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Performance reviews are valuable to the entire firm, it’s an opportunity to managers to rate their employees, for exceptional work and guidance for any shortcomings, and to have an open discussion about the future of the company and the potential for employee growth. If you want to inspire your employees to keep up with their work or do better, you’ll need to dive deeper than the traditional review process of ‘well done’ and ‘good job’.

The ideal outcome for a performance appraisal is for managers and employees to have meaningful, reflective conversations together, it’s a chance to document the year’s accomplishments, understand expectations and celebrate progress. We have a compiled a list of tips for writing an effective performance review.

Recap regular, informal feedback: review discussions should be a common occurrence within the firm. Issues should be addressed as soon as they occur. If an employee’s behaviour (positive or negative) doesn’t warrant immediate feedback, make a note of it and use it as a reference point during a formal or informal performance discussion.

Choose your words with care: it is important to pay attention to how evaluations are stated. Here are five words and expressions that will help you effectively highlight an employee’s contributions, based on James E. Neal’s book, “Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals” (Neal Publications, 2009).

Achievement – Incorporate this into a phrase such as “achieves optimal levels of performance with/for …

Communication skills – Phrases like “effectively communicates expectations,” or “excels in facilitating group discussions” will go a long way with an employee.

Creativity – Appreciating employees’ creative side can make for happier, more motivated staff. In a performance review, try “seeks creative alternatives,” followed by specific examples and results.

Improvement – Employees like hearing that they are improving, and that it’s being noticed. “Continues to grow and improve,” and “is continuously planning for improvement” are two constructive phrases to use in a performance review.

Management ability – Having leadership skills and the ability to manage others is key for employee success. Incorporating phrases such as “provides support during periods of organizational change” will carry a lot of weight with your employee.

Encourage discussion about the review: the written review should be a brief but direct overview of discussion points, making for a more nuanced face-to-face conversation, and this requires employee feedback. Push employees to comment on the issues you raised. After outlining any shortcomings or mistakes, take the time to discuss resolutions to those problems.

If the conversation gets heated and you want to avoid saying something you might regret, put the conversation on hold, to be continued later via email or in another meeting, after the employee has had a chance to cool down.

Always end performance reviews on a positive note. Encouraging your employees and letting them know you appreciate what they do for the company gives an added boost to a primarily good review, or lifts your employee’s spirits after a somewhat negative evaluation. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in giving workers the confidence and drive they need to perform their jobs even better. Websites like Businessballs, Drexel University and Entrepreneur.com have templates for performance evaluation.

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