7 minutes

A Manager’s Guide: How to Write a Performance Review for an Employee

Managers, we have a problem. 

Only 29% of employees feel like the feedback they receive is accurate and fair. 

As the group who is often responsible for delivering feedback, that number is cause for concern. 

But the real problem isn’t that you’re delivering unfair and potentially biased feedback, it’s that no one ever told you how to write feedback, let alone performance reviews. 

This guide will solve all that. Let’s explore exactly how to write a performance review for an employee.

Source: Re-Engineering Performance Management 

Why are fair, unbiased performance reviews important?

Trust, morale, employee development, retention, and ultimately, performance. All are at risk when our performance review process is perceived as unfair or biased. 

Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. If your manager gave you a performance review overshadowed by one bad project when every other month you’d met or exceeded expectations, how would you feel? What about if the reviews were vague and you didn’t truly know what behaviors you should continue to exhibit or which ones you should stop? 

Now, imagine that your review was wholly reflective of your performance, accounting the good, the bad, and giving helpful direction as to how you can improve and work toward your next career milestone?

We bet you’ll feel a lot better about yourself, your manager, and the company you work for in the second scenario. You’d perform a lot better too.

So while performance reviews may feel like a check-box exercise, they influence both employee engagement and performance. You want to make sure the impact is a positive one.

📚Related reading: How to Overcome Unconscious Bias as a Manager

How to write a performance review for an employee with 8 easy to follow tips

It doesn’t matter if it’s an annual performance review, bi-annual performance review or a quarterly performance review. They all draw collective sighs and groans from managers and employees alike.

And the more people you manage, the more time and energy it takes. 

We’re not promising our tips will make the process enjoyable, but they will make the process easier and more effective. 

The 9 tips are: 

  1. Share performance expectations 
  2. Collect feedback and data
  3. Reflecting on the whole review period, not just recent events
  4. Outline key achievements
  5. Identify areas for improvements
  6. Provide constructive feedback
  7. Reflect on development needs
  8. Draft the review objectively to the AID framework
  9. Share the review (async or sync) how your employee receives feedback best

Tip 1: Share performance expectations

You can’t measure performance fairly if your employee is in the dark as to what’s expected of them. 

Which is why before you measure, you absolutely must provide every employee with the criteria they’ll be judged upon.

Some companies have a career framework for this while others may rely on the job posting they made when advertising for the role. 

Tip 2: Collect feedback and data

The first step in preparing a performance review is to continuously collect feedback and data throughout the review period. 

This step requires you to deliver feedback continuously across the year as well. It will save you from scrambling at the last minute to think of what you’ll say in each review.

Don’t just rely on your own feedback and data either. Gather insights from others including your direct report’s peers, subordinates (if relevant), and other managers.

This way, you’ll have a well-rounded view of your employee's performance beyond your own perspective.

You may also want to collate key performance indicators (KPIs) from the review period as well, ones that were met and missed. 

Tip 3: Reflect on the whole review period, not just recent events

A common mistake managers make during the review process is to let recent events hold more weight than those that came before them. This is called recency bias. 

It’s not done with intention, it’s simply a natural inclination. One that managers need to actively overcome. 

To avoid it impacting your employee’s review, take all the data and feedback you’ve already collected from across the year and review it.

Some tools make this easier. For example, with Waggle, you’re able to look back at every one to one meeting you’ve had throughout the year. You can then see exactly what was discussed, any feedback that was given, and development areas the employee had.

With these resources at hand, look for patterns or trends in the employee's performance across the review period. Have there been consistent areas of strength or ongoing challenges?

Make note of them to include in your formal review.

Tip 4: Outline key achievements

Employee performance reviews are as much about what an employee has done well as they are about where there’s room to grow. 

So make sure you look at the achievements they’ve made over the review period and highlight the most important ones you’d like to feature in your review. 

These should be assessed against the expectations you set for them. You can point to achievements that have helped them meet or exceed those specified expectations and one day use them as proof the employee is stretching into the next level of their role. 

For each achievement, provide specific details. For example, if an employee led a project that resulted in a 30% increase in customer satisfaction, detail their role, the actions they took, and the measurable outcomes. This specificity not only adds credibility to the review but also helps the employee understand exactly what actions were valued.

If the review period included overcoming significant challenges or substantial personal development, mention these as key achievements.

Progress in soft skills, such as improved communication or leadership abilities, is as noteworthy as quantifiable accomplishments. And some roles may have higher expectations of a skill compared to another—a manager for example needs to delegate more than an entry-level employee. 

Tip 5: Identify areas for improvements

After highlighting your employee’s accomplishments, you want to identify areas where they can improve. 

This part of the employee review is delicate but essential, as it focuses on turning challenges into opportunities for growth.

You’ll need to have the employee’s role expectations on hand so that you can match the outlined performance expectations with what you’ve observed across the review period. 

When pointing out areas for improvement, specificity is key. Avoid vague statements that can lead to confusion or defensiveness. 

For example, instead of saying "needs to improve communication skills," specify the context, such as "enhancing clarity in email communications to reduce misunderstandings."

And you want to highlight the context and impact of their performance. So if an employee needs to improve in time management, mention specific instances where deadlines were missed and discuss the impact on the team or project. 

Tip 6:  Provide constructive feedback

Feedback is most effective when it's tied to specific behaviors and outcomes rather than vague impressions. 

For instance, instead of saying "You need to be more proactive," provide a concrete example: "Taking the initiative to coordinate with the marketing team on the XYZ project led to a more cohesive campaign strategy. More actions like this can enhance your role in cross-departmental projects."

Every piece of feedback should lead to actionable insights. 

If there’s an area for improvement, suggest clear steps or resources that can help. For example, "To improve your report writing skills, consider enrolling in the advanced data analysis course we have on our learning platform. It’s designed to enhance data presentation and storytelling."

You can also rely on a Skill Will Matrix to help you determine what actions you as the manager should take to help them develop into the performer your organization needs. 

Basically, you look at your employees performance and assess whether their shortcomings are a result of lacking skill or lacking will.  

Need extra help telling your employee they’re not meeting expectations? Check out our guide: How to tell an employee they are not meeting expectations [examples & free template] 

Tip 7: Reflect on development needs

Reflecting on development needs involves identifying the skills and competencies an employee needs to cultivate to achieve their current role's objectives and prepare for future career aspirations. 

Begin by assessing the employee's current skill set against the requirements of their role and future roles they aspire to. Consider areas where the employee has shown potential for growth as well as any skill gaps that could hinder their progress. 

For example, if an employee aims to move into a leadership position, evaluate their current leadership, communication, and strategic thinking skills.

Provide recommendations for resources and actions to help the employee meet their development goals. This could include workshops, online courses, mentoring, shadowing opportunities, or specific projects designed to challenge and develop their skills.

Tip 8: Draft the review objectively to the AID framework

Now that you’ve reviewed, reflected, and come up with notes on key achievements, areas of improvement, constructive feedback you want to pass on, and development areas you want the employee to focus on, you can write up the review.

Start by talking about where your employee shined this review cycle. Talk about the achievements they had and behaviors that meet or exceed various expectations of their role. 

You may want to create a table of each expectation and make note of where they fall.

Such as:

You can use the AID (Action, Impact, Development) framework when writing out feedback within that table.


Start with a clear description of the employee's actions over the review period. 

This includes tasks completed, projects worked on, and any additional initiatives taken. The aim is to be factual and specific, avoiding generalizations. 

For example, instead of saying "handled project tasks effectively," specify the action: "Successfully led the development and launch of the XYZ project, coordinating between design, development, and marketing teams."


After detailing the actions, describe the impact of these actions on the team, department, or organization. 

This is where the outcomes of the employee's efforts are highlighted, emphasizing both the positive contributions and areas where the expected impact was not fully realized. 

For example, "The successful launch of the XYZ project resulted in a 25% increase in customer engagement and significantly improved team collaboration practices. However, some project milestones were delayed, impacting the overall timeline."


The final part of the review focuses on development needs and future goals. Based on the actions and their impact, identify areas for growth and propose specific development activities. 

This could include training, new projects that offer learning opportunities, or mentorship arrangements. Ensure that the development plan is aligned with the employee's career aspirations and the organization's strategic direction. 

For example, "To further enhance project management skills and prepare for upcoming leadership roles, participating in the Advanced Project Management workshop next quarter is recommended, along with leading a cross-functional pilot project."

Tip 9: Share the review (async or sync) how your employee receives feedback best

Deciding on the best method to share the performance review involves understanding your employee's preferences and the nature of the feedback itself. 

Some employees may benefit from real-time discussions (synchronous), while others may prefer to process the information privately before discussing it (asynchronous).

We suggest catering for both by sending the performance review ahead of time AND going through it together on the call. 

For synchronous sharing, schedule a one-on-one meeting. 

Provide a brief overview of the review content in advance, giving the employee time to prepare mentally. During the meeting, present the feedback clearly and allow plenty of time for discussion. 

You also want to take this time to work with the employee on where you go from here. What improvements do they want to focus on in light of this feedback and what areas do they want to stretch into? 

How to improve the performance review process for your team

Receiving a performance review can be uncomfortable and anxiety inducing. But, with the right approach it doesn’t have to be. 

Here are our tips to make the performance review process easier on your team:

Integrate continuous feedback

Make feedback an ongoing conversation, not a once-a-year truth bomb. An employee’s performance should never be surprising to them.

Schedule regular check-ins with your team to discuss progress, challenges, and successes. 

This approach ensures issues are addressed promptly and achievements recognized in real-time, making the annual review a summary of discussions you've already had. It also allows for continuous improvement.

Develop your feedback skills

Your ability to deliver constructive, actionable feedback is an important part of being a manager. Consider training or workshops to refine your feedback techniques. 

You can also sign up to Waggle and use its AI features to sit in on one on one meetings and coach you on the skills you need to develop, including how you deliver feedback. It’s even customized to how you interact with each direct report. 

So if you repeatedly give great feedback to Sam but not Casey, you’ll know and be able to work through it.

Tailor the process

Understand that your team is unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach to performance appraisals might not be the best fit.

Customize the review process to suit the specific needs, roles, and objectives of your team. This might mean adjusting how you set goals, the frequency of reviews, or the criteria on which performance is evaluated.

Encourage employee reflection

Ask your team members to assess their own performance. This helps with their self-awareness and professional development and gives you additional insights into their perspectives, challenges, and aspirations.

Shift the focus to development

Reframe performance reviews as development discussions. Instead of only looking back, focus on the future.

Set clear, achievable goals and identify opportunities for training, mentoring, or new projects that align with each team member's career path.

Gather feedback on the review process

After completing the review cycle, ask for feedback on the process itself, both from your team and from your own reflections. This feedback is invaluable for making iterative improvements to ensure the review process remains relevant, fair, and beneficial.

Feel free to share these reflections with HR. They can use them to improve the process for the entire company. 

Should you use AI to write a performance review?

Tools like ChatGPT have streamlined a lot of tasks for a lot of people. But should the performance review process be one of those tasks?

It’s tempting and we’ve seen on LinkedIn that it has been happening. But our answer is no, unless you have a dedicated app for it approved by your company’s IT team. 

And our reasoning is that it’s far too risky. You’re essentially handing over confidential company and employee data to the AI database which can then be used to further train the AI’s model. 

If you really want to use AI, ask it to give you effective and well written performance review examples, but do not feed any of your own data into it. 

That way, along with this guide, you’ll have examples and structures you can follow when writing your own employee reviews. 

Common pitfalls to avoid when writing performance reviews

An employee performance review is a critical part of being a manager but there are common pitfalls that can undermine their effectiveness.

Being aware of these can help you conduct more balanced, fair, and productive evaluations:

Focusing only on recent performance

We mentioned recency bias earlier but want to call it out specifically in its own section. Recency bias can result in an evaluation that overlooks significant contributions or issues from earlier in the review period. 

Make sure to collect performance feedback from across the entire period to prevent recency bias from creeping in.

Letting personal or unconscious biases influence the review

Personal and unconscious biases can distort an objective assessment of an employee's performance. 

Whether it's favoritism, stereotyping, or any other bias, it's crucial to recognize and mitigate these influences. Focus on concrete achievements, behaviors, and outcomes rather than subjective impressions. 

Tools and training on recognizing and managing biases can also be valuable resources for managers.

Overlooking the employee’s strengths

While identifying areas for improvement is important, failing to recognize and celebrate an employee's strengths can demotivate and disengage them.

Ensure that performance reviews are balanced, highlighting what employees do well and how their strengths contribute to the team and organizational goals. This not only affirms the value of their contributions but also encourages continued excellence.

Failing to set clear expectations for future performance

A performance review should not only assess past performance but also set clear expectations for the future.

Without clear expectations, employees may be unclear about how to direct their efforts, which can hinder their development and impact overall team performance. 

Setting these expectations helps align individual goals with those of the team and the broader organization, providing a clear roadmap for future success.


What is a performance review?

A performance review is a formal assessment where a manager evaluates an employee's work performance, identifies strengths and weaknesses, provides feedback for future development, and sets goals for progress.

It's a crucial part of the employee development process, aimed at enhancing individual and team performance, fostering growth, and aligning individual achievements with the company's objectives.

How do you write a good performance review example?

Writing a good performance review for your direct reports involves a balanced mix of positive feedback, constructive criticism, and future goal setting. It should follow the AID framework (Action, Impact, Development) and the Skill Will Matrix.

You could have in depth examples outlined in a table format that ‘checks off’ where employees met or didn’t meet performance expectations with feedback. 

We included an example of this in an earlier section titled: Tip 7: Draft the review objectively to the AID framework.

How do I start writing a performance review?

  1. Gather Data: Begin by collecting information on the employee's performance. This includes project outcomes, milestones achieved, feedback from colleagues, and any previous goals set.
  2. Evaluate Performance: Compare the gathered data against the expected outcomes, responsibilities, and goals for the role. Identify areas of strength and areas for improvement.
  3. Draft Feedback: Start with positive achievements and strengths. Recognize specific contributions and successes. Then, move on to areas for improvement, providing clear examples and actionable advice.
  4. Set Goals: Discuss future objectives and how they align with the employee's career aspirations and the company's needs. These should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
  5. Open Dialogue: Begin the review meeting by affirming the purpose of the discussion is developmental. Encourage open dialogue and ensure the employee feels heard and understood throughout the process.

How do I fill out a performance review form?

Some companies will supply official forms with specific questions and sections outlined for you.

Here’s how you can fill them out so that it results in an effective performance review:

  1. Review the Form Structure: Before you start, understand the layout and questions of the form. Knowing the sections and type of information requested can help you organize your thoughts.
  2. Gather Documentation: Refer to notes, feedback, and data you've collected throughout the review period. This ensures your evaluation is based on specific examples and trends.
  3. Be Specific and Objective: Use concrete examples to illustrate points, whether you're praising achievements or noting areas for improvement. Avoid vague language that can lead to misunderstandings.
  4. Balance Strengths and Areas for Improvement: Highlight the employee's strengths and achievements while also identifying areas for growth. This balance is crucial for a constructive review.
  5. Provide Actionable Feedback: For areas needing improvement, offer clear suggestions on how to progress. This could include training, new projects, or behavior changes.
  6. Proofread and Reflect: Before submitting the form, review your comments to ensure they are clear, fair, and free of bias. Reflect on the overall message you're conveying and how it will be received. 

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