July 28, 2020

Templates and Best Practices for Employee Performance Reviews

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This post has been updated for 2020.

A couple of jobs ago, I was working for a small startup in the design and printing industry. They knew a lot about design, a lot about manufacturing their product, but not a whole lot about building and managing a business, especially anything concerned with HR.

To give you some examples, this nine-year-old company had no employee performance review system, nor did it have a marketing budget. I put my own meetings on my manager’s schedule to talk about my performance goals. Worst of all, because there was no performance review system, quarterly bonuses were calculated with an undisclosed mixture of revenue growth, total sales, gut feeling, crystal divination, and how the founder felt about you that day. It definitely didn’t inspire confidence that everyone got what they earned.

According to recent research, roughly 28 percent of U.S. employees do not receive enough regular feedback about their performance to help them improve accordingly. If you don’t already have some sort of performance review in place, you’ve come to the right place. If you already have a review system, there’s always room for improvement.

There are plenty of resources out there to help you build an employee performance review process, but like all business processes, you should update and personalize these templates to match your team’s job roles and business objectives. If you’re searching for tools to help improve your team’s overall performance management, use our Product Selection Tool for a list of five software recommendations.

Types of Performance Reviews

Many companies either overcommit or undercommit to employee performance reviews — using tedious, daily check-ins to atone for past communication problems, or slapping on a band-aid yearly review. The key is to balance the frequency and depth of the review process. Make sure everyone feels they give and receive sufficient feedback, but still have time to focus on business objectives.

Here are some of the most popular options:

  • 360-review: Save this for the annual review. The 360-review lets all other employees provide feedback on how the individual is doing their job. Keep this one short and sweet, and only involve those who have a direct working relationship with the person. This keeps the review focused on business objectives and personal goals. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of “I don’t know how well she does her job, but I see her playing a lot of ping-pong” or “I think he’s great. He really carried the after-hours trivia team this year!” Not exactly helpful for the employee or the company.
  • Pulse surveys: These surveys are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of employee satisfaction, but since your employees fill them out every week, they should remain short and sweet, focused on a few specific metrics. Managers also should not spend a lot of time reviewing, but use these to monitor general trends.  
  • Monthly check-ins: If you feel like your managers and employees would benefit from a form for feedback here, build a template that gives flexible feedback on goals and metrics, but again doesn’t spend too much time. This is a good opportunity to bring up trends from your pulse surveys. If the employee or manager is new, or if there’s a problem, check in every month to verify progress toward personal and departmental goals.
  • Quarterly reviews: Align these meetings with your quarterly business goals, and check the individual’s movement toward personal and departmental goals. If you don’t choose any of the other options on this list, make time for quarterly reviews. Think about having employees provide feedback on their own progress, and compare this with their manager’s feedback. You can also check in on quarterly KPIs, bonuses, raises, and commission stats to make sure your teams are on track and reward high performers. 

ALSO READ: The Importance of Performance Management

Set Goals and Objectives Before You Begin

Begin with the end in mind. We hear it all the time because it’s true; unless you know where you’re going, it’s pretty hard to get there. Before you can properly review your employees, you have to know against what to benchmark them.

When your team starts to build out KPIs for departments and the individuals, align these with:

  • Company values
  • Business objectives
  • Company goals
  • Department goals
  • Individual goals and objectives based on job role

Employee performance reviews can be time-consuming, so focus on assessing the effectiveness of each team member without eating up too much time. Emory University suggests building goals prior to any review process. Allow plenty of time for employees and supervisors to build SMART goals that include an action, a measurable result, and a time frame. Then use these goals to define team objectives and personal KPIs.

Make Reviews Reciprocal

Don’t review your employees without allowing them to review themselves or review you. A one-way review process can feel belittling and actually delay progress toward goals rather than supporting employees in their growth.

Use Templates to Get Started

There’s nothing new under the sun, so don’t try to make a great employee performance review process from scratch when other people have already done the work for you. Here are a few templates to start from and customize to meet the needs of your organization.

  • This template from Typeform provides a customizable employee survey form that you can use for monthly and quarterly reviews. 
  • QuestionPro has a free template you can use for a general employee satisfaction survey. Although most of the questions are basic, there are places at the end where employees can directly address problems they’ve noticed and ways that the organization can improve.
  • SHRM provides a comprehensive performance review template that focuses on benefits and compensation, diversity, communication, and company culture. Use this type of review template to poll your employees on the effectiveness of their company in these four major areas.

If you already use HR software for talent management and administration, you might scour that product for any preloaded templates or help documents. You can also use a specific performance management tool to track employee sentiment and run performance reviews.