There are countless schools of thought when it comes to employee performance reviews. Ask five different people managers and five HR reps what’s best, and you’re liable to get 10 different answers. 360s, skip-level reviews, SWOT analyses—they all have their merits.
Here’s the good news: If you’re taking the time to conduct employee reviews, you’re on the right track. Giving feedback that helps employees grow and improve is what’s most important. But that’s easier with a system, ideally one that’s flexible—and conducive to the behavioral drives and preferences of each employee.
Evaluating performers as people, to the benefit of your business
Talent optimization, at its core, is about ensuring your people and business strategies are in lockstep. So any employee review process should focus not just on the quantifiables, but on the human factors dictating how the employee is tracking against those goals.
Do you absolutely need an employee review template? Maybe not for everyone, but it’s a valuable resource to have on hand. It can serve as a starting point for reviews and performance appraisals, and guide first-time managers less accustomed to these conversations.
Every organization is unique, and each team within the business might have its own dynamics. There’s no one-size-fits-all review form. In this post, we’ll walk through some of the key considerations, including:
- How to measure performance
- Preparation for employees
- Preparation for managers
- Benefits of using an employee review template
- Creating a performance review template
How to measure performance
Particularly in a remote or hybrid workplace, performance evaluations are complex.
Are you concerned more with input or output? Hours or endgame?
Maybe the employee’s role doesn’t correlate directly with revenue. Measuring their performance may have more to do with competencies, meaning you track their progress relative to previous performance review forms, or against their onboarding goals.
Whether you’re asking a person to fill out an employee evaluation form themselves or you’re assessing them on a sliding scale within an Excel spreadsheet, one key to performance management is consistency.
Development is largely about guiding people toward their stated goals. Equip managers with data that reflects job performance, and give them a clear rating scale that suits the position. That will help them offer objective performance appraisals, buoyed by benchmarks that put things in perspective.
At the same time, help managers understand the forces driving employee disengagement, so they can sniff them out during regular check-ins. A good professional development plan zooms in and out, covering the day-to-day items but also the macro ones. There’s consistent dialogue.
As a result, the employee performance review is short on surprises; the manager and direct report already have a sense for overall performance. Maybe the annual appraisal adds elements of peer review, allowing 360-degree feedback from other team members to shed new light on performance and prompt self-assessment with new context. Detailed feedback is helpful no matter where it comes from, but people shouldn’t feel blindsided by the content of their employee performance review.
Preparation for employees
If you’re seeking regular feedback from your manager (and implementing their suggested improvements), your performance evaluation should never throw you for a loop. But there’s still a certain onus on you, the employee being reviewed, to come prepared.
If your company uses an employee evaluation form, ask simple questions like:
- How far in advance must the form be filled out?
- In what detail will the performance review cover my answers?
- Who else will review my evaluation form?
- Will I receive a copy for my records?
As you prepare, think about goal setting and business outcomes. Consider your value within the organization, not only from your manager’s perspective, but as an executive or other team leader might see it. Consider ways you can connect your performance to those outcomes, and then underscore their value clearly.
Just because you’re asked to prep with an employee self-evaluation form, that doesn’t mean the review itself is devoid of your opinion. Make it a conversation. Advocate for yourself, and elaborate on your accomplishments if and when you feel they’re not being properly acknowledged.
Sure, you may have to work within a given system or process, but a performance evaluation can also be an opportunity to express the pride you take in doing good work. Point out places you’ve exerted discretionary effort, and highlight key accomplishments. If you don’t feel the review template comprehensively assesses your performance, have the courage to say so.
Preparation for managers
Have a plan, but be prepared to deviate from it. Conducting a performance evaluation is never easy for a manager, but with proper planning comes confidence.
Block 30 minutes off on your calendar, either the day of the performance appraisal or earlier in the week, and remind yourself what you’re using to guide the review. It might be:
- A performance review template
- An employee evaluation form
- A review form rooted in self-assessment
- A rating scale from human resources
- All or some combination of the above
Make sure the employee has access to all the necessary materials at least a couple days in advance. It’s not fair to ask a direct report to conduct an honest self-assessment if they only gain access to the Google Doc hours before the meeting.
Consider their tenure, and refer back to professional development goals. Is this a relatively new hire? Have you had employee review conversations with this person before? If so, you can potentially streamline the discussion by focusing on the goals and performance indicators you’ve already agreed matter the most.
Lay out a rough roadmap or agenda, but cue up your soft skills. While the focus is performance, an employee review might veer into unexpected territory, and that’s OK. If your report is dealing with non-work issues that are impacting the way they come to work, be receptive and empathetic. You can steer the conversation back toward job performance, but consider their context, and tailor any performance improvement plan accordingly.
In other words, don’t throw your employee review template out the window, but always take the review circumstances into account.
Benefits of using an employee review template
The best thing about an employee review template is that it’s transparent. You can articulate the specific criteria by which an employee is being evaluated, in as much detail as you like, and share it well in advance. Show it to new hires during orientation, even.
You can always update and improve your template as your company and teams evolve. Being so forthright about process and expectations can go a long way toward building a culture of openness and accountability.
By using an annual performance review template, you’re also equipping managers and other company leaders with consistent guidance. It’s important your managers can communicate clearly how a process works. For better or worse, they are often your most immediate messengers. So while an employee review form may seem rigid or formulaic, distributing it clearly and proactively can actually engender trust in the team.
Good managers intuitively understand the forces of employee engagement, and they’ll know how heavily to lean on a template. This starts with understanding the strongest behavioral drives of their direct reports. That might mean allowing an employee with a higher extraversion drive to talk through their template feedback, and helping them make sense of the competencies or metrics being tracked verbally.
In other cases, it might help to have both sides review the completed employee review template in advance of the performance appraisal itself. Depending on their pace preferences, some people may want to absorb the information well in advance, then use the conversation with their manager to analyze, extrapolate, and come up with action items.
A manager who’s in tune with their people will get when, how, and with what level of detail they need to provide their form or template. In many ways, that sixth sense is more important than the contents of the template itself.
Creating a performance review template
No template is ever going to be followed to a T, every single time. If you’re starting from scratch, focus on what matters most. Define your objectives and key results (OKRs), and outline the criteria and metrics you’re evaluating, while leaving room for customization.
Those criteria could be strictly earnings-oriented, or they might be more abstract, such as the following:
- Team management
Consider the behavioral tendencies of your managers who conduct these reviews. It might help to note where they can deviate from the script, or which sections are suggested, as opposed to essential.
Ask yourself: What matters most to our organization? Are we evaluating our employees purely on quantifiable performance metrics, or should we also assess intangibles? How can we track progress toward our stated values?
At PI, we strive to hire people based on their head and heart, not just their briefcase. That means we look beyond the resume, seeking employees whose values align with our own, as outlined below:
The same concept applies during employee performance reviews. Sure, we assess an employee’s performance as it pertains to team goals, deadlines and deliverables, and revenue generation (where applicable).
But we also try to put those assessments in cultural context:
- Is this person accountable for their stated goals, even if they occasionally fall short?
- Are they displaying followership by leading and supporting team members?
- Do the employees’ teammates consider them trustworthy and reliable?
Self-assessment plays a role here, too. Employees are asked to rate themselves in these areas, and those ratings are cross referenced against those of their peers. Behavioral data promotes self-awareness at the individual, team, and organizational levels, so most employees have an accurate sense of how their peers perceive them.
But ultimately, team dynamics don’t lie. The signs of a dysfunctional team don’t manifest all that subtly, so an employee who doesn’t uphold cultural expectations will see the effects first-hand.
Your employee review template doesn’t have to include a cultural rubric, but it should touch on the ideals your organization holds most dear. The essence of talent optimization is aligning your people strategy with your business strategy. So ultimately, if your people aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, your business results will suffer.
Above all else, ensure your employee performance templates—and the reviews they inform—reflect an understanding of that concept. Do that, and the finer details will lock into place.