How to Use Key Phrases in Performance Reviews & Appraisals

February 13, 2023
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Performance reviews are an incredibly useful tool for both employees and their managers, but it’s important to get them right. As a line manager, you should conduct regular performance reviews so that each worker’s successes, failures and opportunities can be raised as soon as they happen. Whilst many performance reviews are positive and full of praise, sometimes they’re required in order to manage poor staff performance. Consider this a type of problem-solving: you need to act quick­ly, be assertive and approach the situation with the right mindset to help the person make changes and improve. 

In this article, we’ll define what key phrases refer to, why they are so important in performance reviews and provide you with a list of examples for inspiration.

What are Helpful Phrases for a Performance Review?

Key phrases are important in order to communicate feedback to employees during a performance review and encourage them to develop, progress and learn. Whether you’re communicating praise and positive feedback, offering constructive criticism or providing encouragement and motivation, using key phrases can help you to stay on message and communicate clearly and effectively.

During a performance review, the way you talk to your employees is extremely important. Employees may be feeling anxious about a review meeting, which is perfectly natural, so setting them at ease by using some helpful performance review phrases will generate better outcomes and make it easier for you to discuss what needs discussing. By setting a tone of partnership and collaboration, without judgement, you will both achieve better results.

The most helpful phrases for a performance review: 

  • Focus on one central issue. 
  • Focus on real-life situations and evidence, not assumptions or interpretations.
  • Avoid referencing a person’s character or personality traits.
  • Frame any issues as a concern, rather than an attack or failure.
  • Consider any hurdles as a common problem, rather than pointing a finger and assigning blame.
  • Ask employees to raise and clarify their own thoughts.
  • Use open questions that encourage a free response, not closed questions that prompt a certain answer – i.e., ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers only.
  • Promote a growth mindset in the employee.

Whilst it’s useful to use key phrases in your performance reviews, it’s also important to consider how you tailor your approach to each individual. Key phrases can be a helpful way to structure a review, but an individualised approach is most effective. So, avoid simply using generic, one-size-fits-all phrases and remember to tailor them to the individual.

This is particularly important if you consider how the review process differs depending on the circumstances of each employee. For example, it’s unlikely that you’d want to use the same format or questions for employees who are excelling as you would for those who need improvement.

Why are Key Phrases Important for Employee Reviews?

Performance reviews are a significant part of any employee’s development journey, which is why it’s vital to get them right by using key phrases. Key phrases can bring many benefits to employee reviews, for both the manager and the employee, because they can help to:

  • Boost productivity.
  • Increase pride in the company.
  • Reduce the likelihood of burnout.
  • Make time for managers to give thanks and boost morale for the year ahead.
  • Allow employees to air any grievances.
  • Alert managers to potential problems.
  • Create better relations between managers and employees.
  • Facilitate discussions about training and development needs.
  • Nurture and improve workplace culture.

Furthermore, using the right phrasing in performance reviews is essential if you want to provide your employees with clear, actionable feedback. To ensure your feedback is always constructive and useful, no matter whether you’re praising someone, offering advice or encouraging them, use the ‘BOOST‘ model to structure what you say.

BOOST ensures that the feedback you give is:

  • Balanced – focus on both the strengths and weaknesses of the person.
  • Observed – base your feedback on what you have actually seen them do using real-life examples, not what you assume they’ve done.
  • Objective – focus on actions they can take to improve and work together to come up with a solution.
  • Specific – backup all of your comments with specific examples, whether positive or constructive.
  • Timely – give feedback as soon as possible after the event you’re referring to.

By using the right key phrases, you’ll also be able to motivate your employees. To do this, you need to speak genuinely and truly mean what you say, as people can easily pick up on the emotions or intentions behind your words if you’re not saying them sincerely. Furthermore, use positive phrases to focus on things that you and the employee can do, rather than what they can’t, and think about how you can turn a problem into an opportunity to learn. Finally, be sure to address your employees directly using words like ‘you’ and ‘your’, as this builds rapport and trust, as does terminology that emphasises the importance of teamwork, such as ‘together’, ‘let’s’, ‘us’, and ‘we’.

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Examples of Performance Review Phrases

The sections below provide you with a few ideas of key phrases that you can use in your performance reviews to improve efficiency and results. 

Remember, you don’t need to stick to these phrases like a script – instead, use these as inspiration and tailor them according to each specific employee you speak to, using real-life examples of when they’ve demonstrated each point.

Performance Review Phrases for Quality of Work

Quality of work refers to how well the employee has met your expectations and standards in terms of their goals and/or objectives. Have they performed their role seamlessly and gone above and beyond? Or have they missed some key tasks and therefore have room for improvement?

Positive performance review phrases examples:

  • You have excelled at the set objective/goal/task/etc.
  • I can see you have a growth mindset and have worked hard to improve your quality of work, for example…
  • You have matched/exceeded the set expectations/my expectations.
  • You’ve gone above and beyond and done more than was expected of you, for example…
  • You’ve made a substantial contribution to the company, for example…
  • I appreciate the hard work you’ve put in.
  • I am very grateful for your time and effort on this objective/goal.
  • Your efforts have been noticed by senior management/the CEO/the client.

Constructive performance review phrases examples:

  • I can see that you struggle to break down more complex issues, such as…, and have a suggestion for how to improve.
  • I can see that you struggle to convey your ideas, such as…
  • Unfortunately, you have missed some key deadlines, such as…, would it help if we provide you with tools, such as…
  • I’ve noticed that you often make errors, such as… and have an idea of how I can help you with this.
  • I can see you don’t always reach my expectations for you, perhaps we could try…
  • Help me to understand why your quality of work isn’t as good as it could be.
  • I appreciate the effort you’ve put in, so help me to recognise where you need support.
  • Tell me about this objective/goal that wasn’t met, why do you think that happened?
  • I can see you need to improve on your communication/timekeeping/etc, is there something we can do differently to help you?
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Top Tip

You may encounter an employee wanting to discuss a potential promotion during a performance review and there are certain ways that you can respond if this is the case. If a decision has already been made to promote the employee, then tell them straight away. If you’re yet to make a decision, then be open with your employee about this and, if a promotion isn’t likely, be honest and explain to them clearly why this is the case.

Performance Review Phrases for Teamwork

Teamwork means how well your employee has worked with others, whether in their own team or across the whole business. It encompasses their relationships with their peers, how well they listen to others and how they make others feel respected and included.

Positive performance review phrases examples:

  • You are always happy to ask for others’ opinions.
  • You collaborate well cross-functionally, such as…
  • I can see you have strong relationships with your peers and are respected by them.
  • Your efforts have improved others’ work/wellbeing/etc, for example…
  • You aren’t afraid to encourage collaboration between employees.
  • You are respectful of others and listen to their ideas.
  • I can see that you communicate effectively, for example…
  • You have demonstrated respect for other team members’ strengths and acceptance of their weaknesses.
  • You have a clear understanding of the team objective/goal and everyone’s roles within that.
  • You are willing to share knowledge and expertise with others.
  • It’s helpful to me that you try to ensure the team has the support it needs to complete work.

Constructive performance review phrases examples:

  • Sometimes you are less willing to share your expertise with others, is there anything we can do to help you improve on this?
  • I can see that you struggle to offer encouragement or feedback to your peers, tell me about what’s holding you back.
  • I see that you find it hard to ask others for help, why might that be?
  • It’s been raised with me that sometimes you interrupt others or don’t respect their opinions, for example…., talk to me about this? How can I help?
  • It would be beneficial to improve your active listening skills when working with others, for example I’ve noticed that… let’s look at some tips to help with this.
  • Help me to understand the way you see team achievements, as often you talk about ‘I’ and ‘me’ rather than ‘we’ – is there anything we can do to help improve the team dynamics so you feel more included?
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Top Tip

Emotional intelligence is about recognising and understanding why people behave as they do and knowing how to respond to them appropriately. Emotional intelligence in the workplace is a vital aspect of teamwork and an area in which you may want to encourage employees to develop if you can see that they’re struggling to work with or support others.

Performance Review Phrases for Accountability

Accountability refers to how well an employee has taken responsibility for their work and their actions. This might include owning up to errors and taking on board feedback, but also their desire to develop and learn how to be better.

Positive performance review phrases examples:

  • It’s great that you regularly ask for others’ opinions/360 degree feedback as this is very beneficial to your professional and personal development.
  • I can see that you regularly ask for help and want to understand and learn, for example…
  • You take on board the feedback that you receive.
  • You have a growth mindset and seek new experiences and knowledge to share with others, such as…
  • You are able to come up with creative solutions to problems, such as…
  • I appreciate your ability to delegate well, such as when you…
  • It’s great that you’re able to own up to your mistakes, such as….

Constructive performance review phrases examples:

  • I can see that you struggle to delegate/manage delegated work/etc, how can I help you to improve this?
  • It’s come to my attention that you can sometimes forget tasks/miss deadlines/not provide updates on work/etc, tell me about this, why do you think it might be happening?
  • I’m aware that you often demonstrate a closed mindset and believe you can never get things right/do well/achieve the goal/etc, how do you think you can work on this?
  • I see that you struggle to take responsibility for mistakes, shall we look at how this can be improved on?
  • I want to make sure you understand my expectations, is there anything you’re not clear about that could be resulting in poor performance? How can I make things easier for you?
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Top Tip

You may experience an employee wanting to discuss their pay during a performance review as a result of them feeling as though their level of responsibility or accountability entitles them to more money or a promotion. You should address this point immediately at the start of the review, and let them know that performance reviews are one of the factors that contribute towards pay increases. If appropriate, you can also tell them that a separate meeting will be scheduled to discuss pay after the review is complete.

Performance Review Phrases for Leadership

Leadership refers either to how capable an employee has been at leading their own team or which skills they’ve shown that prove they’d be a competent leader in the future.

Positive performance review phrases examples:

  • It’s great that you resolved a problem with the objective/goal/etc, by doing…
  • You’re capable of identifying solutions and have a willingness to overcome issues.
  • You’ve successfully brought the team together and motivated others, such as when you…
  • You have a positive attitude to change and have shown flexibility, for example…
  • You are able to maintain composure in face of challenges, which is a great leadership quality.
  • You recgonise the value of coaching your peers/team and can provide continuous feedback to others/take a sincere interest in others/etc.
  • I’m impressed with the way you promote the company culture and live the company values, such as…

Constructive performance review phrases examples:

  • I’ve noticed that you can be unwilling to listen to the ideas of others and sometimes take a ‘my way or highway approach’, is there anything I can do to help you listen better?
  • I can see that you struggle to find solutions if there are problems with your work/team/goal/etc. Tell me why this area is difficult for you.
  • Help me to understand more about why this deadline was missed/you became frustrated with this change/etc.
  • Coaching is important for your team and I can see this is an area you need to improve in, let’s work together and come up with a solution.
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Top Tip

If you have an employee who’s looking to improve their leadership capabilities, then training them up in coaching and mentoring skills is a great place to start. Consider our articles on How to Develop Coaching and Mentoring Skills or 10 Development Areas for Managers which can help give you and your employee some ideas to get them started on their journey towards a promotion.

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