As a manager it can be difficult to articulate your thoughts during a performance review. We’ve created these performance review phrases to help you.

How to prepare for a performance review

Before jumping in, here’s a quick reminder of how to prepare for a performance review:

  1. Make sure you’re familiar with your company’s guidance on performance management
  2. Review your employee’s job description
  3. Review the goals that you set your employee (see fast goal setting for more)
  4. Reflect on your employee’s performance and the feedback you’ve already shared

Also remember to reflect on your goals. What do you want to achieve from each performance review? This may vary from employee to employee, but overall you should be aiming to:

  • Provide feedback on what your employee has been doing well and how they can continue to improve
  • Build the motivation and engagement of your employee. Presumably you’d like them more engaged and motivated, rather than less, as a result of the review?!
  • Ensure there’s clarity regarding future performance expectations and behaviors

Make sure you’re prepared and clear about your goals before you jump in.

How to open a performance review meeting

Performance review meetings can go very wrong, very quickly. Your employee starts to feel anxious about being judged, which makes them defensive, suddenly the rapport evaporates, and you start to feel anxious too.

With that in mind, here’s the first of our employee performance review phrases (it may surprise you!):

The purpose of this performance review is to explore your views on your performance, provide feedback to support your continued development and to plan for our future success.

This phrase helps to ensure that the review is a positive experience and removes the stress often associated with performance reviews.

To be true to that purpose, continue the discussion by asking questions.

For example:

  • What are your thoughts overall on your performance this past year?
  • What do you feel you’ve done well?
  • Where do you feel you need to improve your performance?
  • What have you enjoyed working on?
  • What has been less enjoyable?

Each of these questions should be a starting point for exploration and further questions, don’t jump from one topic to another too quickly.

The goal is to get your employee talking. Learn their perspective, see how they feel. It’s much more engaging for them and it also gives you valuable insight before you share your own evaluation of their performance.

For example, if you’re concerned that they need to improve in a certain area it’s valuable to get their perspective first. They may readily acknowledge this under-performance, or they may be completely unaware of it, perhaps they even think they’ve done a good job! Gaining this insight will help you find the right way forward in the conversation.

Performance review phrases

We’ve organized these employee performance review phrases around typical performance criteria related to interpersonal skills & teamwork, commitment, creativity & growth, goals and leadership.

Interpersonal skills / teamwork

Meets or exceeds expectations

  • Actively listens and responds to his/her coworkers
  • Can adapt working style to be effective with different personality types
  • Expresses opinions clearly and thoughtfully
  • Actively participates in team activities

Below expectations

  • Does not listen or incorporate other’s ideas to improve the work
  • Inflexible style that does not work well with others
  • Fails to fully recognize the needs of others
  • Does not participate effectively in team activities

Commitment

Meets or exceeds expectations

  • Always on time for meetings
  • Encourages others to improve their attendance
  • On time and ready for the start of each working day
  • Effectively applies our flexible working policy

Below expectations

  • Frequently late for meetings
  • Has not met attendance goals as agreed
  • Does not meet attendance policy
  • Poor attendance has an impact on coworkers

Creativity & growth

Meets or exceeds expectations

  • Accepts constructive feedback and works to improve
  • Is willing to change to achieve goals and align with strategy
  • Able to come up with new solutions to improve performance
  • Willing to evaluate and integrate other perspectives

Below expectations

  • Resistant to new opportunities and challenges
  • Unwilling to look for new ways of working when needed
  • Does not accept constructive feedback well
  • Unwilling to admit he/she is wrong

Goals

Meets or exceeds expectations

  • Exceeded expectations on goals set during the previous performance review
  • Sets appropriate goals and works effectively to accomplish them
  • Takes the initiative to move the work forward
  • Sets high standards for himself / herself and works towards them

Below expectations

  • Did not meet performance goals set during the last performance review
  • Requires significant supervision to be successful
  • Lacks initiative
  • Does not set high standards and fails to challenge himself / herself

Leadership

Meets or exceeds expectations

  • Always willing to help a coworker
  • Understands the strengths within the team and collaborates effectively
  • Regularly shows appreciation and gratitude to coworkers
  • Willing to provide feedback and does so effectively
  • Promotes a culture of learning and development

Below expectations

  • Over-analyzes when quick action is required
  • Derails team activities
  • Does not have a focus on delivering successful outcomes
  • Does not provide feedback effectively
  • A rigid approach / unwilling to change

Final tips to ensure positive results

The performance review phrases provided above will help you. Some of them may be a perfect fit already, some will inspire you to create your own tailored phrases, specific to the review of each individual employee.

As you do this, remember these final tips and you’ll be sure to achieve positive results.

Check your intentions first. Before you even start, make sure that you’re acting with the best of intentions. You may have employees you prefer to work with, you may have pet peeves, or grudges that you’re holding onto. You may feel closer to some employees than others, (perhaps just because they support the same football team as you!). It’s natural to have preferences and biases. As much as possible we need to recognize these, put them to one side, and act with the best of intentions: for the employee, the team and the company.

Make sure you have evidence for each statement (especially the ‘below expectations’ comments). This is a good check against the biases that I mention above, can you validate your comments with evidence? It’s also just good practice, you may need to be able to justify your comments if you’re challenged.

Aim for focus and clarity. You may have a hundred comments, dozens of suggestions, detailed feedback on a whole range of topics. Resist the temptation to dump everything on your employee at once. Remember, part of the purpose of the meeting is to support continued development and future success, to do this you need to focus your comments and ensure clarity. (Fast Company reports that 74% of younger workers walk out of performance reviews UNSURE of what their managers actually think of their performance.)

Next steps. Make sure that you take time to discuss and agree next steps. These may be specific behavior changes, or may be development actions that you’ll support. And make sure you document these next steps (in your company performance management system if you have one).

In Summary

  • Make sure you’re prepared and clear about your goals before you jump in.
  • Start the discussion with a clear (none threatening) purpose and asking questions to understand your employee’s perspective first.
  • Use the performance review phrases provided, or use them as inspiration for more tailored comments.
  • Act with the right intentions, have evidence to back up your comments, ensure focus and clarity, document next steps!

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