Your Guide To Writing Impactful Performance Review Comments

How to write impactful performance review comments

For many managers, writing impactful performance review comments feels like a daunting task. Giving and receiving feedback is not something most professionals are trained in, so the review can be overwhelming. Luckily, the importance of the review discussion is not reliant on how eloquently the manager writes feedback but rather that he/she communicates the right message and makes professional development a top priority.

Managers can ease the pressure by knowing that employees genuinely desire their input. According to Zippia, 65% of employees want more feedback. Also managers who gave “just the right amount” of feedback were the highest rated by employees according to Predictive Index. Good employees place value in growth and development. Good managers cultivate an environment for growth and development. 

This article provides a manager’s guide to writing impactful performance review comments that empower and develop employees.

5 Best Practices for Writing Impactful Performance Review Comments

1. Lean On Your Notes

It is unrealistic to think that busy managers can write effective feedback from memory. Without notes, the manager is left with unreliable sources, including hearsay from other colleagues or their own feelings. This could result in potential bias and confusing/frustrating feedback for the employee. It is critical to keep notes throughout the year from check-in meetings, goal conversations, and project reviews to ensure performance review comments are well-informed and data-driven. Otherwise, employees may find it difficult to trust that their manager is an objective evaluator.

2. Lead With Strengths

There is a common perception that performance reviews only exist to point out employee shortcomings. However, the purpose of reviews is to reach alignment with the organization’s mission and develop the employee. Managers can provide meaningful personal and professional development by calling out specific employee strengths and talents that made, and will make, a positive impact. Leading with strengths allows more room for discussions about weaknesses, or areas of improvement.

3. Coach Through Weaknesses

It is most effective to manage weaknesses by leveraging strengths. Identifying areas of opportunity helps the employee reach their greatest potential. Coaching through their weaknesses means managers guide employees to lean on what they are excelling in to improve in areas where an employee is missing goals or job standards.. Performance review comments should provide honest feedback on weaknesses, but it is helpful to lead with strengths and pair development with constructive feedback.

4. Share Honest, Specific Feedback

The purpose of performance review comments is to explain how the employee did or did not meet the performance standard. Therefore, comments should include either an explanation of how that standard was met, or actionable steps for doing so. For example, if the organization uses a rating scale (perhaps 1-5) and the manager evaluates the employee at a 4, the review comments should indicate how the employee can meet that 5-star standard in the future. Being explicit about expected performance and behaviors gives employees a clear path of meeting expectations in the future.

5. Embrace Your Style

Whether writing long, descriptive review comments or quick bullet points, it is most important that managers stick with what comes natural. Write comments that accurately reflect the manager/employee relationship so that when it is time for the review discussion, conversation is not forced or awkward. No matter the style, comments should be clear enough to support the review discussion and give the employees the coaching they need.

The Dos of Impactful Performance Review Comments

Along with best practices, there are a few more aspects to consider before confidently writing best-in-class performance review comments. The list below details what managers can do to take their comments from good to great.

1. Incorporate 360-Degree Feedback

Holistic review comments that include multiple perspectives eliminate potential bias and elevate the quality of the commentary. If the organization utilizes a 360 feedback tool, managers can and should write comments that either directly quote the feedback or embrace the ‘spirit’ of it. Additional viewpoints of the employee’s efforts give the manager greater insight and fuel for a more robust comment. Additionally, if an employee recognition platform is used, incorporating praise from peers provides encouragement and shows the employee that their efforts are noticed.

2. Apply the 80/20 Rule

We recommend applying the 80/20 rule for past and future performance: 80% of review comments should focus on the future, and 20% should be focused on the past. Comments that only discuss what the employee did up to that point, and not the future, will not help the employee make positive change. By focusing on actionable steps the employee can take, shows that the manager and organization care more about future performance and development vs.what has already taken place. Healthy, high-performing cultures learn from the past but place the most energy in the future.

3. Tie Back to Mission and Vision

Effective review comments avoid being shortsighted by tying everything back to the mission and vision of the organization. Staying focused on the end goal reminds employees that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Managers who keep the mission/vision at the forefront have a set standard by which to coach employees, ensuring that review comments have a distinct purpose.

The Dont's of Impactful Performance Review Comments

There are a few common mistakes managers unintentionally make when writing thoughtful performance review comments. The list below details what to avoid to make the greatest impact.

1. Watch Out for Mixed Signals

Managers can care well for their employees by writing comments that are clear and concise. It is crucial that comments are in alignment with the final review evaluation so employees are not getting mixed messages. To use an earlier example, if the manager rates the employee’s performance at a 4 out of 5, their comments should reflect as such. If their comments include only positive feedback, the employee will wonder why they were not given a 5 rating. The same works in the reverse. Ultimately, review comments should never leave the employee perplexed on what next steps to take or where they stand.

2. Avoid Recency Bias 

Recency bias occurs when managers rely solely on recent memory and experiences with the employee when writing review comments. Not taking the full timeframe of evaluation into account can lead to myopic views that leave the employee feeling defeated or even ‘checking out’ of their work. If employees see that their efforts throughout the review cycle do not influence the comments they receive, engagement can quickly decrease along with respect for the manager.

3. Don’t Use Hyperbolic Language 

Words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ rarely produce the intended action. Hyperbolic language can feel unnecessarily critical, especially because it is often not a true representation of what occurred. Effective employee coaching does not include this type of verbiage but rather seeks to correctly identify the employee’s strengths and growth areas without the use of extremes. 

Contrary to popular belief, writing impactful performance review comments can be simple. Managers do not need to be inherently skilled in writing or have years of experience providing review comments. All that is required is to be thorough, thoughtful, and embrace a few key best practices.

Employees genuinely want feedback from their leaders. It is important for managers to remember that their feedback is highly valued and the intention that goes into writing review comments is greatly appreciated. If your organization is interested in utilizing a performance review tool that equips managers with customized templates, integrated views, and strategic reporting, check out WorkDove’s Performance Review app today!