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27 Tips on How to Prepare and Give an Employee Performance Review

David has over 15 years of supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge of how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Evaluating an Employee's Performance

Reviewing the performance of an employee can be the hardest thing you do as a leader. You basically have to take their performance over a set period of time and sum it up in a couple pieces of paper that could determine their future with your organization, or even another organization if they choose to leave. If you give a poor review, the person could be stuck in their current position forever. If you give a stellar review, then you could propel them to better things. The worst of it is that you could give an inaccurate review which could make matters worse in the future, no matter if it's good or bad.

This guide will help you in all aspects of the employee performance review process.

Awkward Performance Review

How to Prepare for an Employee Performance Review

Before you think of writing or conducting a performance review, you have to prepare for it. The tips below explain how to do that.

  1. Keep a log of their activities. Write down, either in a paper or computerized log, the activities of the employee. Don't write down the basic duties they are expected to accomplish. Instead, make note of any positive or negative action taken by them that would affect their performance review. Keep in mind some organizations may require employees be made aware if any documentation is kept on them.
  2. Keep copies of work performed. If an employee does an excellent job on a report, then keep a copy of it. If you receive an e-mail from another person commending the employee on a job well done, keep a copy of that too. The same goes for anything bad regarding the employee. Just like the last tip, the employee may need to be advised of any documentation kept on them.
  3. Provide feedback periodically. Don't wait until the review to offer feedback on their performance. Give them continuous feedback so that they know if they are doing a good job or if there are areas they need to work on. This gives them time to improve in the areas you discussed. If an employees fails to improve, then you can state in the evaluation that you advised them where they needed to improve, but they failed to do so.
  4. Talk to your own supervisor. If you have a difficult evaluation to prepare, then discuss it with your own supervisor. Advise them of your concerns and your thoughts on it. It's always better to bounce some ideas off of someone else. Plus if it's a poor review your superior should be made aware of it.
  5. Review the standards. Ensure for each and every review that you follow the standards set forth by your organization. This will ensure that you won't give someone a good rating, when they could be just standard. Or, giving a standard rating when someone could actually be poor. Try to remain as consistent as possible.
Jotting down notes while writing an employee performance review will help ensure you don't miss a thing.

Jotting down notes while writing an employee performance review will help ensure you don't miss a thing.

How to Write an Employee Performance Review

Now that you are prepared for an employee performance review, it's time to write it. The steps below are guidelines that you should follow when writing the review.

  1. Pull out all documentation regarding the employee. This would include any notes you have taken, copies of documents regarding the employee, their file, and the employment standards. It also never hurts to use this guide as a reference as well.
  2. Write based on their performance only. Do not write the evaluation based on your personal feelings of the employee or what other people claim the employee does or does not do. The evaluation has to be based on an observable work performance and that alone.
  3. Start out with what the employee's general duties are. Don't write what you expect of them, but spell out what they are responsible for. This will help when you reference their actual work performance.
  4. Never use the word "usually" when writing about their actual performance. Someone can't usually be good or bad at something. They either are or they are not. Usually is too vague of a word.
  5. Never use the word "attitude". That word always has a negative connotation with it. Even if you say someone has a good attitude, it still sounds negative. Instead, use words like "demeanor" or "outlook".
  6. Don't start too many sentences with the word "you". If you start multiple sentences in a row with the word "you", it sounds like you are finger pointing at them, even if it's meant to be positive. For example, "You did this task well. You did it effectively. You completed it quickly." All I hear when I read that is "you, you, you".
  7. Start with the good, then end with the bad. Your employee will always be nervous when you start reading the evaluation. If you start with the positives they will relax. Then you can go into the negative, if there are any.
  8. Don't just state someone is good or bad. You need to provide that justification. Don't just say, "You are great at typing up multiple forms at once" without stating why that is great. Does it save time? Does it help a process by being faster? What? This is especially true if you have something bad to say. For example, "You failed to complete multiple assignments in time." Why did they fail? What impact did it have? Not only will this justify your evaluation of the employee, but will open up their eyes to see it on paper.
  9. If an error only occurred once or twice, or wasn't serious in nature, just disregard it. If someone only makes one major mistake in a one year period, that is actually a pretty good record. You shouldn't harp on that one mistake in their evaluation.
  10. If they receive write-up's during the evaluation period you can mention them in the evaluation, but keep them brief. If the errors or exemplary behavior continued after the write-up, then feel free to document that in the evaluation. That will help justify the performance evaluation even more. If they didn't do anything else notable after the write-up, note that down as well.
  11. Provide some goals. On each evaluation provide goals for them to accomplish for the next rating period. Gear these goals towards their negatives so they know what you expect from them. If there are no negatives, then state what else you would like to see the employee accomplish.
  12. If you give an overall rating that is good or bad, ensure you have multiple other ratings that support that overall rating. Someone can't be slightly good in a category and deserve an overall great rating. The same goes if you give them an overall poor rating. Just a couple mistakes doesn't justify a horrible rating overall.
  13. If you have them sign off on the evaluation, ensure that part of the evaluation is on one of the pages they sign. Don't do it on a separate page. If they sign on a page that has part of the evaluation, it will prove it was the same evaluation they received. If they come back to complain later that it wasn't the same evaluation, you can show that it was.
  14. Have someone else proofread the evaluation. This should be someone at the same level as you, or higher, like your boss. Another set of eyes is always good to have to see if you made any mistakes, missed something, etc.
  15. In the end, go with your gut instinct. You know the employee. You have interacted with them. Go with what you feel is correct.

In the workplace, employees should be judged on their merit and hard work and not on aspects that are irrelevant to their performance.

— Paul Singer

Employee Performance Review Horror Story

My supervisor at the time gave another employee their performance review. Part of the review was a cover-sheet where the individual ratings of the employee could be checked off. My supervisor intended to give the employee a few "Above Standard" ratings and the rest would be "Standard". Instead, she mistakenly gave a few "Outstanding" ratings and the rest "Above Standard". She discovered this after she conducted the evaluation.

She attempted to correct it after, but the employee refused to sign the new evaluation, which only caused further issues.

How to Give an Effective Employee Evaluation

How to Conduct an Employee Performance Review

It's time for the hardest part of the process - conducting the review itself. Below are some general tips in regards to the process.

  1. Do not read the evaluation word-for-word. Summarize and talk to the employee. Look at them in the face and be semi-casual about it. They will feel more at ease. Let them talk too. Their reaction will help lead you where to go throughout the evaluation.
  2. Don't show too much emotion. I have had employees cry, yell, and throw the evaluation back at me when they didn't agree with it. Don't get angry or upset. If you show emotion, then the employee will feel like that you don't support what you wrote, or they could use your emotions against you.
  3. Be prepared for the unexpected. You may think you know how the employee will react, but that isn't always the case. Be prepared to back the evaluation with examples of their performance in order to counter any outbursts or surprised reactions.
  4. Always end the evaluation offering positive and encouraging words. Don't end it on a bad note, even with a horrible evaluation. Encourage them to improve and offer your support.
  5. Give the bad evaluations right before the staff member's days off. This will allow them to cool down and return in a better mood in the next week.
  6. Always have someone sit with you during the evaluation. They will serve as a witness and keep you in the clear if anything bad occurs. Plus, they can keep notes if you expect it to be a difficult evaluation.
  7. Provide the employee any notes or copies kept throughout the year. This will allow them to see how they progress, remind them of certain incidents, etc. Keep in mind that certain internal documents may not be for them, so ensure you follow your organization's policies in regards to that.
  8. Ask the employee if they have any questions at the end of the evaluation. This will allow them to leave the room with a clear idea of what just happened.

After the Employee Performance Review

There are a few things to do after you conduct the evaluation:

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  • Archive any notes and pull out any documents that may relate to the previous year. If it's a yearly review, then they basically start over for the next year. They should always have a fresh start. Keeping some items can be good for historical purposes, especially if you have to terminate the employee.
  • Provide a copy of the evaluation to the employee. This could be done by your own Human Resources department, but if not, then ensure you provide a copy of the evaluation to the employee directly.
  • Review the evaluation process as a whole. Review everything you did in preparing, writing, and conducting the evaluation. Try to find areas that you could improve upon for the next evaluation you process.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 David Livermore


Daisy Scott from Washington on December 27, 2016:

"Reviewing the performance of an employee can be the hardest thing you can do as a leader." Very well defined how can we make this job more easier.

TANJIM ARAFAT SAJIB from Bangladesh on December 01, 2015:

Reviewing is a very tough job. But it is very much important in order to get the best from the employees. As an employer, it is your duty to handle the employees perfectly. You should create such an environment that the employees can perform the best. If an employee ever fails to meet up the expectation, don't demoralize him. There are times when you need to become hard with them but this is not the first step you should take. Always sort out your employee's strengths and weaknesses and design plans accordingly. This will help them perform the best and you will come with positive reviews most of the time.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 10, 2015:

An employee evaluation can be stressful on both sides of the desk. I was fortunate to receive specific training on the process in the company I worked for. The most important thing new managers were taught was that there should be no surprises at the actual evaluation session - any issues should have been discussed along the way. Good tips here. And congrats on HOTD!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 10, 2015:

These tips are certainly useful. You do speak from experience and lots of it. I am happy though I am over that part of the job now. You are right it is the hardest to do.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on February 10, 2015:

Yes, many bosses are uncomfortable giving them too! Excellent HOTD, congratulations! In the workforce shivers still run up and down my spine participating at either end of this review process can feel like going to the principals office. These tools are quite useful.

Krzysztof Willman from Parlin, New Jersey on February 10, 2015:

Great tips and agree that bosses should take a closer look at the evaluation process. It will assure stronger communication and practice between employer and employee. Useful hub voted up!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 10, 2015:

Agreed that evaluation is a continuing process, not just a once-a-year activity. Congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.

mySuccess8 on February 10, 2015:

While an annual employee performance review or appraisal acts as evidence for pay increments or for terminations, it also acts as a basis for the training and development of employees, and employee motivation. The ultimate objective is positive outcomes for the company and the employees. You have given great tips for its proper execution. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on February 10, 2015:

Congratulations on the HOTD award! This is a helpful article for the bosses. Thanks for sharing.

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on July 05, 2013:

Glad it will help. It's impossible to know everything regarding employee reviews. I'm always still learning new things myself!

Regina Fasold from Florida on July 05, 2013:

While we are in a team then we should always be ready for the situational tasks and we should always able to calculate the performance of an employee. After reading this hub I found brilliant idea regarding to check the performance review of an employee and the different methods to check different methods regarding performance of an employee.

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on January 14, 2012:

@ alocsin - Thank you very much for the compliment.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 14, 2012:

Excellent hub. Should be required reading for bosses. Voting this Up and Useful.

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