There are plenty of words and phrases that will immediately put a pit in any manager's stomach.

I'm overworked. I'm unhappy. I quit. 

There's another one that deserves a spot on the list: It's time for performance reviews.

At their worst, performance reviews are daunting, nerve-wracking, dreaded obligations — for managers and employees alike. At their best, they're frustrating inconveniences or seemingly trivial exercises that eat into the time everybody needs to do their real work. 

Yet employee performance reviews arrive on the calendar like clockwork. And if you're going to have to do these reviews anyway, you might as well make the most of them so that you and your direct reports can get as much value as possible out of this mandatory process. 

This guide has everything you need — including several different performance review templates — to make your performance reviews a little more beneficial (and a lot less bothersome). 

Do employee performance reviews actually matter?

Employee performance reviews have faced a lot of scrutiny in recent years, and a whopping 95% of managers admit that they're dissatisfied with the formal performance appraisals at their companies. 

Despite the groans and eyerolls (some of which are well-deserved), conducting formal employee performance evaluations offers a number of benefits for employees, managers, and the entire organization: 

  • Provide and receive regular feedback: 92% of employees say that they want to receive feedback more than once per year. They crave guidance and information, and frequent performance reviews (i.e, not just annual ones) provide a reliable and regular opportunity to offer employees insight into their strengths and weaknesses, skills and areas for improvement.
  • Highlight growth opportunities: Even if the review process feels daunting, 64% of employees say they receive helpful feedback from their performance evaluation — they get their hands on information that helps them learn and grow within their careers. Plus, when 49% of employees say they want to develop their skills but don't know where to begin, these feedback conversations are a chance for managers to understand their direct reports' career desires and help them hash out plans for their professional development.
  • Clarify expectations: Only about half of employees strongly agree that they know what's expected of them at work. While review conversations are focused on performance, they also involve reiterating goals, responsibilities, and expectations. That means workers have a better understanding of what success looks like in their role — and how they can advance and set goals if they're eager to do so.
  • Solicit feedback: Performance reviews aren't about one-sided evaluations, reprimands, and punishments. They should be two-sided dialogues with an aim to make your team as effective and efficient as it can be. That means performance evaluations are also a chance for you to collect insights and opinions about how you can be even more supportive and impactful as a manager.

While employee performance reviews might involve some hard-to-hear constructive criticism and some anxiety-inducing discussion points, they're a valuable opportunity to build trust, offer support, and ultimately work toward a high-performing team and organization. 

Acing performance management: Six tips to help employees thrive

Your performance reviews go a long way in encouraging your employees to reach their full potential — provided you do them right.

Before we get into the performance review examples and templates, here are a few best practices to keep in mind as you tackle the review process: 

1. Prioritize continuous feedback

For feedback to be effective, it needs to be a core component of your culture — not something that happens once or twice each year. 

That's likely why annual performance reviews are falling by the wayside in some companies and industries. Formal performance evaluations absolutely still have their time and place, but they shouldn't be the only time your employees are getting your insight. 

Nothing that comes up in the review should be a surprise. You should be offering feedback regularly and not saving it all for review time. 

2. Set a positive tone

Performance reviews feel nerve-wracking for you as the manager, but even more so for your employees.

To ease some of those butterflies, frame the conversation positively. It's a chance for them to learn, grow, and improve — and not a chance for you to dish out criticism, highlight their mistakes, or make them feel unworthy. 

3. Offer examples

For any piece of feedback you offer, be prepared to give a tangible, real-life example of that behavior or skill. 

Rather than saying, "I'd like to see you speak up more in team meetings," say something like, "I know you had tons of great ideas about how to improve our work intake process, which you emailed to me after a team meeting. The entire team could benefit from hearing your suggestions, so I'd like to see you work on speaking up more in team meetings rather than saving all of your contributions for afterwards." 

This helps you go beyond generalities and provide specifics, which is far more impactful for employees. 

4. Provide a written review ahead of time

For "traditional" reviews ( when managers provide feedback to their direct reports), it's smart to do a written portion and provide that feedback document to the employee ahead of any conversation. 

When you do meet, you're both equipped to have a productive back-and-forth dialogue about the comments you provided, as the employee has already had a chance to digest those remarks and come up with questions. 

Plus, this approach makes your meeting feel like more of a collaborative effort and less of an interrogation. 

5. Clearly detail action items

Employees are faced with an avalanche of information during performance reviews that can feel overwhelming. Much like with any other meeting, cap off your conversation by clearly highlighting action items. Employees should walk out of their reviews with no doubts about what steps they're expected to take next. 

6. Ask for feedback

Performance reviews are often synonymous with offering feedback, but it's also your chance to collect information about your employees' goals, frustrations, and experiences — as well as how you can improve as a leader.

Four employee performance review templates

Now that you've laid the groundwork, you're ready to move forward with your performance reviews. While providing feedback to a direct report is likely the first thing that springs to mind, that's not the only type of review that exists. 

Below, we're digging into four unique types of employee perfomance reviews, why they're beneficial, and when to do them — along with some employee evaluation templates to help make the process a little bit easier.  

1. Self-reviews

What this type of performance review is: Employees are given questionnaires or are provided with prompts to reflect on their own work, goals, and challenges. As the name implies, they're reviewing themselves — and they often follow that up by discussing their remarks with their manager. 

When this type of review happens: Usually every quarter or twice per year. Self-reviews typically happen alongside the more "traditional" employer review, so that that feedback can be compared to see if the manager and direct report have similar perceptions of the work that's being done.

Why this type of review matters: Reviews don't have to mean constantly handing down instructions from on high. 

This type of review gives employees a chance to be more introspective, think through their own progress and experiences, and identify other career ambitions they want to pursue.

How to conduct this type of review: Provide each employee with a questionnaire or template to fill out. It will include various questions that they should answer about their role, skills, achievements, and more. 

Make sure to give them adequate time (at least a week) to complete the questionnaire before any follow-up conversations are scheduled to discuss their answers. This isn't something you want them to rush through. 

Performance review template for self-reviews: Not sure how to get your employees' wheels turning? This template will provide some inspiration for what you should be asking.

Question: Employee's Answer:
Your name:  
Your job title:  
What do you consider to be the primary responsibilities of your role?  
What do you like most about your current role?  
What would you like to change about your current role?  
Which of your job responsibilities excite and energize you?  
Which of your job responsibilities make you feel drained and depleted?  
What achievement are you most proud of from the past [number] months?  
What's the most difficult situation you've faced at work in the past [number] months?  
On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent), how would you rate your performance since your last review or check-in?  
What skills would you like to work on building ahead of your next evaluation?  
What goals would you like to work toward ahead of your next evaluation?  
How can your manager support you in achieving those goals?  
Is there anything else you'd like your manager to know?  

2. Peer reviews

What this type of performance review is: Colleagues who work regularly or closely with an employee are asked to review their coworker's performance, skills, and contributions. 

When this type of review happens: Usually annually or twice per year. Again, it's often a piece of a more complete performance review process (something you might hear referred to as "360 degree feedback") where employees do self-reviews and also receive remarks from their managers, their colleagues, and, if they're in leadership positions, their direct reports. 

Why this type of review matters: Managers don't always have direct, hands-on insight into how employees are doing. Colleagues who work closely with other team members are sometimes better able to give more in-depth, specific, and helpful feedback to their fellow teammates. 

How to conduct this type of review: Employees will receive one questionnaire per coworker that they need to review. It's up to you to decide whether this feedback will be anonymous or not. Employees might feel more comfortable being candid if they know their name isn't attached to their comments, but it could also send the message that honest feedback is something that should be secretive. It might be worth asking your team what they'd prefer between anonymous and direct peer feedback. 

Performance review template for peer reviews: Here's a short template that can help guide your direct reports as they reflect on the skills and contributions of their team members. 

Question: Employee's Answer:
This peer feedback is for:  
What does this colleague do particularly well?  
What areas could this colleague improve?  
What sets this colleague apart from other members of the team?  
What company values does this colleague embody?  
What three words would you use to describe this colleague?  
Is there anything else you'd like this colleague to know?  

3. Team performance reviews

What this type of performance review is: Rather than focusing on individual employees, this type of review looks at the team as a unit to understand how it's functioning and what areas need to be improved. 

When this type of review happens: A formal team review can happen annually or twice per year. But more likely than not, you're regularly having a lot of these conversations during project retrospectives and other opportunities when you and your team reflect on your work together.

Why this type of review matters: Nobody works in complete isolation, and team members need to collaborate effectively to get work accomplished. 

Team reviews are your chance to take a magnifying glass to your entire team and identify what's working well and what needs to be changed.

How to conduct this type of review: You have some flexibility to approach this in a way that works best for you and your team. 

You could provide a questionnaire for employees to fill out independently in their own time. You could pull everybody together for a candid discussion and work through these questions together. 

Or you could do a combination of both and have team members fill out the questionnaires independently, pool the feedback, and then come together to discuss the results and findings. Again, you might want to ask your team about their preferred approach. 

Performance review template for team reviews: This performance review template can help you go beyond individual performance and get a more holistic view of how your entire team is functioning.

Question: Employee's or Team's Answer:
Team or department:  
What areas does our team excel in?  
What areas does our team struggle with?  
Are there any important skills you think our team is missing?  
Can you provide an example of a time or project when our team worked well together?  
Can you provide an example of a time or project when our team struggled to work together?  
Are there any team processes that seem bloated or broken?  
On a scale of 1 (very uncomfortable) to 5 (very comfortable), how comfortable are you voicing your ideas and feedback to the team?  
Which company values do you think our team embodies best?  
Which company values do you think our team needs to work on?  
Is there anything else you'd like to share?  

4. Employer reviews 

What this type of performance review is: This is the "traditional" type of review that likely comes to mind when you think about performance reviews. It involves a manager providing feedback to a direct report. 

When this type of review happens: Quarterly or twice per year. 

But remember that regular feedback should also be provided during one-on-ones with team members so that nothing feels unexpected during the review period . It should build upon conversations you've already had.

Why this type of review matters: As the employee's manager, you're the one ultimately responsible for guiding and shaping their development. 

Employees say that the most meaningful recognition comes from their own manager. These reviews are a chance for you to prove to employees that you're invested in their experiences, their growth, and their success.

How to conduct this type of review: You should complete the written portion of the employee's review first and provide that document to them. Give them a chance to review and come up with questions so that you can talk through your feedback. 

As you work through this, ensure that your employee evaluation form isn't overwhelmingly negative but that you aren't sugarcoating things, either. Harvard Business Review research has found that six positive comments for every negative one is the most effective balance. 

It's not about cushioning the blows, but rather about proving that this is a development conversation — and not a firing squad. 

Performance review template for employer reviews: Below is a performance review template that you can complete for each of your employees and then share with them ahead of your one-on-one review conversation. 

Question: Manager's Answer:
Employee's name:  
Employee's job title:  
  5 (Exemplary) 4 (Above Average) 3 (Average) 2 (Below Average) 1 (Poor)
Communication skills          
Conflict resolution          
Problem solving           
Team player           
Time management          
Overall performance          
Question: Manager's Answer:
What goals has the employee met since the last evaluation?  
What goals did the employee fall short of?  
What are the employee's key strengths?  
What are one or two areas of improvement for the employee?   
What value does this employee bring to the team and overall organization?   
What key skills would you like to see the employee develop?  
What is an example of a specific task or project the employee excelled in?   
What goals would you like to see the employee work toward ahead of the next evaluation?  
Is there anything else you'd like to share?   

Wrike can help you manage your team (and so much more)

Performance reviews are important — but they aren't the end of the road. In fact, they're the starting point. 

You'll use your performance reviews to identify areas of improvement. Then it's your job as the manager to keep employees moving in the right direction through clear responsibilities and action items, motivating goals, and all of the resources they need to achieve those targets. 

Wrike can help you do all of that (and more) by:

  • Providing visibility into your team's projects, tasks, and deadlines
  • Boosting transparency and trust across your entire team
  • Giving you templates you can use for performance management, work intake, and more
  • Centralizing communication so you can always get the context you need
  • Equipping you with metrics and examples to provide data-backed performance reviews

In short, you'll have a much easier time monitoring progress and completing your performance reviews if you have a single source of truth to turn to for updates and information. 

Wrike makes it that much easier to keep your finger on the pulse of how your entire team — and each individual member — is doing so that you can transform review conversations from problematic and sweaty-palm-inducing to positive and productive. 

Ready to help your team achieve their peak potential? Get started with Wrike today