Skip to content

Performance appraisal tips: The phrase leaders need to use


As a business leader, you understand the importance of performance appraisals. In fact, you’re probably tasked with the annual event of completing a competency-based appraisal for each of your employees.

But have you given much thought to how you’re phrasing your words as you interact with your team members throughout the performance review cycle?

The way you talk to employees about their performance is critical. In fact, the number one reason employees say they dread performance reviews is poor communication, according to Inc. magazine.

So, what can you do to improve this communication?

There’s one phrase in performance appraisals that  you should be using repeatedly : “For example.”

Here’s how you can use this powerful performance appraisal phrase to transform your process.

Get set up for success

Let’s start with the basics. Competencies in the context of performance appraisals are the skills or attitudes your employees need to possess if you want your company to get ahead. These traits might be things like dependability, adaptability or professionalism.

However, for competency-based performance appraisals to be effective, these competencies must be explained to each individual employee from the beginning.

If you can’t explain a competency to an employee, they aren’t going to be able to exemplify it. Employees must clearly understand what success will look like in their position.

For example, what does the employee need to do to be “adaptable” in their specific role? This may be different for someone who works in shipping as compared to someone in payroll.

These competencies should also be measurable. For instance, you shouldn’t define a competency with something as vague as “be a team player.” It’s too subjective to be measured on a performance review scale.

You should always have an idea of what a competency means and how it will be rated on an individual level – and be prepared to give examples ahead of time.

In the example above, a better competency description might be “demonstrate effective teamwork through collaboration.”

You could then say: “One competency we will measure is whether you exhibit effective teamwork. For example, we’ll review how you work with others by analyzing whether you achieved the objectives outlined and got projects completed on time when collaborating.”

By including the phrase “for example” in your performance appraisal, you provide more depth into the employee’s understanding of how to master the competency outlined.

Keep in mind that you should not only explain your expectation, but you should also provide insight into how to reach beyond the standard. How can your employee exceed expectations?

In this case, you might say, “For example, if you complete collaborative projects fully and on deadline, you’re meeting your job requirements. To achieve the highest rating, we’d expect that you’re completing your projects ahead of schedule and with positive results.”

Tackle your performance appraisals with tact

Examples should be used not only as you’re explaining how competencies will be measured at the beginning of the cycle, but also as you rate employees at the end of the performance review cycle.

When you review the rating for an employee’s competency level, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you able to support your rating with two to three specific examples?
  2. Are you able to adjust those examples to convey how achieving a higher rating would have been exhibited?

Most companies don’t do a very good job of explaining performance appraisal rating systems, which is why they tend to be dreaded by managers and employees alike.

As a result, employees often end up thinking that a score of five is great, while a score of three is dismal. That might not be the case, so an explanation with examples is key.

For example, if you have a five-point scale, what does it mean to get a rating of three? For some companies, a three rating might indicate that an employee meets job requirements, while a five rating means they go above and beyond on a daily basis.

Say you have a data analyst who completed all of her client reports accurately and on time while maintaining good client relationships. You rated that employee a three because she’s meeting job requirements.

You could then explain, “You did a great job of meeting your job requirements. But, if you want to be rated a four or five next year, it’d be helpful for you to anticipate client needs and be more proactive.

Then, you might follow that up with, “For example, when there’s a holiday coming up, let your client know when they’ll be receiving the report since you’ll be out of office on the usual day.”

When you’re able to give examples, it helps to reinforce that ratings aren’t arbitrary numbers selected or a subjective opinion. It shows that you’ve put some thought into why you’ve selected that rating.

It also identifies more clearly what they’ve been doing and how they need to change their behavior to receive a higher rating. It gives them a little more information to understand what you’re looking for, what needs to change, what they should keep doing, and how you expect them to grow.

Be ready for pushback on any negative feedback

If your employees are dissatisfied with the performance appraisal process, there’s usually only one reason behind it: Their rating isn’t as high as they believe it should be.

For instance, an employee might not agree that they deserve a two rating that indicates they’re not meeting job requirements. Part of having examples is that you’re able to provide reasoning behind a rating.

If you aren’t already doing so, be sure to keep a log to track both the good and the bad related to each employee. This can be as simple as keeping a list on an electronic document.

When you go into your review meeting, you can then pull from this list and bring up relevant examples that explain their score. Try to select examples from more recent events, if possible, as this will be easier for employees to recall (especially if you’re on an annual review cycle).

If you’re giving a lower rating, you might also want to have a couple more examples in your head (beyond what you’ve written down) to mention if the employee still disagrees.

In the end, some employees may still think their rating is too low. Keep in mind, there should be some room for disagreement in performance reviews.

Most performance review software allows employees to provide feedback in the comment section after a review. If you’re not using software, make sure there’s a method for employees to submit comments like these, so they feel their voice is heard and documented.

The payoff of an effective performance review

By using one simple phrase for performance appraisal, you’ll give employees a clearer understanding of the rating you’ve assigned to them for each competency. They’ll also have guidelines for how they can improve, which instills in the employee that the rating is fair, objective and constructive.

With a way to validate and structure your assessment and put your conclusions into action, your employees should be better equipped to reach your company goals (and their own as well).

Want more HR advice to help you build an A-list team? Download our complimentary e-book now: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.