As a new manager, it helps to recognize that regular employee evaluations are a great way to gauge an employee’s progress, praise their accomplishments and collaborate on goals to improve performance and help achieve company objectives.
There are many benefits to doing employee evaluations, including improved communication and job satisfaction, which translate into great retention rates and better performance/productivity/profitability.
They’re also a great way to identify star performers and future leaders, while at the same time providing employee training and, lastly, improving your company culture.
With so much riding on employee evaluations, it’s perfectly understandable that you may find writing one a bit intimidating as a newer manager. But don’t stress.
This article focuses almost exclusively on writing an employee evaluation.
Elsewhere on HRMorning you’ll find an excellent, step-by-step guide on how to conduct an employee evaluation. That’s a broader guide that clearly explains the key steps in the process. It gives practical advice on how to perform each step.
But since that article doesn’t delve deeply into how to write the final review document, the team at HRMorning created this step-by-step writing guide to complement it.
Step 1: Have employees evaluate themselves
A key part of all employee evaluations is knowing what employees think of their efforts at your organization.
To help with that, here are seven questions to give employees a few weeks before the sit-down discussion so they have time to contemplate their answers:
- What are your job responsibilities as you understand them?
- Rate and evaluate how you’re doing in each area.
- Where do you need improvement?
- What are your goals? (Goals may include what you want to achieve, what you want to learn, etc.)
- What is your action plan to achieve your goals?
- What help do you need?
- What are your aspirations at the company (where do you want to be in one, two or five years)? How do you plan to get there?
The answers to these questions will give invaluable insight into the employee’s performance.
For example, you may have an area of concern where you think the employee is lacking. But the employee may not include this area as a “job responsibility” in question No. 1.
The answers to each of these questions will be your road map to writing the review.
Step 2: Check past reviews
Be sure to check the employee’s last written review to make sure areas of concern were addressed, and priorities and goals were met. If those goals weren’t met, it’s important to determine what was the reason and if anything needs to be done.
Step 3: Sit down face-to-face
While there are no hard-and-fast rules, the verbal portion of the review should last about one hour or less. During the face-to-face discussion, it’s a good idea to take notes that will help you better construct the final written review document.
The performance review questionnaire in Step 1 is designed to help prepare the employee for the interview. It will help uncover:
- The employee’s self-evaluation of the job they’re doing.
- What they feel best about in the job (this can give managers a good idea on specific strengths and how to best use the talents of the employee).
- What the employee feels they need to improve on.
- If there are any hidden frustrations with anything to do with the job, and
- What are the employee’s goals.
Step 4: Determine the priorities
The most challenging part of any review is deciding which main points are to be addressed. These may be issues that need to be corrected or they may merely be developmental points that’ll help the employee step up to the next level.
Once you’ve collected all the information needed, set priorities and clear your head. It’s time to put things down on paper. Generally, a written performance review rarely exceeds two pages.
Step 5: Start with strengths
The first section of the written review document should contain a series of brief summations of what the employee has done well during the past year. It should include all significant successes and progress in different parts of the job.
Several of these positive points may come from the employee’s own words. During their self-evaluation in the verbal part of the review, employees will probably have listed what they’re particularly proud of. Be sure to use some of those to round out the “Strengths” section. Always try to highlight those strengths by listing them in the employee’s own words, when possible.
Step 6: Praise behaviors you want repeated
It’s a universally recognized management strategy to praise the kind of behavior that a manager would like to see repeated. So, if there’s something to build on, mention it among the good points.
Focus first on the good points that are important to achieving organizational goals. Things like “your desk is very neat” probably aren’t worth mentioning in a review. It’s doubtful that such a quality will substantially contribute to the achievement of company goals – unless there is a larger, related issue with the employee’s poor organizational skills, or in some settings, a safety violation related to a messy workstation.
Try to couch good points in higher-level terms, and try to use words and terms from core organizational principles and values – every opportunity to reinforce these values and principles should be used.
For example, it’s better to say: “You have embraced the core company value of continuous learning by mastering that new software program and teaching it to other colleagues,” rather than “You did well teaching software program X to department Y.”
Being specific helps employees realize they are key components of a successful organization.
Step 7: Use positive language
Strive to capture actions and attitudes positively. For example, don’t praise someone for “not getting into a rut.” Even though the intention is positive, this may reinforce in the employee’s mind that they were viewed as being close to being in a rut.
It would be much better to say, “You are continually finding new and fresh ways of approaching customers.” That’s the kind of praise that gets people to repeat the desired behavior.
Step 8: Set goals
Even if the employee achieved all the previously identified goals, be sure to avoid phrases that would indicate they have “arrived” and have nothing further to achieve.
It’s better to keep the next goal in front of people. For example, don’t write: “Your production jumped 10%, and you’ve met all expectations.”
The employee would be right to think there’s nothing further to be achieved.
Instead, try “Your production jump of 10% in the past year was very gratifying and should be an important stepping stone to get you up to the 15% level – or even higher – next year!”
This keeps the next goal in front of the employee’s eyes.
Step 9: Identify areas for improvement/development
Spurring improvement among employees is where managers’ skills are tested most. It’s the one part of any worthwhile performance review that should never be shortchanged.
Sometimes it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. Properly phrased critical feedback can mean the difference between an employee accepting responsibility and accountability for their work or becoming defensive.
Hence, don’t simply list a person’s failures. Instead, to foster a “can-do” attitude, focus on specific corrective actions the person can take to improve.
The aim is to have the employee walk away with a sense of responsibility for past shortcomings and a newly energized feeling they can do better.
Be sure to offer help
They should also see clearly that help will be made available.
For example, dont write: “Your production fell 10% last year and you need to raise that this year.” This will merely leave the employee with negative feelings and no ideas on how to improve.
Instead, try something like: “We agree that raising production 10% will be the main priority for the coming year. To help do that, it’s best to fall back on proven quality control methods including: (then list those methods specific to your organization for that particular task.)
Establishing accountability in a positive fashion is the difference between creating hope or despair.
It’s important that the effort to insert positive language into the review not be confused with sugarcoating the review. Good managers don’t gloss over deficiencies. Instead, they face them head-on and offer help to the employee on how to rectify the situation.
When discussing deficiencies and making suggestions for improvement, avoid qualifying phrases that invite disagreement like “I think that … .” This merely weakens the statement that will follow and invites arguments.
Instead, it’s better to state your perception as fact. That’s why you were promoted – to make these kinds of judgment calls.
Step 10: Close with a general assessment
Written performance reviews should always include a few paragraphs explaining the manager’s general assessment of how the employee is doing. It works best when managers take some latitude as to the content of this part. The assessment requires a general judgment on performance during the past year and a call to action for the future.
Other key points to remember
- It’s always a good idea to write out a draft of the review (and check it with a member of senior management). Writing things down helps to assure the main points are being addressed. It’s also a good way to make sure that the review doesn’t get sidetracked into other areas causing the principal issues to be ignored.
- Since the main purpose of a written draft is to help focus the manager’s thoughts, the draft itself shouldn’t be shared with or shown to the employee in advance. That could leave the person with the impression that everything is predetermined and nothing they say will make a difference.
- While there are no hard-and-fast rules, a written review probably shouldn’t exceed two pages.
- Don’t be surprised to learn there are considerable differences in the employee’s perceptions of how they’re doing and the manager’s perceptions. Most employees naturally tend to think favorably about the way they do their jobs, while it’s the role of the manager/supervisor to put everything in perspective and keep employees focused on reality.
- It’s OK to stretch good people – they’ll feel most satisfied when they’re busy with productive tasks. Steady feedback will key in good managers if they’re pushing too hard.
- Disengaged people who don’t see a clear career path will stagnate. Their performance will usually decline, and they may become so disillusioned that they fail to see how they fit into the organization.
- At the end of the verbal review, the manager/supervisor often sets a target date for getting together again with the employee to go over the written review and conclude all other matters.
Sample review of new employee
(This review is designed to push a promising new employee to stretch their responsibilities/duties.)
RE: Performance review
Here’s a written summary of what we discussed at your performance review (last week/yesterday).
- Exceptional skills: Be specific, such as: “Excellent eye for detail.” “Top-notched analytical skills.” “Impressive phone skills.”
- Good skills: Be specific, such as: “Good with new customers.” “Good with understanding data.”
- Valuable participation in meetings.
- Sense of ownership of your job.
Emerging skills to build on:
Time management. You know that if you’re to take over full responsibility for your area, you’ll have to increase your productivity. The best way to do that is by developing the mental discipline to determine what the focus of each day should be. Once you’ve mastered the skill of deciding priorities, you’ll be best positioned to identify the tasks to get you there.
Attention to detail. You’ve made good progress to control some sloppiness in your work, which had the unfortunate effect of making it appear to be of lower quality. While you’ve made progress, there’s still room for improvement. By focusing on how you present information to other departments and reviewing your own work with a critical eye, you’ll improve.
Continuous learning. You’re impatient to take on more responsibility, but there are good and bad sides to impatience. Ambition is fine, but your present priority is to get the most learning out of every phase of the training process.
Learning from co-workers. You haven’t been able to consistently develop ways to lure more potential buyers. Watch how the experts (your peers) do it and emulate them.
Core values. One of our core values is freely sharing with others to help them improve their performance without regard for rank or hierarchy. You seem to be unaware that at times some people find you unapproachable. You have a lot to offer, so don’t be afraid to reach out, make contact with others and extend a helping hand.
Customer focus. You have embraced our long-term strategy to effectively create customer loyalty. You’ve recognized it’s a step-by-step program and have approached it in a manner that will best position you to take customer focus to the next level.
General assessment: You are well on the way to meeting – and in some areas exceeding – the expectations we had of you as to where you would be after a year. We have every reason to believe that in the next six months, you’ll be able to function as a reliable employee in an important position, producing quality results with as little supervision as possible.
There are other things connected with being a valuable employee: liaison with the marketing department, public speaking skills to inspire others, etc. (Be specific here) And if you dedicate yourself to a solid learning process, your long-term goal of becoming a manager and training others in our way of producing business results is achievable.
While you still have things to learn on management principles, leadership skills, the big-picture business executive outlook, marketing principles, etc., you’d do well to concentrate on becoming the best at what you do. That’ll give you the confidence and serve as the building block for future success in all other areas.
We’ll do everything we can to help you achieve it.