Performance review comments are a great way to boost engagement. See what review comments should and shouldn't be, with examples to help you construct your own.
Performance reviews often get a bad name these days, but when run effectively the review is the best way to formalize the process of giving constructive feedback and opening up a dialogue between employees and managers. While you might see it as extra admin to write appraisals for yourself and your team, the growth of the company through its employees depends on your thoughtful and relevant performance review comments! This is especially true for improving poor performance. If you take the time to get your performance review comments right you'll see the benefits of increased employee engagement, more motivated team members and a better overall employee experience.
Not sure where to start? We've got a complete list of 70 performance review phrases for all functions that you should use in your next review.
It's definitely worth it. Research shows that direct reports actively seek out feedback — even more so in the younger generations. According to Inc., "Sixty percent of Generation Z want multiple check-ins from their manager during the week; of those, 40 percent want the interaction with their boss to be daily or several times each day."
Most performance review structures will include a selection of competencies to evaluate. Even if your organization's appraisal form doesn't address these specifically, you should frame your review comments around these fundamentals:
Or, take our examples and highlight several key performance indicators that you want to track within your own team to build your performance review comments from this base.
But what should your appraisal comments look like?
Honest and open
Especially when it comes to underperformers, honesty in the review is absolutely critical. It doesn't mean you need to be unnecessarily harsh, but a frank and open discussion is far more useful for improving performance than papering over difficult areas.
Example: "You haven't hit your targets this month. Why is that?"
About the employee
Sounds obvious, doesn't it? However, with managers overseeing much larger teams these days it's easy to fall into the trap of using cut and paste answers for all of your appraisals. Avoid this by encouraging your direct reports to share their own thoughts freely, and listen to them more than you speak. We've got tips for encouraging open feedback from employees to help you with that.
Example: "Since our last 1:1 you said you want to focus on improving your pitches. How do you think that's going?"
Encouraging and motivating
Try out some motivational quotes to boost engagement to make sure you're encouraging progress just as much as you talk about mistakes.
Example: "You've really taken on the feedback from our last review and you're excelling at bringing the team together."
Performance review comments need to direct employees to make actionable change in their work and behavior.
Example: "You often get distracted by extra tasks as the day goes on. I'd like you to start priotizing your workload for the week and focusing on the most important tasks first."
Incorporating constructive feedback from peers
Feedback from colleagues is just as important as the review comments from managers. Teach your team the principles of constructive feedback to get the most out of the 360 process.
Example: "There's a theme in your 360 feedback that you can be inconsistent in communicating priorities to the wider team. Let's put steps in to address that."
Vague and impersonal
There's nothing more demotivating than going in to your review and getting a vague, impersonal assessment. It sends the message that your manager doesn't care about your work or your progress. You're especially unlikely to motivate poor performers unless you take the time to hone in on the specifics of what they can be doing better.
We're only human, but be aware of biases in your ratings and in your comments. The company is relying on your fair assessment of yourself and your team.
If the point of the review is to improve performance then you can't avoid the difficult topics for both poor and high performers. You need to focus on what's specific to the individual's needs. Don't be afraid to ask yourself and your direct reports what training and development needs they think they have, then build on those with your own suggestions.
This is linked to performance review comments needing to be actionable. Don't just write down notes and file it away, never to be looked at again. Encourage autonomy and let your direct reports develop their self-sufficiency by taking responsibility for their own growth, with your support. In the same Inc. article shared above, they found that forty-three percent of Generation Z learners prefer a fully self-directed and independent approach to learning — that's where they thrive.
Take a deeper look into performance appraisals with our Essential Guide to Performance Reviews. You'll learn about the history of performance reviews, how companies like Netflix and GE approach reviews in 2019, and how to create a truly effective performance review cycle — all with review tips for employees and managers.