Workplace Culture

A guide to writing employee performance reviews

By Gustav Anderson

Jul. 18, 2023


  • Provide employees with clear, constructive, and actionable feedback.

  • Give employees an opportunity to offer valuable peer and managerial feedback with performance management software. 

  • Use objective, measurable criteria when reviewing or setting performance goals.

  • Focus where an employee has room for growth and opportunities to improve.

Without regular performance reviews, an employee’s work may not align with the job they’re paid to do. This can negatively impact managers, from missing early indications of underperformance to losing out on opportunities to celebrate an employee’s achievements. 

Annual performance reviews can also have a significant impact on your company culture. These assessments help confirm that team members’ overall performance supports the company’s goals. They also strengthen working relationships by ensuring a continual feedback loop with your employees. 

When conducting performance evaluations — especially for the first time — it helps to work from an established template to ensure your evaluations are thorough and your performance review period goes smoothly. In this guide, we’ll review some critical areas to cover in a performance review. When done right, performance reviews can keep employees motivated and engaged while resulting in higher achievements for the team.

1. Evaluate how the employee’s current duties fit with their job description

As a starting point, compare what an employee does daily to their duties as outlined in their job description. This provides a baseline for determining if the employee is doing their primary job functions as assigned.

If an employee isn’t meeting the duties of their job description, you can begin to plan the next steps to address performance issues. If they’re performing their job duties as expected, you can move forward with your standard process for evaluation.

Comparing an employee’s current duties with their assigned duties also helps identify who might be going above and beyond in the workplace. If an employee has taken on more responsibility than their job description, they may be on track for a promotion or a raise, or they could be at risk for burnout.

2. Be comprehensive in employee evaluations 

Performance appraisals are about more than whether or not an employee is fulfilling their daily responsibilities. Evaluations also help address their competencies holistically. Below are various areas to consider including in your performance review template.

  • Attendance and punctuality: Is the employee working their assigned days and shifts? Do they consistently arrive at work on time and stay until their scheduled end time?
  • Quantity of work: Is the employee completing the amount of work they’re supposed to? Are they meeting productivity requirements?
  • Quality of work: Is the employee’s work being accomplished to your expected quality standards? Are there frequent errors? Are they going above and beyond?
  • Achievement: Is the employee meeting other standards or metrics for success?
  • Problem-solving: Does the employee help solve problems and find solutions when faced with challenges?
  • Time management: Does the employee meet deadlines as assigned?
  • Communication skills: Is the employee communicative about the status of their work and proactive with issues that arise?
  • Teamwork: Does the employee work well with the rest of the team and clientele?

3. Be specific and use objective criteria

Vagueness can create uncertainty and confusion in performance reviews. Use specific language and examples whenever possible. 

For example, instead of relying on general phrases like, “Is usually good with customers,” try, “Excels at helping customers find the product they need and find alternatives when a product is out of stock.” Do point out where someone makes mistakes in their work but frame it as constructive criticism. Help employees understand how to do better, especially if it involves a skill they already have and could further develop.

Use objective, measurable criteria when you review or set performance goals, such as deadlines met, tardiness and absences, or sales goals. You should have solid data to support your performance assessments. This can also help when considering promotions, bonuses, and other incentives.

4. Use relevant data when applicable

As mentioned in the previous point, numbers are essential. Broad discussions about performance goals tend to go nowhere, especially when conducted too frequently. It helps to back up your performance reviews with concrete, historical data. 

For hourly staff in general, this could take the form of attendance points. When conducting a review, ensure all the points an employee has accumulated for attendance infractions are clearly laid out for them. Visualizing these numbers brings urgency to the conversation and helps employees better understand where they fall short with attendance and how to improve. 

Webinar: Points-Based Attendance

For sales associates, relevant data could be closed deals, while for retail workers, it could be something like time taken to serve a customer or sales per labor hour. No matter your industry, there is almost data to back up a staff member’s performance. Just be sure that your performance review does not hinge entirely on data – account for the human behind the numbers as well. 

5. Cover areas of improvement and where the employee has already improved 

Review areas where employees need performance improvement and provide constructive feedback. Also, offer positive feedback on areas where they’ve shown improvement since their last review. 

Don’t just tell an employee what is going wrong — provide examples and make it a conversation. In addition to telling them about potential solutions you see, ask for their ideas and feedback. Invite them to collaborate and offer their own ideas.

Cover both strengths and weaknesses of the employee throughout their review. You might tell a direct report, “Your knowledge of our add-on products could be more thorough, and I know with your demonstrated work ethic that you can master those.”

Review areas where the employee has shown improvement and reflect on their growth. Discuss how these improvements have positively impacted the employee’s work, team, or company, if possible.

6. Set realistic, actionable goals and plans

Create plans that include specific goals for employees with clear expectations for their professional development.

Wherever possible, use SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. If you’re setting goals for an employee who is frequently late, a SMART goal might be for them to arrive to work on time for every shift for the next quarter.

Be transparent about what’s needed from employees so they understand what they’re doing well and what they need to work on. Provide a written plan at the end of the review or send them a follow-up later. Include potential development opportunities where they can grow in their position and their career.

7. Consider adding self-evaluations and other employee feedback.    

When you include a self-assessment as part of the performance review process, you may capture insights that would be otherwise missed. Employees may have ideas for their own development that help support their career goals and the company. This participation can increase employee engagement.

You can go beyond a manager-to-employee review and self-assessment by incorporating 360-degree feedback. With this Workforce feature, employees can provide feedback to each other at all levels. Peers can review each other, employees can review managers, managers can review direct reports, and more.

Performance review periods also present an opportunity to ask employees to engage in other types of assessments. If there are business processes you want to improve, for example, consider sending a survey to employees for their feedback. Or, promote employee recognition by asking your team to offer positive feedback to their coworkers.

Make use of tools that can help you track ongoing performance.

While formal performance reviews typically happen on a fixed schedule, be sure to connect with employees regularly. can help you do both with performance management software that’s mobile-first, non-intrusive, and designed for shift-based workforces.

To find out more, get in touch with our team today.

Gustav is a communications and product marketing specialist for He has a keen interest in frontline labor issues, pigeons, and fulfilling every level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

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