An HR guide to employee performance reviews

An employee performance review is a formal check-in between employees and their managers or supervisors to evaluate an employee’s performance, including identifying their strengths and weaknesses, giving feedback, and setting future goals for the employee.

While this meeting is intended to give the employee feedback and help them develop more as an employee, an employee performance review is also a perfect opportunity for them to raise their own questions, share feedback about their department and the company, and evaluate their own work.

The review is intended to be an open communication between the employee and the managers or supervisors, letting the employee be heard while also letting the supervisor better communicate expectations and correct stumbling blocks before they become issues.

These reviews typically occur yearly, with some companies doing more frequent reviews and others switching to a more casual check-in when needed.

How do they work?

Reviews tend to include a written portion filled out by both employee and supervisor, plus an in-person conversation. Some of the best reviews include the supervisor going over their portion of the review with the employee, touching on key issues or praises as they go down the list. This also allows the employee to communicate any issues they feel are important in those key areas.

The written review covers various facets that are important to employee performance on a scale that can be numerical, percentage, graded from A to F, etc. The scaling is meant to be tailored to the organization and understood by all parties.

During these reviews (either formal or informal), both the employer and employees has the opportunity to adjust goals to align with business priorities and maximize the employee’s strengths while addressing weaknesses or knowledge gaps. Does the employee need additional training? Does there need to be a more open line of communication during the rest of the year? Employee performance reviews address these issues.

4 steps in preparing for a performance review

Make sure to take the time before the review to prepare yourself and the employee. No one likes to be caught off guard with a surprise review! Make sure to let the employee know ahead of time and prep valuable information for the review.

1. Review and update employee’s job description.

It’s important to determine whether the job description is still accurate for your employee. Responsibilities can change over the course of a year. If they have, it’s important to update the description and share it with the employee. Is what the employee doing valuable to the company? Should they be doing something else? It is also important to discuss with your employee how they feel about these changes. If you’re an employee, make sure you have a copy of your job description and review it yourself. Are there things you’ve done outside your job description? Are you comfortable with your job description changing if need be?

2. Revisit previous reviews and employee training.

Look back on previous reviews if they are available to see how the employee has progressed in set goals or where they are at with training (if they are in training).

3. Remember to be objective.

Write down talking points and concerns while removing any bias you might have towards the employee. Your personal reflections of an employee are not what is being reviewed in an employee performance review.

4. Prepare the employee and set a meeting time.

It’s important that the employee knows the intended meeting is for performance review. When setting a time for the meeting, sending the self-evaluation ahead of time will give the employee time to self-reflect and understand what will be covered during the meeting.

How to conduct a review

A performance review is focused on the employee and what they accomplish in their job.

Meet face to face

When possible, meet face to face after filling out the written review. This gives an opportunity for discussion and helps eliminate any miscommunication. It gives the employee the opportunity to advocate for themselves. This open line of communication makes the employee feel more comfortable and helps them better understand what goals they need to reach moving forward.

Be honest

There will always be room for improvement, no matter the employee. Even your highest performers have areas that need improvement and it’s important to address issues, weaknesses, and more that might affect their work. Without clarity, your employee won’t be able to correct or better themselves (same for something that an employee might bring up). Without addressing issues, issues will continue to persist.

Use examples

Using examples of work they’ve done or work you wish them to do helps make the guidance concrete. Talk about what you want to see or what you have seen. Giving examples will help the employee understand and better discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

Be positive and informative

While some employees might need more guidance than others, it’s important to encourage the employee to grow and work on their weaknesses. Show them your appreciation for the work they have accomplished and use examples where their work was exceptional.

Be sure to celebrate your employee’s strengths as well. Their strengths might mean a change in job description to better leverage what the employee can contribute to the organization.

Use words with impact and meaning when describing their work. Do not use ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ because they don’t hold as much meaning as ‘effectively communicates,’ ‘excels in leadership positions,’ or other words of action.. Words that might spark interest on a resume will spark interest in your employee when discussing their work.

Writing an employee performance review

The written review focuses on items that can be measured from year to year. It’s an effective gauge to see how an employee has grown in the company while also addressing weaknesses that need improvement.

Written reviews can include the following:

  • Communication
    • How well does the employee communicate with their team, clients, and supervisors?
  • Collaboration and teamwork
    • Does the employee work well with others? Do they take the lead in projects?
  • Problem solving
    • Are there examples of the employee solving problems?
  • Quality and accuracy of work
  • Attendance, punctuality, and reliability
  • Meeting goals and deadlines
  • Role specific contributions and requirements
    • Check the job description of the employee and address job specific issues and achievements. This might be an employee who has gone above and beyond their position to assist in other departments. It’s important to discuss this information and possibly change team structures, especially if it was one employee covering for another employee’s weaknesses
  • Overall performance
    • Give an overall performance review. Make sure to speak about the positives as well as the negatives. The goal of a review is to support and communicate
  • Future goals and improvements
    • Set up future goals and improvements for the employee to work on before the next review

Best practices for conducting an employee performance review


Provide regular feedback

A performance review typically occurs once a year, with some companies extending that to two or more—however, it’s important not to limit feedback to just those reviews. Continue to provide feedback throughout the year to employees, including encouragement, praise, as well as correction. This prevents an employee being blindsided at a review and keeps projects on track by mitigating issues immediately.

Take notes

Take notes of employee actions and performance throughout the year. This helps create a robust performance review when the time comes. Employees don’t want a review based only on what the supervisor or manager can remember. This goes for the employee as well. Take notes of situations that can be improved on and opinions on progress.

Praise and gratitude

Show your high preforming employees how much you value the work they do by expressing gratitude outside of the review meeting. Employees can grow frustrated after working hard for the company without recognition. Send an employee a quick email or stop by for a few words to let them know you see and appreciate the work they do.

The goal of an employee performance review is to help the employee stay on track, give them an opportunity to share their own feedback, and discuss together where there’s room for improvement. It’s a perfect opportunity for employees to raise concerns as well as discuss development or training. Overall, an employee performance review should be beneficial to all and will strengthen your team.

Performance Review Examples

Annual Performance Review from Quantum Workplace.

Self-Assessment Review from Quantum Workplace.

Free Employee Performance Review Templates from Smartsheet.

In-depth Annual Employee Self-Evaluation from Venngage.

Annual Employee Evaluation from Venngage.

Quarterly Performance Review from Venngage.

5 Performance Review Templates from People Goal.

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