You know they're important. HR is on your case about getting them done. But, they're time-consuming, uncomfortable, and difficult. And as a manager, you have more important things to focus on right now.
We're talking about the dreaded performance review.
While not exactly fun – and oftentimes stressful – performance reviews are among the most underused levers for affecting behavior in your organization. Reviews encourage people to play by the company rules, stop bad habits, set priorities, and hold themselves accountable.
In a world with an enormously high sales employee turnover rate (35%), performance reviews can help you improve your reps' performance, keep their goals clear, and ensure their expectations are met.
Not to mention, conducting a performance review helps you develop effective leadership skills and ensure clarity with your direct reports.
In this post, we'll go over the steps you can take to better understand how to give a performance review – from organizing your thoughts to writing down your feedback and proposing next steps.
Save time writing your performance reviews and use this free performance review template instead. Pre-filled with common fields for an assessment but completely customizable to fit your company's needs, this template will help you organize your thoughts and provide your direct reports with a clear idea of how to improve.
Organize Your Thoughts and Information
Before typing an essay about your rep's successes and shortcomings for this review cycle, take these steps to gather the pieces of information you'll need to make a proper assessment of his or her performance.
1. Review your company's performance review policies
The specifics of every company's performance review cycle are different, so don't forget to read up on:
How and when performance reviews should be conducted.
How employees are ultimately ranked, graded, and/or assessed.
How performance reviews tie into compensation adjustments.
Where – or to whom – employee performance reviews should be submitted.
2. Revisit your employee's previous performance review
Performance reviews should be an opportunity to see how your employees have grown and overcome challenges. Read up on what was included in previous performance reviews for an employee (if he or she is not a new hire). This will give you a foundation for your commentary and advice.
3. Ask your employee for a self-assessment
To see if you and your rep are on the same page, ask the employee to rank his or her performance for the review cycle, citing specific examples. You can ask questions like:
What do you feel you did well in the past six months? Why?
Where do you feel you fell short in the past six months?
Where do you think you could improve in the next six months, and what do you think you need to get there?
If you have a rating scale for your employees (e.g., a scale of one to five), you should also ask employees to rank their perceived performance on this scale.
4. Seek 360-degree feedback from other coworkers
Given the fact you can't, or shouldn't, monitor your employees minute-by-minute, good performance reviews should involve others that the employee has worked and collaborated with. This is called 360-degree feedback, because it encompasses more parts of the employee's day than you may notice.
Ask the worker to name two to five other employees they've worked closely with in this review period (and feel free to add others you feel were left off this list). These respondents will give you insight into the employee's capabilities and culture fit from a perspective you may not have.
How to Write a Performance Review
Use a performance review template
Review employee feedback and previous review(s)
Highlight the employee's successes
Highlight the employee's areas of growth and opportunity
Give your employee a final performance rating
At this point, you should have all the information you need to write a thorough, helpful, and actionable performance review for the employee. Here are the steps to take to boil all of that info down into an awesome and helpful review.
2. Review employee feedback and previous review(s)
Read through the employee's self assessment, the feedback from peers, and the employee's previous review. Keep your eye out for common threads between what you read –be it areas of improvement or excellence.
These documents – in conjunction with your experience managing the employee – should help you distill your thoughts into three to five areas where your employee is excelling, as well as identify three to five places your employee could improve during the next review cycle.
3. Highlight the employee's successes
Where did your employee impress you and/or his or her peers during this review cycle? Maybe it was a massive project or the adoption of a new behavior or habit that was called out in a previous review, such as "getting more organized" or "is incredibly responsive when coworkers need help."
In the review, explain:
What the positive attribute is.
Why it matters.
A specific incident where this attribute was evident.
What impact it has had on the company, if any.
What their peers said about this behavior/attribute, if applicable.
4. Highlight the employee's areas of growth and opportunity
We all have areas where we can improve our performance.
It's important to go into this section with the intent of building up rather than tearing down. This section should be an overview of what it will take to get an employee from where he or she is now to the next step in advancing in your company. So, be sure to outline:
What the areas of opportunity or improvement are.
Why they have a negative impact.
Why or how it will make the employee a better worker or culture fit to improve on them.
What you, as their manager, will do to help improve.
What the action plan on the employee's part is to improve.
5. Give your employee a final performance rating
At this point, you should have a clear idea of how your employee is performing in line with your company's performance standards. Cap your review off with a rating of where your employee lands on this scale. If you're using an employee review scorecard, you can simply average the numbers you've given for certain criteria.
For your own records, prepare for how this rating may translate in the in-person performance review. For example, you might want to go to a review with a poor-performing employee with an improvement plan, and bring a promotion plan to a five-star employee's review.
Deliver the Performance Review
Once you've completed the performance review, follow these steps to make sure your feedback is received and understood.
1. Email your rep the performance review
Nothing on a performance review should come as a surprise to an employee. If it does, it suggests a series of missed opportunities to connect with an employee on monitoring and improving performance.
To reinforce this notion, send your rep the performance review before your actual review so they have the opportunity to process its contents before your meeting.
2. Meet in person to discuss the review
Schedule ample time to go over each aspect of the review in a meeting, and instruct your rep to come prepared with any questions or concerns over the review's content. Remember, this should be a discussion between you and your employee, rather than a time for you to talk and your rep to be quiet.
Be prepared to speak to and elaborate on the positive traits and the opportunities for growth in the meeting than you might have on your review scorecard.
3. Close out with next steps
Tie the review into what's next. Remind the employee when the next review cycle is, explain what future goals/projects lie ahead, and try to determine the best path for getting your rep to where they want to go next within your company.
For example, you might emphasize that in order to be promoted to field rep, one of the goals is to close a certain number of deals as an inside sales rep, and that number should be hit by the end of the quarter if the employee wants to start in that role by next year.
Making the Most of Performance Reviews
While performance reviews can be awkward to conduct and tedious to write, they're ultimately what can improve the productivity of your workforce and the profitability of your company. When written and delivered well, you'll be consistently strengthening the frontlines of your sales team with these performance reviews.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Aug 7, 2020 3:00:00 PM, updated June 15 2021