Performance Reviews 101. How to Manage Performance Evaluations Like a Pro

A performance review is the assignment that troubles both managers and employees. Managers struggle to find a balance between the good points and the ones that need improvement in every employee's work. And employees feel they are being put in the spotlight and if the feedback is negative, they even start to worry about their job. We live in the era of communication, so if the manager identifies the correct ways to review performance, all the stress caused by these two words goes away.

We hope that this guide will help you clarify what a performance review is, what are the benefits of conducting it and most importantly, we want to show you how to do it, in order to obtain the best results.

Download the templateRead the guide

“Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.”

Ralph Marston

There are organizations that carry out the annual performance review only because everyone else does, they see it as an obligation. Others do it just to be covered with a file against the employee, in case of disciplinary action. These examples are bad HR practices.

You should be aware that a successful organization builds its strategy and culture has thriving employees. This is why performance reviews have a crucial significance.

What is a performance review about?

The performance review, also called performance appraisal is a systematic examination and evaluation of an employee's work, done by his manager/managers. During this assessment, the manager evaluates the employee's performance based on preset standards and job description, identifies strong points and weak points that need improvement, offer feedback and set targets for the future.

Is has been customary to carry out these performance reviews once a year, but companies nowadays feel that more frequent feedback is welcome, so they do it twice or even three times a year.

Most performance reviews will be structured on six major components:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Attendance and dependability
  • Quality and accuracy of work
  • Ability to accomplish goals and meet deadlines.

Scope and benefits of performance reviews

Managers should have in mind some objectives when starting this task of performance appraisal:

  • Establishing the strengths and weaknesses of employees
  • Granting feedback to employees regarding their work performance
  • Keeping records useful for possible promotions, salary increases and bonus packages
  • Verifying the potential development of every employee

Keep in mind that performance review is beneficial for both parties:

On one hand, Employees can be motivated to grow within the company, to be more productive when feedback is correctly communicated and solutions are offered to overcome possible issues. Guidance is essential in this case, not only from the manager but also from more experienced team members.

On the other hand, Managers gather valuable information from reviewing performance, information that can help improve the areas that need upgrading and also can help discover new ways of developing the business. One more benefit is that they will be able to make comparisons between team members, which is extremely useful when making decisions regarding salaries and promotions.

Last, but not least, a performance review is an opportunity for communication. So go for effective communication and this will only add value to your company's culture and vision.

You may think now that nothing can go wrong. Well, that is not exactly true. There could be some disadvantages related to performance review. It usually creates distress among employees, from a number of reasons: they find it outdated, they fear it, they believe it is the only standard for a salary raise. If you, as manager fail to deliver the proper feedback, they will lose confidence in you.

This is why we have created a mix of tips, meant to be of assistance in this complex task.

Seven performance review tips

  • 1 Exploit and work with the job description
  • The starting point of every performance review should be the job description, regardless of the position the employee you're reviewing is on. You need to check 2 boxes:

    • Did my employee meet all the requirements and duties present in the job description?
    • Could he have done better in certain aspects?

    Since you're using the job description, make sure it is at speed with the last changes. If there were some modifications or responsibilities added to that employee, the job description has to reflect everything, this way the performance review will be accurate.

  • 2 Organize reviews periodically
  • Get rid of the traditional annual performance review. Everyone will benefit from more frequent reviews. You just need to find the pace your company needs. And don't forget that employees need to be informed every time a review is coming.

  • 3 Choose a few essential points as basis for the review
  • Don't turn the review into a bombastic talk about everything. Employees need structure. So stick to some key points, for example: company-specific central skills, position-specific skills, and achievement.

  • 4 Do your homework - know the performance appraisal system
  • Take a look over the company's performance system, make sure you know it inside out, so as not to be unprepared. Managers have to know what they are enforcing.

  • 5 Start with the positive side
  • Regardless of the way you choose to conduct the performance review - in written or in person, it is of great importance to lead with the positive aspects. This eliminates the stress the employee may feel and also creates an atmosphere where he is open to suggestions. If improvements are necessary, alternate positive and negative evaluation. Always reinforce the idea that you want them to be at their best, since their success translates into the success of the company.

  • 6 Adopt the right language
  • Words are the means used to communicate your message. So, obviously, language is crucial. Try to keep it simple, but clear and especially honest. Refrain from using general terms like:good, bad, great, excellent. Instead, go for dynamic words like:dedicated, excels, effectively collaborates, shows willingness, decisive, prioritizing.

  • 7 Set goals
  • As a finishing touch of a successful review, you should set goals for your employee: short, mid and long-term. These goals need to be realistic, aligned to your company's standards and applied to each employee's capability and level of performance.

    Doing this, you will give your employees something to look forward to and a way to quantify their work.

Keep your performance review constructive

We know. It's easier said than done. But let's look at an example of feedback, written in 2 very different ways.

Negative: Jane is always on the run and she does not take her tasks to an end. This phrase starts with an exaggeration(Jane is not always on the run, otherwise she won't be in the office every day) and continues with a generalization - If she didn't finish all her tasks, she would be totally ineffective, therefore she would be already fired. Don't start feedbacks with “always” -it creates negativity and also it make the problem non-actionable.

Positive: Jane could be calmer and should focus on finishing every task. I recommend that we sit together every Monday and make a game-plan for the upcoming tasks. This type of feedback tells Jane that she needs to improve her attitude, her pace at work and focus on delivering all tasks. But it also provides Jane with a solution - a short meeting once a week.

After all these tips and tricks, you need just one more element in order to manage the perfect performance review: the employee evaluation form!

This is the document that formally certifies the performance review has been conducted and it must contain the acknowledgment of the employee. So make sure you get their signature on that paper. It is also important because it can represent proof you may need in the future for making strategic HR decisions, such as promotions of salary raises. Keep track of your staff's performance and go back to this evaluation forms when you are in need of people for a specific team, and when you want to congratulate employees for a job well done.

Sadly, these employee evaluation documents will also be of assistance in case of terminating an employee. If the issue was poor performance and they have acknowledged the template accordingly, there is nothing they can complain about.

Here is a tip: Basically, establishing a paper trail is essential in delicate situations as those mentioned now. Without one, you will be put in the situation of not being able to stand by your decision.

Performance review phrases

HR managers and business owners should see performance reviews as an opportunity to reveal what their team is doing right. It can also be a great time to enhance employee recognition. Still, this process can also be difficult if some of your employees need to make improvements to some extent. It’s useful to have some performance review phrases prepared, that will guide you in conducting an exhaustive review that provides valued feedback.

Depending on your performance appraisal system and method, these phrases could help you have no issues in giving feedback. We have divided them into categories depending on the skills or objectives you are reviewing:

  1. Achievement
  2. Communication skills
  3. Attendance
  4. Productivity
  5. Cooperation
  6. Learning ability
  7. Flexibility
  8. Interpersonal skills
  9. Drive
  10. Leadership
  11. Creativity
  12. Vision

Here are 60 of the most important starter phrases that every company can customize and adapt to its performance reviews. 



  • Improved production on (x) objective established at the beginning of the review period
  • Excelled at developing projects/strategies that have delivered (x) results
  • Tends to take initiative to collect information and tools necessary to get a project completed on time and above expectations
  • Sets measurable goals and makes an effort to achieve them
  • Improved production by x% through [specific action]
  • Provided strong evidence of [specific skill/accomplishment].

Communication skills

  • Effectively communicates expectations
  • Excels in facilitating group discussions, especially to those he/she manages
  • Needs to work on understanding completely a situation before making defensive explanations
  • Demonstrates improved listening skills in meetings with colleagues and managers
  • Enforces company policies, values, and culture without creating negative responses.


  • Needs to work on arriving on time for meetings and conferences
  • Improved attendance at non-mandatory training and meetings
  • Respects the time of others by arriving on time at weekly meetings
  • Completes deadlines in a timely manner
  • Exceeded goals set out for arriving on time as established at the beginning of the review period.


  • Has significantly improved on hitting production goals on (x) since the last review
  • Consistently exceeds performance goals
  • Has not improved in productivity since the last review
  • Makes a large contribution to the success of his/her department through excellent productivity
  • Consistently fails to reach the performance level of her/his team in terms of productivity


  • Efficiently collaborates with other team members to get projects finished in time
  • Displayed improvement in delegating tasks to others
  • Excels at sharing knowledge and insights with new team members to help them become part of the team
  • Could work on displaying a harmonious and cooperative spirit during team meetings
  • Tends to make others feel hesitant asking him/her for help as they do not know the reaction they will get.

Learning ability

  • Showed a willingness and ability to learn rapidly and adapt rapidly to changing situations
  • Shares learning experience with team members
  • Could work on promoting a learning culture
  • Committed to continuous learning through [specific example]
  • Responds quickly to new instructions, situations, and procedures



  • Tends to lack the ability to come up with new solutions for problems when old methods do not work
  • Displays improvement in taking on new tasks or changing workflow when needed
  • Tends to stick to traditional methods of project management even when results do not justify it
  • Continuously uses constructive criticism to improve his/her skills and work processes.

Interpersonal skills

  • Identifies the needs of others and reaches out to help
  • Generates team-work
  • Establishes effective working relationships
  • Promotes the company culture among team-workers
  • Excels at building up an environment based on mutual dependence.



  • Shows interest in new ways of communicating to improve projects and customer satisfaction
  • Is continually aiming to improve skills and production
  • Could show more willingness to put in extra hours
  • Displays initiative to willingly take on more complicated tasks or projects
  • Has the tendency to wait for projects to be handed to him/her rather than requesting specifically more responsibility.



  • Collaborates with individual team members to establish a development path
  • Has the ability to talk to employees on their level without being condescending
  • Effectively understands the strengths and weaknesses of team members and delegates accordingly
  • Holds employees accountable for their own results
  • Promotes a culture of learning and understand that team members respond well to



  • Explores creative alternatives such as [specific examples] that drove [results]
  • Is reluctant to contribute with fresh ideas at team meetings and on projects
  • Ingenious and imaginative when confronted with obstacles
  • Rewards those under his/her management for innovative ideas or suggestions
  • Aims to always take new information into account and adjust plans accordingly.



  • Excels at promoting powerful support of the company's mission and vision
  • Great at respecting the organization's values
  • Displays the ability to transfer vision into execution
  • Could work on accentuating the positives in difficult situations
  • Excels in contributing to the company's goals.

Employee performance reviews are never an easy task for managers, but they’re certainly necessary. Keep in mind that the phrases above are starter phrases, that must be modified according to your company and to the set goals for every employee.

What should an Evaluation Form consist of?

  1. Employee name, job title, and ID number.
  2. Name of the reviewer and review date
  3. Section for rating employee - make sure it's a clear rating system.
  4. Section for written comments - employee feedback
  5. A space for employee and manager to sign the form

Always make sure the form is easy to use and in accordance to your company's mission and performance standards.

Performance review template

This simple performance review template helps human resource managers to deal with the employee appraisals. The template allows to assess the strengths and weaknesses of employees and provide practical suggestions on what needs to be improved in regards to the employee work ethic, qualities, expertise and behaviour. This performance review example uses a rating system from poor to excellent to help the employee to self-assess. The template is free and ready to be printed.

Download the Employee Evaluation Form in Word Format.

Employee Evaluation form


We hope this article was of big help in your task as performance reviewers - a difficult position managers need to fulfill. Make sure you give your best because it's one of the keys to encouraging, motivating and engaging your staff.

ARA is always by your side! All your workforce organized in a simple, but a complex structure that helps to locate the people based on what teams, offices they work on.

Looking for key HR data about a specific employee? With just a few clicks, you get complete, accurate, secure employee records to help you save time. Performance review will be easier than never.

Use ARA to skip manual work

Getting your team to track time shouldn't be a hassle. ARA designed the timesheet app that makes time-tracking easy, automatic, and fun.

Highlight errors automatically

The timesheet app will highlight time card errors automatically, and point on how to fix them. Running payroll will be effective and you'll stay compliant with local labour laws.

Save hours on manual data entry

ARA tracks time worked automatically, so you won't need to use energy and time entering clock in and clock out times in a spreadsheet.

All in one place

Use the app not only for time tracking, but add time off, notifications and all your labour data in one place.