when we had our monthly team meeting last month. This led to team members asking you to go back to your slides to clarify certain talking points. In the future, you can talk slower and pause between each slide to see if people have any questions before moving on.    

Examples are always great to use as it makes the feedback more tangible to employees. Check out our past blog on feedback examples for more details. 

2) Clear language 

Do not tiptoe around employee performance. If an employee is underperforming, it is in the best interest of the manager, employee, and organization that it is addressed. Do not use the feedback sandwich or sugarcoat performance (common feedback mistakes). Be direct and work together with the employee to take actionable steps to improve their performance. 

Did you know that only 34.6% of HR professional think that managers are good at having conversations about workplace performance and behaviors? Managers should be trained on how to give feedback and have those difficult conversations.

3) Collect peer feedback 

Collecting holistic, honest feedback should be of the upmost importance. Peers/team members are able to give insights that a manager is not privy to. This is particularly true in matrix organizations (like many professional services firms) whose performance manager may often not be staffed on the same projects as their direct reports. Implementing 360/peer reviews will give a more holistic picture of an employee, and ultimately better employee performance by identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

360 reviews can be challenging to run for many people. We recommend a performance review software to help conduct these reviews. 

4) Ask questions

One sided conversations are never as helpful as dialogue. While managers are giving an assessment on employee performance, they should include the employee within the conversation by asking the right questions. This can also provide clarity on why an employee performed well or did not perform to expectations. Some of our favorite questions are: 

  • How do you think you measured up to your goals this review cycle?
  • What enabled you to achieve their goals? Or what stopped you from achieving their goals?
  • What are your biggest strengths? 
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?

For more review question inspiration, download our guidebook with 100+ review questions.

Performance review phrases

To help managers and peers give actionable feedback to the reviewee, we compiled a list of helpful performance review phrases.

‘Needs improvement’ performance review phrases: 

  1. You tend to [behavioral skill that can be changed] like when [specific example]. This led to [negative result]. 
  2. In the next [timeframe], I want you to refine/hone/improve [new skill]. This can be done by [actionable task, goal, training]
  3. Over the next [time period], I’d like to see you step up and lead [project/task/objective].
  4. I’ve noticed you struggled with [responsibility/objective] this quarter. You were not able to meet/complete [expectation/objective]. In the future when you are struggling, I’d like to see you [actionable task, goal, training].

“Praise” performance review phrases 

  1. You are persistent at [behavioral skill] like when [specific example]. This led to [positive result].
  2. You did an excellent job collaborating with [person/department/client/sister company/ partner] to [result]. 
  3. [Specific project] made it evident that you excel at [specific competency].
  4. You were able to develop a [program/initiative] that delivered [x]. This led to [positive result].

Conclusion

Performance reviews are dreaded by both people across the desk (or screen). But managers can reduce this fear of the review by giving good quality feedback that employees can actually build upon to improve their performance. Using clear language and decreasing bias by collecting peer feedback can also make the performance review process more comfortable for both manager and employees. 

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