Writing a Performance Review: Part One

Many companies formally review the performance of employees, and most include a written performance review. This post is the first of two posts where I discuss what I’ve learnt about writing performance reviews and offer a few tips.

The Basics of a Review

Reviews typically include a few elements:

  • Sharing company-specific performance ratings
  • Explaining what went well
  • Explaining what didn’t go well
  • Sharing expectations of the employee as the manager

A manager should at least annually deliver a written review and talk it through in a 1:1 meeting that’s focused only on the review. Some managers send the review, say, an hour before the meeting to give the employee time to read it before the discussion. Other managers print and hand out the review at the beginning of the meeting, and give the employee time to read before the discussion begins. I personally prefer the latter approach — it allows me to react in real time to questions and gauge what’s important for the subsequent discussion. The former approach has the advantage that it gives the employee time and space to read the review.

Gathering Data

Before I write a review, I gather content. There’s a few places I go:

  • Notes, recollections, and emails that reflect on the employee’s performance against their agreed goals. I have regular, weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s with my direct reports, and in these we often discuss performance
  • Reflections from the person I’m reviewing. You’ll find it very helpful to ask your direct report to write down their reflections of their performance and send them to you
  • Reflections on the person I’m reviewing from others. I ask all of the person’s direct reports, peers, and selected other people who they interact with to give me their reflections

Start, Stop, and Continue

Here’s how I go about gathering feedback on the person I’m reviewing. I send an email like this to their reports, peers, and selected other folks they interact with:

Hello,
I have found that gathering feedback on the performance of my direct reports is one of the best ways to assess how they are doing. Please provide your candid feedback, which I will summarize and share anonymously.

To keep it simple, I am asking you to email me three things each that <name of person> should:

  • start
  • stop
  • continue doing

I will take all of the feedback and synthesize it into the review so your comments will be kept confidential.

Please provide your feedback by <date I need it> to <my email address>.

Thanks, Hugh.

Synthesizing the Content

Once I’ve got the replies, I look for consistent themes, great anonymizable examples, and points that help me reinforce the messages I want to share and those that align with the personal reflections of the person. I often include near-direct quotes from the responses, I’ve found they are powerful ways to convey messages. I frequently rewrite or rephrase the quotes so that language styles and quirks don’t give away who contributed the feedback.

By the way, it’s also useful to ask the person you’re reviewing to write their reflections in the Start, Stop, Continue model.

Next in the Series

In this follow up post, I share what I do next — how I put together a review and share it with the person I’m reviewing.

3 thoughts on “Writing a Performance Review: Part One

  1. Pingback: Five tips for Delivering a Presentation | Hugh E. Williams

  2. Pingback: Writing a Performance Review: Part Two | Hugh E. Williams

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