"God gets the easiest performance reviews." - Daryl Gregory

To help modern managers answer the longstanding question of how to write a performance review with appropriate performance appraisal sample wordings

Why write a performance review?

How to write an effective performance review? - Ask yourself why

How to write performance reviews is a longstanding impediment in the career trajectory of every manager. It is oft one of those things that seasoned managers think about as an avoidable folly in their early days, or are filled with pride about the impact they have had on people by just using the right words.

This article aims to give you a short introduction on how to write  and criticize your performance reviews. Instead of giving you simple examples,  It gives you the Fish and also explains how to catch it, so that you may be fed today and forever Performance reviews are meant to be unique and tailored for each employee. That is how they can be most effective. Generic (& meaningless) rhetoric do not lead to any performance improvements.

Performance reviews are supposed to be subjective for every addressee, as opposed to generic templates that do not contribute to significant improvements. The metrics by which individual performances are measured are primarily the same. Even though all of an individual's professional responsibilities cannot be covered in a blanket clause, the degree of variability is subtle enough to be accommodated.

As a manager, it can be taxing to reiterate the same kind of feedback to multiple people about the same inadequacy and doing so might end up counter-intuitive, to the extent of making your employees perceive it to be a mundane exercise involving templated feedback. This article also aims to help you sort the kind of professional feedback that can be both subjective, directed and tweaked to the receiver's specific role, responsibility, while also taking into account your intent as their manager.

Whenever you give feedback either to your self or about a person as a manager, it is imperative to consider the intent of the said feedback. Though as calculative human beings, we seek a standard and might hold the person accountable for the responsibility to the same. Your employees too, being the emotional creatures that they are, might too often than not, misinterpret them as a personal attack than a calculated and objective observation.

For this reason, it is also necessary to follow the approach of Radical Candor, while also highlighting the positives within the said person. Let us dissect the structure of feedback to help us understand as to how we can use it to drive the maximum positive impact.

“Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.” - Stanley McChrystal

Before we start on how to ago about how to be writing reviews, let us quickly think of a frame work with a few questions that will help us phrase our reviews better.  These questions  are going to consider reasons  that cover the "What, why, how, and how much," of activities and goals that help your employee achieve/contribute, based on their strength, situation, and skills.

  • Why?
  • What ?
  • How?
  • How much?
How to write a performance review?


The why of the feedback is the core reason behind the whole exercise. As to why is the said feedback being given at this point? Being clear on this might help us asses our observing capabilities. Most managers follow a different style of management, some allow giving free rein, and some are passionate about the outcome and might come across as nitpicky. Though as a manager, we cannot be questioned on our methods to get the job done, a bird's eye view and a self-introspection on observing the interval or timing of our feedback might help us be more calculative and measured in the future. Thinking about the "Why?" Of the feedback reiterates this specific issue and helps us provide valuable insights at the right juncture of time.

A few common points to consider could be:

Why now?

Am I butting in too early than it is necessary?

This is a common issue that perturbs new managers often, though as people accountable for the output they aspire to oversee every step. However, that need not necessarily require as much contemplation or hesitation about overstepping your bounds. In due course of action, you can even talk to employees later to see whether or not you contributed to their personal growth and choose to exercise restraint the next time around.

Should I allow the employee the leeway to course correct themselves?

Some employees, even your rockstars, may not be infallible to the err of human ways, however, if indeed they're your rockstars, providing them a little leeway could go a long way in helping them see where they go wrong. The best part about giving this freedom is that "self-experience' as the proverbs say, comes to your aid as their best teacher. Statistically, people who corrected a mistake on their own are 67% less probable to repeat it in the future. Though you might find it daunting to hold back on an immediately foreseeable mishap that can be tweaked, it would serve you well in the long term to choose to exercise restraint early on in this specific scenario.

Have they demonstrated the capability to see the err in their ways and mend their ways?

This is a very subjective, nonetheless a real problem for managers, both old and new. Especially if the employee has not shown fluctuating outputs in the past, here, the best problem solver would be to schedule a 1:1 meeting with your employee to understand what impediments they are phasing. Some people are genuinely incapable of seeing their inadequacy and might even be of the opposite opinion, nonetheless with great potential for a rockstar performance. As a manager, your responsibility is to understand and empathize with their situation and choose to gently stroke their ego while giving them a gentle nudge towards the direction you would like them to proceed. This would not only earn you a reputation of an understanding manager but also gives you a greater sense of satisfaction of helping a fellow human.

Is it too late for me to say anything and I'm better of letting them know during their performance review?

This question is a tricky conundrum that often engulfs most managers who like to trust their employees with a greater sense of liberty. Sometimes, due to a mismatch between their personality with that of their employees, they may face a blunder too late to be set right.

Case 1) The said employee has always relied on explicit instructions

To help these people improve, it is best you sort out a clear trajectory with performance and goal oriented milestones, which they can follow. You can also try to explain the reward of assuming initiatives that may not necessarily be involved in the plan but are great avenues to reach the end goal in their way.

Case 2) The slacker

This is a widespread problem with liberal managers who like to give too much liberty for their employees, most often based on the past accounts of how the same environment helped them succeed. Though this liberty might be extremely unhinging and inspiring, there are bound to be a few who see this, not as creative liberty to get the job done in the best possible way, but as an excuse to not do the job at all. It can be evident when every output has a huge turn out period but is unacceptably shoddy. To this kind of employees, it is imperative to set a clear vigilance metric and also let them know that you monitor it every day. If after several iterations the performance does not improve, then you have a bad apple that needs to be thrown away before it rots the entire basket.


The what of the assessment is the reason behind which said the performance review was given. This helps you think about the nature of the evaluation as to what accomplishment led to it. Was it the particular skill demonstrated or the lack thereof? What could be the desired output from the said given performance review? Though these seem like trivial questions to ask yourself, especially when you're furious or disappointed about the employee's performance. Asking these questions once would help you easily identify the crux of what details you have observed would help you first reevaluate your observation and also help you communicate your exact comments.


The art of thinking about How? Can translate into two things in case of a positive or a negative performance review? In the case of a positive performance review, it can be about how the employee achieved the desired output of performance. Noting this example would help you champion the person to every other performer whom you wish to follow suit in the future. In case of an undesired performance, it can be about How the same performance can be improved to arrive at the desired outcome.

How much?

This is the one specific number or metric that was pushed or not pushed by the said employee. How much? Helps you focus on the outcome over output, to hold the person accountable for their actions. Though the employee may or may not directly influence the outcome. It is your responsibility as a manager to highlight how their actions have or have not affected the desired metrics and divert their focus towards the end goal.

Inherent Biases to account for:

Appropriate performance appraisal sample wordings

Intent bias

This could be a previous perception of the same employee or a quick judgment based on their past performance and behavior. It is most commonly observed in the case of recurrent inadequate performance. The aim of clarifying the intent is to ensure yourself that the ultimate progress is both gently help the performer acknowledge their flaws, while also doing their best not to repeat the same ways.

Positive or adverse performance review bias

Most managers fall trap in case of a performance review due to this Binary influence of it being positive or a negative. Especially when there are multiple performance reviews to be given and the HR wants as many files pushed as possible to calculate associated remuneration. Though we may not actively indulge in the bias, it is effortless to find a pattern after the first four performance reviews. Though it is not about the balancing act of giving one positive review for every negative, it most definitely is about how well the truth is communicated with the intent to achieve the desired outcome. If you as a manager believe that the performance reviews are honest and truthful, it won't hurt to find a few positive responses to add on to them, to not shatter the confidence of your employee, but to nudge it gently.

Here it would do well for you to ask yourself the following questions.

  • What is my real opinion about the employee's past performance?
  • Does the employee demonstrate the same perception about his performance?
  • Objective outlook for the performer's output.

Bringing objectivity to any performance decision is easier said than done. Especially when we feel responsible, it's crucial to act merely as a prosecutor who argues for both the sides, and then consider the facts alone as a jury. To influence this decision, however, you can take into account the particular employee's strengths, the situation they have faced, the demonstrated capability to overcome or not overcome the situation.

“All organisations are perfectly designed to get the results they are now getting. If we want different results, we must change the way we do things.” - Tom Northup

The game of what I say versus what they hear

A simple way to help you hear your worst possible criticism. Would be to put yourself in the same situation and identify what you would like to hear as an employee.

In a simple assessment, you can easily find out three things.

What you want to say - This is the most objective version of your comment, barred from any niceties and arrived with cold hard facts.

What they would like to hear - This is the sweetest possible version of your performance review that includes little positives that you had observed and might even help the employee feel better, but not necessarily enough to stop them from repeating their flawed ways.

What they hear - This is the hard and final part of giving performance reviews, where you try to achieve a delicate balance between the initial two statements, to ensure they hear all the facts from the first part, and a few relevant positives that help reinforce your feedback to guide them towards their desired output.

Though this may seem like too much information to process to write a few lines about every employee, it helps you earn the trust of your team in the longer run. Ultimately as managers, you are responsible for how your team's contribution impacts the outcome that affects the bottom line. There's a clear long-term benefit in writing well thought out performance reviews, and hopefully with ease and quickness after reading this article.

By using Upshotly to  measure, track and monitor everyday performance. Modern managers are able to effectively provide performance appraisal comments on the quality of work while also helping employees achieve high-performance everyday.