NextGen Know-How: How to Write an Effective, Meaningful Performance Evaluation

manager discussing performance evaluation with employee team member
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence LLC

4 minutes

Follow these six guidelines to ensure your next round of employee evaluations are engaging and productive for everyone involved.

Performance evaluations are one of the most dreaded practices in any organization. Employees fear them because they don’t know what to expect, and managers often avoid them because they feel ill-prepared. Evaluations take time, effort and planning, and many managers feel they don’t have the time.

However, when the performance evaluation process is done correctly, it can be meaningful and effective. Employees need consistent and ongoing feedback to work at their peak potential.

An important part of a leader’s job is to manage the performance of employees. This means providing coaching, clarity around expectations and timely and meaningful feedback; developing employees to higher levels of performance; and, when necessary, facilitating difficult conversations.

Most employees want to do a good job. To be effective, they need consistent information to adjust their performance. An evaluation is essentially formal feedback, the purpose of which is to give the employee information to better their performance or to encourage the employee to continue excellent performance.

Evaluating Performance Is a Process, Not an Event 

Managers should provide constructive feedback to each employee on a regular basis. The formal evaluation is a written record of what has already been discussed throughout the year. This means you need to be holding regular coaching and feedback sessions with your employees as well as giving them on-the-spot recognition and feedback. There should be no surprises for employees when they receive their annual evaluation.

Therefore, the best way to set yourself up for success when writing performance evaluations is to document performance throughout the year. If you use a performance log, it will be much easier to create an effective, meaningful evaluation.

Here are some guidelines for writing the performance evaluation:

  1. Information shouldn’t be a surprise.
  2. Be factual; be careful with perceptions. For example:
    • Perception: You don’t seem engaged in the team meetings.
    • Observable: I’ve noticed you are frequently on your phone during meetings and have only spoken up once in a meeting this past year. In the coming year, please be present in each meeting so that you can engage and share ideas and suggestions. You have a wealth of industry knowledge, and your ideas and leadership presence have an impact on the team.
  3. Be specific (including dates, observable behaviors, examples and statistics).
  4. Avoid the phrases “always” and “never.” Focus on performance, not character:
    • “You’re always late.” (judging a person’s character)
    • “You have been late four times in the past two months.” (specific behavior)
  5. Describe the impact of a behavior and what you are looking for after you cite a development opportunity. Paint the picture of what you want to see in the future.
  6. Provide suggestions for improvement.

A best practice for writing performance evaluations is to include a combination of documenting specific performance from the previous year and language that shares what you expect in the coming year. This makes the evaluation a balance of previous performance and future expectations, which is more meaningful and actionable.

A helpful phrase is “In the coming year ...”

For example:

As we discussed in our November coaching session, you have been making repeated mistakes when you submit wires to the accounting department, which causes a delay for the member and more work for your coworkers. For example, on Oct. 21, you wrote an incorrect ABA number, resulting in the wire being delayed by one day. On Oct. 30, you deducted the wire amount from the wrong account, which caused overdrafts on the other member’s account and a delay in the wire being sent. On Nov. 2, you deducted the wrong amount from the member’s account, resulting in the wire being sent back from accounting and subsequently delaying the wire transfer.

We discussed these errors in our coaching session on Nov. 15, and you committed to double-checking your wires before they are sent to accounting. This has resulted in the reduction of errors and better service to our members. I am confident that our continued focus on accuracy will ensure that our members receive the best service, which includes timely wire transfers. In the coming year, I would like to see you improve your level of accuracy by making no mistakes on wire transfers. 

Planning & Planting Seeds 

Planning for the performance evaluation meeting should start much earlier than most leaders think. Most of the challenges and stress leaders feel around this process have to do with poor planning.

Now is the time to start planting the seeds and planning for a successful performance evaluation season. The bulk of preparation is documenting performance throughout the year and writing the evaluation.

60% is planning: documenting performance, scheduling the evaluation meetings, preparing your employees and writing the evaluation.

40% is delivery: framing the conversation, engaging the employee in the discussion, and facilitating the goal-setting and plan for the year.

The performance evaluation process does not have to be dreadful. With proper preparation, you can use this practice to have a productive, meaningful conversation with your employee. In next month’s column, I will share best practices for facilitating an engaging, productive performance evaluation meeting.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

Compass Subscription