Using Key Phrases in Performance Reviews & Appraisals

December 29, 2016
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The Problem with Generic Phrases

The internet has lists and lists of generic performance review phrases ripe for managers who just need to insert X employee name here, Y there.

However, let this be said:

Average managers depend on generic phrases to do the review for them. Great managers make the review process work harder.

Do your reviews wrong and you might as well not do it because poor, half-baked reviews lead to resentment among staff, a loss of morale and productivity and bad employee-manager relations.

The benefits of an excellent performance review:

  • Boost productivity.
  • Increase pride in the company.
  • Reduce the likelihood of burn-out.
  • Make time for managers to give thanks and boost morale for the year ahead.
  • Allow employees to air 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.

If you’re free to dictate how you should carry out your appraisal process, I’d suggest writing down the key issues you need to discuss and orientating around them rather than sticking to a script.

A positive relationship between manager and employee


When Should I Use Employee Appraisal Phrases?

Structured phrases are there for you to lean on when the conversation gets tricky. Think of them like acting cues; those few words to help you get the conversation back on track or guide you towards the rest of the sentence.

Use them to guide you into a tricky topic or refocus if things veer off track.

Don’t rely on a script for your performance reviews like “Thomas has excellent time keeping skills” because who cares? It won’t have the same impact on employee morale and motivation as a simple thank you.

Try “Tom, I want to thank you for always being prompt this year. Your schedule has been excellent,” instead because thanks is better than a meaningless statement packed with buzzwords.

Use review phrases when the going gets tough – they’re your life raft.

A bamboo life raft on choppy waters


How Should I Use Performance Review Phrases?

Use appraisal phrases to frame constructive feedback as a collaborative process that is free from personal judgement.

If you’re reviewing an excellent employee, don’t feel like you have to give them constructive criticism. If you want to say thanks, just say it. But for those times when you do need to address concerns, here’s how to do it…

  • Don’t discuss character traits or your assumptions – only real data.

So Emily’s customer service isn’t up to scratch, and you need to discuss it. In your view she’s lazy. But you don’t know the bigger picture so don’t make assumptions or offer your analysis of her behaviour.

Getting personal causes employees to switch off or become emotional.

  • Focus on one central issue. 

Instead of using the sandwich technique, lay out the big objective problem. Employees who need to improve should come away with one key message because one message feels doable and many criticisms can overwhelm employees and cause frustration.

  • Frame it as a concern.

Raising an issue as a concern allows you to be candid about what’s wrong but also remain respectful.

  • Ask employees to clarify their thoughts.

Provide them with your objective data and then ask for their thoughts, instead of offering your perspective.

For example, “Emily, I’m concerned about the quality levels your calls have been receiving. Can you tell me what’s going on here?”

Once you’ve said this, wait out any silence, this is their problem first and foremost.

  •  Consider it a common problem.

Setting a tone of partnership has the greatest chance of making employees really listen and act on constructive feedback because they feel like they’ve taken an active role during the appraisal.

Setting a tone of partnership in the performance review


Performance Appraisal Phrases

With all that in mind, the only performance review phrases you need to remember are the following prompts:

  1. I’m concerned about [insert objective data].
  2. Can you tell me why you think this has happened?
  3. How can we improve [insert objective data]?

How Should I Respond if Employees Ask for a Promotion?

If your employee wants to discuss a promotion during the appraisal, there are three ways to respond. A bad move here can demotivate employees or create false hope.

First, if a decision has been made and it’s concrete then, go ahead and tell them. This gets that out of the way, and it means they won’t be distracted during the rest of the review.

Second, if you’re yet to make decisions about promotions, tell them this. Make sure you state how the review is a useful tool for managers to decide on promotions. Then focus on discussing how they’ve worked this year and what could make them ready for a promotion. If you take this route, you should schedule a follow-up meeting to make a plan for how they’ll take on more responsibility and prove their ready for a promotion and more responsibility.

Third, if a promotion isn’t on the cards and you can’t see one happening. Be clear about why not. It’s not right to string employees along, and it leads to resentment.

Asking for a promotion during a performance review


What if Employees Ask for a Pay Rise?

If an employee wants to discuss pay during their performance review, address it immediately and firmly set the issue aside.

Inform them that the performance review is one of the ways that pay increases are decided and that meetings will be scheduled to discuss wages after all the reviews are complete. Make sure you address this as soon as it arises otherwise your employee will switch off.


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