How To Write A Performance Review: The only guide you need to giving an employee review

writing performance reviews: start here

Struggling to write a performance review? Read this quick guide on how to create an actionable employee performance review.

Do you need help writing performance reviews, giving a performance review or just don’t know where to start with an employee review? Below I’ve outlined the powerful employee review (and an employee review sample template) that over 8,000 leaders around the world use to get results with their direct reports.

Employee performance reviews don’t need to be complicated, and you don’t need to water down performance reviews. That’s why it’s always odd that employee reviews tend to fall into two extremes of the spectrum: not enough thought or too complicated.

writing performance reviews: not enough thought or too complicated?

Where do your employee reviews fall? Are they too complicated? Or don’t drive action?

How to score a performance review 

One of the biggest areas employee reviews fall short is in scoring complexity and ambiguity. Let’s say you rate every employee on overall performance on a 10-point scale. What’s the difference between a 7.4 and 8.7? Obviously, 8.7 is better, but how much better? How should that change the employees’ everyday job? Most managers and leaders don’t hit pause enough to ask, “Is this really helpful?”

I see these type of employee performance reviews in larger companies, typically. Usually, there is a complex spreadsheet attached to the employee review that no one quite understands. Two things happen to companies that use this type of employee performance reviews: they either don’t get done because they are too complicated or managers just go through the motions to complete the employee performance reviews by a deadline. This doesn’t help anyone.

How to think about an employee performance review

You need to take time and reflect on a performance review to give it real value.

Too many companies simply go through the motions and don’t put any thought into a review. I see this at companies of all sizes. I’ve seen employees that were asked to fill out their own evaluation and the CEO just gave comments. That’s not super helpful. I’ve seen a more simple version of the 10-point scale that can be filled out in 10 minutes. That doesn’t help anyone, either.

Some other companies have the HR group/department do the employee performance review. Typically, the HR department doesn’t work with the employee on a regular basis. As a result, they can’t give a lot of constructive feedback to the employee.

The real reason most employee performance reviews don’t work is: the review is designed to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. Employees crave feedback, especially millennials. Employees even want your negative feedback. A great employee review should force the difficult conversations. It should set the table for employee performance.

Scared? Learn how to deal with bad employees.

Writing performance Reviews: Start with this Sample Employee Review

I get asked all the time for a sample employee performance review. Click here to download a sample employee performance review that I use with my employees. Obviously, your company is unique, but this is a good template to follow. I’ll highlight the reasons behind each section. The questions behind this employee performance review are highly specific to our business, as they should be. You shouldn’t simply download a template and hope to copy and paste.


Let’s take a look at the sample employee review (above) and I’ll break down all of the parts of a great performance review.

10 things that make you irreplaceable to me

A sample of my employee performance review

Dando is small. We don’t have many employees, so each employee needs to be irreplaceable. There is a deep meaning to each one of the 10 items above. I need to be able to answer “YES” to all 10. This is a question of ability (can you do it?) and attitude (will you do it?). This section is fairly unique to our business, but I’d encourage you to do a similar exercise for your organization.

5 Key Questions

The next section of my employee performance review.

Notice here there is no 10 point scale in this section of the employee performance review. There is no “agree” or “strongly agree.” It is simply a “Yes” or “No.” Most employee performance reviews need to be more concrete. They need to have less room for interpretation and more clarity to every employee.

Question 3 – “I am worth much more than my salary?” usually gets a lot of raised eyebrows. This issue is a very straight-forward question. If you aren’t worth much more than your salary, we don’t have a business! It may sound harsh, but it’s essential. Keep a section like this for clear, yes or no answers in your performance review.

Grow or go

Are you growing? If not, you need to go…

I’ve covered this topic in great depth before: How to make sure your employees are growing. This question exists for one purpose: to set the expectation that every employee is going to grow. This is the open opportunity to show your expectation for that. It could be anything from books they are reading to professional groups to a new degree. If you don’t grow, you go…it’s that simple.

Meeting expectations?

This question is in almost every employee performance review, but you’re probably missing an opportunity to lead.

Almost everyone has this question on their employee performance reviews, but you might miss a vital coaching opportunity. Most employees expect to get “Exceeding Expectations” checked. However, “Exceeding Expectations” should be reserved for extraordinary performance. You should have high expectations, and employees should meet those expectations. Meeting expectations is not bad – especially if you have high expectations. If someone did go above and beyond, then highlight that. Otherwise, stick with “Meeting Expectations.” There’s nothing wrong with that.

The most important question when writing performance reviews

The one question that needs to be on your performance review isn’t about communication, or teamwork or dependability. In fact, you probably could remove every other question on your performance reviews and replace it with this one question.


Here’s the kicker, you have to answer that question on the performance review in one of three ways:

  • Yes.
  • No.
  • I don’t know.

If yes, then great. You have hired an excellent employee.

If no, they need to go.

If you selected “I don’t know,” you need to write down today’s date and then next to today’s date, write down the date three to six months from today. On the future date, you need to force yourself to answer Yes or No.

If you are still uncertain, you are just prolonging a difficult decision of helping someone grow or letting them go.

Whatever answer you come up with will inform the rest of the questions that are typically discussed in a review. This clarity leaves no doubt about your perceptions and gives your employees the best chance to grow if they chose to.

Remaining questions when writing performance reviews

The rest of the items are important, but not as important as the question above.

Some clarifying questions for your performance review.

Especially in a people-centric job, number 6 is essential. This is also usually a question of attitude if the answer is No.

Number 7 is another question about attitude and commitment to the vision of the organization. That’s not to say there will be days it does feel like a job – but how does this employee act on a regular basis?

Action plan

Another common section of an employee review – but let’s simplify it.

Most employee performance reviews have an “action plan.” But usually, they are too complicated to act upon. Creating this 3-1-1 section as an action plan is a way to make the items from the review actionable. Notice there is only 1 action – not 100. It doesn’t have to be just 1 action, but the fewer, the more likely it will be implemented.

Employee Reviews: Putting it all together

This is review format that I’ve used for many years for one simple reason: it’s lightweight enough not to be a chore to complete, but it’s actionable. Too many employee performance reviews are either too complicated or don’t have enough thought put into them. This is the best of both worlds.

Download the employee performance review template now.

How will you change the way you do performance reviews? How would this work if you figured out how to hire the right person?


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  6. Those questions were good, I am going to use some of those in the upcoming performance review for sure.

    Thanks for sharing.

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