In this guide to employee performance reviews, we will walk you through everything you need to know to set up and administer performance reviews for your team, including a free performance review template.
Want a way to give regular, structured performance reviews? Check out Zoho People for a popular electronic performance appraisal system. You’ll be able to provide feedback to your employees, track changes in performance, and set goals–plus, Zoho People is a full HRIS system that includes time tracking and many other features. If you have 5 or fewer employees, you can sign up for a completely free version. Click here to try it out.
Free Performance Review Template
The below performance review template is meant to be a rough guide for items you may want to include in your performance review. It is a best practice to evaluate an employee not just on their job functions, but also on their company culture fit and organizational “competencies,” which is just a fancy term for saying your company values. You may also access the template here as a Word Doc and here as a PDF.
Title of Position: (insert job title of position)
Department: (insert department; could also just be General or Management)
Reports to: (insert name of supervisor & job title)
Employee Name: __(put employee name here)__
Date of Review: __(put date here)___________
Overview of Position:
What does this role do at the company? Provide 2-3 sentences on the role here, or you can cut & paste the overview from the person’s job description.
(insert position title) Competencies:
1. Follows Procedures Consistently
1 2 3 4 5
2. Works Efficiently/Makes Good Use of Time
1 2 3 4 5
3. Completion of Tasks/Checklists
1 2 3 4 5
4. Ability to take Direction from Management
1 2 3 4 5
5. Cooperation/Collaboration Skills
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
2. Ambition/Drive for Success
1 2 3 4 5
3. Customer-Ready Appearance/Presence
1 2 3 4 5
4. Communication Skills (Verbal & Written)
1 2 3 4 5
5. Reliability & Dependability
1 2 3 4 5
Goals for Next Performance Review:
Name of Manager: _________________________________
Signature of Manager: _________________________________
Name of Employee: _________________________________
Signature of Employee: _________________________________
Performance Review Scoring Systems
There are a number of ways that you can score employees on performance reviews. Scoring with numbers or with some sort of system helps to quantify a performance review, and it can really help you and your employees, to see if they are progressing or regressing. It also naturally lends to goal setting, like improving from a 3 to a 4 or moving from Some of the Time to All of the Time.
Providing more subjective feedback or comments can be helpful as well to provide specific and actionable feedback. It also helps explain why someone received a 3 score instead of a 4 or were scored as Some of the Time instead of All of the Time.
Let’s take an example from our template:
Good performance review comments:
- Reliability & Dependability
1 2 3 4 5 Score = 3
Candace is overall reliable and dependable. However, she tends to run 5-10 minutes late. Candace should aim to improve her tardiness and move up to a 4 or 5 next review.
Bad performance review comments:
- Reliability & Dependability
1 2 3 4 5 Score = 3
Candace is average for reliability.
In our template, we use the 1-5 scale and also leave a comments section. However, depending on your company culture and the types of roles you are reviewing, this might not be the best fit for you. Below are some options for scoring your forms.
Performance Review Scoring System Options
|1-5 scoring (1 being very bad and 5 being exceeds expectations)||Very common; easy to add up/track over time; standard performance rating scale||Ensuring consistency in scoring; training managers to score correctly without bias|
|1-10 scoring (1 being very bad and 10 being exceeds expectations)||Fairly common; easy to add up / rack over time; standard performance rating scale; larger scale gives managers more depth for ranking team members||Ensuring consistency in scoring; training managers to score correctly without bias|
|Yes / No||Simple; quick for management||Very black and white with little grey room; not suitable for professional roles like accounting or consulting|
|Seldom/Sometimes/All the Time||Simple; quick for management||Difficult to ensure consistency in scoring; recency bias (tendency to focus on more recent employee behavior)|
How to Score a Performance Review
The key is scoring performance reviews, regardless of which system you are using, is to create a scoring guide. Just like a board game, you need to create a set of rules on how to score a review, especially if you have other managers doing the reviews.
Think about it: what does “seldom” mean to you? Does it mean 1-2 times or 10 times? What constitutes a “1” score versus a “5”? Would this be the same for your managers or employees?
Probably not. This is is why you need a guide. Layout the performance review form, and do your best to write out what each item means and how it should be scored.
Let’s look at some examples:
Performance Review Scoring Examples
|Example Competency||1-5 Scoring (can also be adapted for 1-10 scoring)||Yes / No Scoring||Seldom / Sometimes / Always Scoring|
|Teamwork||1= not a team player; 2= rarely a team player; 3 = 50% of the time a team player; 4 = 75% of the time a team player; 5 = always a team player||Yes= 50% or more of the time a team player; No= less than 50% of the time a team player||Seldom= 30% or less of the time is a team player; Sometimes = 30-70% of the time is a team player; Always = 70%+ is a team player|
|Communication Skills||1 = poor communication skills; 2 = communication skills need improvement; 3 = average communication skills; 4 = above average communication skills; 5 = exemplary communication skills||Yes = 50% or more of the time has good communication skills; No= less than 50% of the time has good communication skills||Seldom= 30% or less of the time has good communication skills; Sometimes = 30-70% of the time has good communication skills; Always = 70%+ has good communication skills|
|Completes Tasks on TIme||1 = rarely completes tasks on time; 2 = completes tasks on time about 30-40% of the time; 3 = 40-70% completes tasks on time; 4 = 70-90% completes tasks on time; 5 = 90%+ completes tasks on time||Yes = completes tasks on time 70 % or more of the time; No= less than 70% of the time completes tasks on time*||Seldom= 30% or less of the time completes tasks on time; Sometimes = 30-70% of the time completes tasks on time; Always = 70%+ completes tasks on time|
*Notice how the number changed for this competency. Feel free to change it to the standard that best makes sense for your business. For example, if your culture is to always have things done on time, your “bar” might be 90% or more for Yes (versus the 70% we have in the table).
How Do I Give A Performance Review?
You might be wondering, now that you have seen the template and some scoring examples, how you would actually give a review to an employee (especially if it’s a negative review).
Remember to start off, if you are giving one person a review, you should be giving EVERYONE a review in order to not show bias (or at least all members of that team, like all of the managers or all of the associates). For a more complete assessment, consider doing a 360 performance review.
Also, this should not be the one and only time an employee receives feedback. Feedback and employee development/performance management is a continuous process. You (or your managers) should check in with employees weekly or monthly to give feedback and assess progress towards goals.
Prior to Holding the Performance Reviews
Tell your employees
You’ll need to tell the employee(s) what you are doing – “Joe, we will be meeting next Tuesday so that I can give you a performance review. Does 2 pm work?” Don’t surprise your employees with a review meeting. They should know what’s coming. You can also ask them to jot down some of their most memorable accomplishments (and mistakes that they have learned from) to help jog everyone’s memory for when you write the review.
Fill out performance review form
Fill out your performance review form a few days in advance with scoring and comments so that you can edit it and come back to it more than once. Remember to provide specific details with examples, specific ideas for ways to improve, and give some compliments too!
Double check your review
Once you are confident your performance review form is completely filled out, check it again for biases or potentially discriminating items PRIOR to presenting it, like language that seems overly directed at someone personally or only looking at examples from the past 30 days (versus the whole review period). You may even want to practice reading it aloud to ensure there are no issues.
During the Performance Review
Keep it private
During the performance review, you will want to make sure you have a private, quiet office space or place to give the review. For larger companies, having a third party present like a fellow manager or a Human Resources team member is advisable if possible since performance reviews can evoke a lot of emotion.
Give the review
Next, you need to give the employee the actual review!
Have two copies of the form–give one to the employee and keep one in your personnel records.
The main thing to remember is to be straightforward, honest, and be open to hearing the employee’s side of the review. Many companies even let the employee edit their comments/respond to the form and then create a final documented review that has input from both sides.
Here are some additional tips for giving performance reviews.
Pro Tip #1: Show True Interest in Your Employees
It may sound obvious, but the attitude from management of “ugh, it’s performance review time again” will feed to your employees. If you don’t show true interest and take the process seriously, why will they?
Pro Tip #2: Keep Employee Logs
Even if it’s just a simple Word document or email folder, documenting your employees’ performance will help make your performance reviews more relevant and precise. It also lets you see trends over time in an employee’s performance. Remember, don’t just document their goof ups, record the wins too!
Pro Tip #3: Use Positive Language (even with Criticism)
Have to give some constructive criticism? The delivery can make all the difference. Don’t sugarcoat things, especially if you are getting close to firing someone. You don’t want them to walk away from the review thinking that everything is fine with their performance. You want to be direct, clear, and yet professional.
For example, “You obviously are not good at math, I need you to do better on your reports” can be said, “I know you can produce more accurate work, especially on the numbers part of your reports, which is why you got a low score here. How can I help you to be more accurate in your reporting?”
Pro Tip #4: Remember the Intangibles
Maybe your employee isn’t performing their job perfectly, but they are also the person to bake a cake for everyone’s birthday or organize company outings. Acknowledge that while also giving them the constructive criticism they need in their role.
Pro Tip #5: End Positively and with Action Items
How your employee leaves the performance meeting is important. Have a discussion with them on the results of the review and come up with some action items to work on before the next review.
Make sure you end on a positive note. For example, “Bill, I know you can produce more accurate work, and I am going to get you some training in Excel to help with this. We really do value you as a team member here, especially since you really do a great job as a team player.”
What Should I Avoid During a Performance Review?
There are no specific legal requirements around giving performance reviews, but all of the general legal rules apply, just like when you are hiring someone or firing someone (i.e. you cannot give someone a bad review because of their race, gender, etc.). There are also a number of biases that can come up that are not legal related.
Legal Concerns for Performance Reviews
In the workplace, under federal law, companies with over 15 employees cannot discriminate based on race, gender, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, disability status, veteran status, and genetic information. It is a best practice for all companies, regardless of size, to not discriminate.
Let’s look at some typical examples on how discrimination can creep into and be avoided in performance reviews:
Avoiding Discrimination in Employee Performance Reviews
|Potentially Discriminatory Feedback||Fair Feedback|
|“Walter, since you are so much older than everyone, we need you to improve your computer skills.”||“Walter, we need you to improve your computer skills.”|
|“Ana, since English is your second language and you’re from Mexico, we need you to sound more professional.”||“Ana, we need to work on your communication skills with our clients.”|
|“Jason, since you are in the Army Reserves, we cannot promote you to manager.”||“Jason, we cannot promote you because (insert actual skill deficiency).” (If Jason is the most qualified, you should be giving him the promotion.)|
|“Claire, we need you to become more efficient and have more attention to detail. Ever since you’ve had children, your work has really slipped.”||“Claire, we need you to become more efficient and have more attention to detail.”|
Notice the trend…usually when you add a disclaimer or some sort of clause, a seemingly innocent comment in a performance review becomes discriminatory. If you have an employee you are nervous about, write out what you want to say or practice your performance review of them in advance.
Other Common Pitfalls in Performance Reviews
1. Comparing your employee to a specific team member
This can be discriminatory, and, just as bad, can create a company culture that is undesirable (think cat fights and competition in a bad way). The review is about the employee sitting in front of you, not about their teammate.
For example, instead of saying, “John, we need you to get your quota to where Sally’s is. She’s performing at the level we want,” you should say, “John, we need you to get your quota to (insert specific goal/quota)”.
2. Using inappropriate language or tone
The performance review should be done with the highest level of professional communication, almost like an interview. Be patient, don’t patronize the employee, and stay calm if the employee gets upset or angry.
For example, instead of saying, “John, isn’t it obvious that you are behind every other salesperson?”, you should say, “John, we need you to start to hit your quota. How can we help you to be more successful in hitting your goal?”
3. Being biased
There are several kinds of biases that people accidentally can have in the workplace and especially during performance reviews.
- One form is the horns/halos effect, where you might let your personal opinion of someone run their performance review, and someone you like will get higher ratings than someone you do not. You can avoid this by using documentation in your performance review process, and, if you are open to it, having another person review the employee as well (and then comparing notes).
- Another issue is self comparison, where it is tempting to evaluate employees based on what you were doing when you were in that role or when you were their age. You’ll want to avoid sentences that start with “When I was your age…” or “Let me tell you from my experience…”.
- Finally, the other common bias in performance review is recency bias, where you write an annual review based more on the last month or so of events. Remember to include the performance of the employee throughout the entire review period! However, if the employee’s performance has improved or deteriorated over time, be sure to acknowledge that.
4. Don’t surprise people
Been having an issue with an employee for months now? Have you told them about it? If not, you’re making a mistake bringing up something for the first time that has been festering for months in the annual performance review. It’s going to make your employee feel frustrated and even embarrassed. Speak up and give continuous feedback, not just at performance review time.
5. Being critical but not constructive
Remember when your parents said “Because I told you so”? Do you remember how mad you got? Same thing in a performance review – it’s fine to critique an employee, but make suggestions on how to improve it! Better yet, give multiple options so that the employee can play an active role in their own professional success and truly improve their performance.
How to Implement a Performance Review System
Now that you know how to do employee performance reviews, it’s time to create and implement system so that your performance reviews are done on a regular basis, employees know what’s happening, and everyone can be held accountable to this system.
Here are the steps you will want to walk through:
1. Figure out the performance review policy.
First, you will want to figure out what the policy is for your performance reviews. Will there be consequences for negative reviews, or will bonuses/raises/promotions be given based on positive reviews? If not, then you may want to re-think your timeframe. Your performance reviews should ideally tie directly to these movements.
2. What will the review time frame be?
Most performance reviews are done every 90 days, 6 months, or annually.
- 90 days – Businesses with high turnover like call centers, restaurants/bars, or retail shops work well with a 90 day cycle. Many of these employees are motivated to perform for bonuses tied to good reviews.
- 6 months – Businesses with a lot of millennial employees (young employees love the feedback!!!), businesses who are experiencing high turnover, and most businesses in general do well with 6 months.
- Annual – Businesses with larger, more mature employee bases that are well-established can do annual performance reviews.
3. Decide on what should be included in your performance review forms.
Our template above lists some common position and organization competencies, but you can and should adapt them for your business.
- Position items – If you have good job descriptions for every person, this becomes easy. Just base the items on the form off of this. If you don’t have job descriptions, you may want to create them prior to creating performance review so that everyone knows their roles and expectations. You can learn how to write a job description, and get a free template, here.
- Organizational items – What are your company’s values? What do you wish everyone at the company embodied? Think along the lines of big picture culture traits. Some ideas: Teamwork, Customer Service, Innovation, Creativity, Integrity, Ambition, Service-Mindset, Collaboration, Honesty.
- The Scoring System- If you don’t like the 1-5 method, that’s fine. Check out our table of scoring system options and pick one that works for you.
4. (Optional) Ask your managers for feedback on the policy & form.
Depending on the size of your business and if you have managers on your team, you may want to include them in what should go on the performance review form. For example, if you own a restaurant and have a General Manager, that would be a good person to involve in the review creation process since that person is “on the ground” with the team daily.
5. Announce your performance review policy to the team (and show them the review form).
You never want to leave employees in the dark, especially when it comes to performance reviews, which might cause some anxiety. Explain the performance review policy with the team in its entirety, including any consequences, as well as why you want to implement this. You also will want to show them the review form ahead of time–people need to know what they are being evaluated on in order to best do their jobs. Also, tell them when you plan on having the first round of reviews.
6. Execute your first round of performance reviews.
After announcing your policy, you’ll want to actually have the first round of performance reviews with everyone. This should ideally be about 2-6 weeks after you announce the policy. Also, know that this first round might not go perfectly; let this round be an opportunity to test the system.
7. Document the performance reviews given.
You will want to store your performance reviews in employees’ personnel files, be it in an online personnel system like JustWorks, in the confidential area of the company’s cloud storage, or in paper files. A best practice is to have these files either locked in a cabinet or password-protected.
8. Tweak/change the system if needed.
If something didn’t work, change the system and announce the change in your policy to the team.
Manager Performance Reviews
While our performance review template is an excellent start, if you have team or department managers that you are also going to be reviewing, you will need to add more into your performance reviews in order for them to be effective.
Manager reviews should include components based around both the actual management of the team/department and the performance of the team/department.
For example, here are 5 performance components you might want to add to your manager performance review:
- Team Performance – Is the team performing well, or do a lot of individuals on the team need to improve? The manager needs to have some accountability here.
- Training/Coaching of Team Members – Is the manager training their team to perform well? Is the manager serving as a coach to develop the team?
- Team Communications – Has the manager put a system in place so that the team communicates and work is done efficiently? Have there been a lot of miscommunications or dropped balls among the team?
- Representing Company Values – Does the manager do a good job representing the company culture? Are you happy with how the manager is passing on cultural values to their team?
- Leading by Example – Is the manager setting a good example for the team members? Do they have the respect and trust of their team?
Performance Review Examples
Below are 7 performance review examples for various roles and industries. When reviewing these, keep note of the different scoring systems used and how different types of employees are evaluated on different criteria.
The Bottom Line
Employee performance reviews do not have to be painful, but they require planning and some thought. Implementing performance reviews can help motivate your team to perform at a higher level, as well as help them set goals and grow. When the team performs at a higher level, you, ideally, will run a better business and make more money – a win-win!