A team-wide trip to the dentist or the DMV would probably be met with more enthusiasm than the email that reminds you it’s time for your performance review at work.
The performance review process can trigger a lot of anxiety and dread for both employees and managers — not to mention it’s yet another task to add to your seemingly never-ending to-do list.
But when these conversations are approached with care and intention, performance reviews aren’t just an obligation — they’re an opportunity to forge deeper relationships, reflect on contributions, and set yourself (and your entire team) up for even more success moving forward.
If that feels like a faraway finish line, we’re sharing some performance review best practices to help you transform this process from harrowing to helpful.
6 tips for writing a self-review (with examples)
A thorough performance review process will likely include at least two types of evaluations:
- Self-review: You complete a questionnaire to reflect on and rate your own performance
- Manager review: Your direct manager completes a questionnaire to rate your performance
Some organizations also collect feedback from other people you work closely with (called 360-degree feedback) to bring in different perspectives and round out the process.
The whole thing can be daunting, but the self review in particular feels like a tightrope walk. Should you sing your own praises, or lean into humility? It’s a difficult balance. Plus, most people struggle to make honest and accurate judgments of their own skills in the first place.
Here are some tips for writing a performance review for yourself, examples to guide you, and some other helpful reminders as you navigate the process.
1. Gather evidence that charts your path forward
Don’t assume your manager remembers every single one of your wins and contributions. They probably don’t, especially when remote or hybrid work might mean they have less visibility into what you’re doing day-to-day. Plus, research shows that humans tend to overestimate how much other people notice and retain our achievements.
That’s exactly why you’re completing a self-assessment — so you can shine the spotlight on all of the top-notch work you’ve done. But, chances are, even you don’t remember everything that’s worth calling attention to.
Start preparing early by digging up evidence and examples of what you’ve done since your last review. Take a peek back at your goals and OKRs, dig through old emails and to-do lists, comb through your completed tasks in your project management software, and look back on your previous reviews. You may even want to solicit some feedback from people you work closely with.
Doing so provides a helpful refresher on everything that’s happened over the past few months, which is solid supporting evidence to have when it’s time to actually complete your self review.
2. Provide plenty of examples
Your self-assessment is way more impactful when you don’t just answer the questions but also provide tangible examples to back those answers up. Try to include an example wherever you can.
The groundwork you laid in the first step will be helpful with this, as you’re already armed with a long list of accomplishments that you can use as supporting evidence. Going the extra mile to connect your answers to the “real world” like this helps you and your manager understand what you did — as well as how you did it and why it mattered.
Performance review example
Question: What achievement are you most proud of from the past six months?
Answer: Spearheading our weekly “Ask the Expert” webinar series that launched in April. This project required me to flex my project management skills, focus on relationship-building, and work cross-functionally with the marketing, sales, and development teams. Four months into the series, we’ve grown our live webinar attendance by 55%, increased our email audience by 23%, and have come a long way in establishing ourselves as a thought leader in the industry — a company goal I was thrilled to be able to contribute to.
3. Be honest about the good and the bad
One of the tough parts about performance reviews is that it feels like you’re petitioning to keep your own job. It’s tempting to think you should gloss over any of your challenges or missteps for fear of undermining your own credibility and value.
In reality, though, your self review isn’t just about applauding your own performance — it’s also about getting the support and resources you need to do your best work. And you can’t do that if you’re not honest about what you’re struggling with.
There will inevitably be questions on your self review focused on your weaknesses or roadblocks, such as:
- What goals from your last review (if any) did you not accomplish?
- What skill would you like to develop over the next review period?
- Do you think your work from the past [time period] reflects your strongest efforts?
Answering these types of questions can be really tough. You want to be honest about any of your challenges or shortcomings, resisting the urge to sugarcoat them. However, after you plainly answer the question (this is another good spot to include an example, if you have one), dedicate the second portion of your answer to explaining:
- What you’re already doing to address that improvement area
- How your manager or your company can best support you on that journey
This loops your supervisor in on areas where you could be struggling and need some extra support, while also demonstrating highly desirable soft skills like honesty, accountability, self-awareness, and a growth mindset.
Performance review example
Question: What’s one skill you would like to develop over the next six months?
Answer: Public speaking. Being asked to deliver our department presentation at the latest company all-hands meeting made me realize that public speaking — especially in front of large crowds — makes me nervous. I’ve already connected with a few colleagues who are top-notch public speakers to get their tips and advice, but I’d appreciate more chances to practice this skill in team meetings or other smaller, lower-pressure sessions.
4. Focus on your future goals
Your performance review is just as much about where you want to go as it is about where you’ve already been. And with most employers recognizing that professional development is crucial for retaining employees, think of your self review as a chance to make a case for your career goals and the kind of work you’d like to do more of moving forward.
Clearly outline what you’d like to achieve and return to your list of achievements to provide some evidence for why you’re ready to expand in those directions. And again, come prepared with some suggestions for how your company can best support you.
Performance review example
Question: Do you have any skills that you think aren’t being utilized in your current position
Answer: I’d like to play a bigger role in guiding strategy on customer-facing software updates. Through daily support interactions with our customers, I have in-depth knowledge of their expectations and preferences. I’d welcome the opportunity to start working cross-functionally with the product team by sitting in on their weekly meetings.
5. Frame your suggestions positively
While the bulk of your performance review is dedicated to, well, your performance, most managers also take this conversation as a chance to solicit feedback from employees.
But that can feel more nerve-racking than anything for some people. Won’t providing constructive criticism put your boss in a bad mood? Is it in your best interest to paste on a smile and pretend that everything is perfect?
Rremember that this is a key opportunity to make a case for changes that you’d like to see happen. Don’t let it pass you by.
In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Dr. Bret Sanner and Karoline Evans offer two strategies for providing suggestions in a way that’s positive (and doesn’t put your manager on the defensive):
- Opportunity framing: Highlight potential gains rather than losses.
- Do: “[Idea] will help our team get work done even more efficiently.”
- Don’t: “[Idea] means we won’t struggle with such slow progress and bottlenecks.”
- Promotive voice: Highlight how you’ll improve on something that’s already happening.
- Do: “Our team is already excelling at [goal] and [idea] will help us do even better.”
- Don’t: “[Idea] will help us fix [problem].”
Performance review example
Question: What can your manager do to support you in reaching your goals?
Answer: It’d be helpful to be given a task, project, or goal without prescriptive directions for getting it done. For example, explain the problem that needs to be solved without offering any solutions or ideas right away. That gives me the chance to be creative, take ownership, and determine the best way forward, while also freeing up leadership time and resources for other priorities.
6. Dedicate adequate time to the process
We get it — your performance review often feels like an inconvenience and a disruption to your normal work. You just want to get through it, turn it in, and get back to the other stuff that needs your attention.
But that hurried approach usually means you’ll do a sloppy and incomplete job. So here’s one of the most important performance review best practices to keep in mind: reserve enough time to get it done.
When you get the reminder that the review process is coming up, start collecting your evidence even before you have your self-assessment paperwork. When it comes to actually filling in your self-review, set aside at least a couple of hours to thoughtfully answer the questions and thoroughly review them before submitting. To make the most of your review, it’s far better to be comprehensive than quick.
For managers: 5 employee performance review best practices
If you’re a manager yourself, you not only have the responsibility of filling out your own self-review — you have to complete a review for each of your direct reports too.
Performance reviews comprise more than just a pile of paperwork (though there’s a lot of that too). They can set the tone for your employee/manager relationship for the next year. To make sure you’re using this time productively and constructively, use the following tactics.
1. Provide information and resources ahead of time
When you complete an employee’s written review, submit it to them ahead of time. That gives them the space they need to process your comments, come up with questions, and approach their review like a conversation rather than an inspection.
2. Focus on output, not hours
The working world (and, as a result, productivity metrics) have changed as flexibility continues to be a priority. Recognize people for what they contribute, not their hours on the clock. After all, if an employee managed to deliver strong outcomes while working fewer hours, that’s a win for you.
3. Emphasize qualitative achievements
Targets are great, but don’t forget to also pay attention to soft skills and less tangible qualities. Does a team member maintain strong and positive relationships with their peers? Are they the first one to volunteer to help out with a challenge? Those contributions deserve praise too.
4. Clarify future goals
Employees should leave their reviews understanding what they’ve done as well as what they need to do next. Yet, only 14% of employees say their performance reviews actually inspire them to improve. Collaborate with employees to establish objectives for the next few months (use the SMART goal framework for added clarity), document them, and then store them somewhere accessible, like Confluence.
5. Address the tough topics
Ideally, you frequently have candid conversations with your team, whether it’s a quarterly check-in or a weekly one-on-one. Even so, their performance review is often a fitting time to address loftier concerns like burnout, workloads, team conflicts, or even questions about the company’s future. Give employees an open opportunity to voice their worries so they can move forward with some reassurance — or, at the very least, some clarity.
Performance reviews: Look back and move forward
Let’s be honest — you’ll probably never be overcome with excitement when you receive the nudge that your performance review is coming up. No matter how many times you’ve been through it, the process will carry a certain intimidation factor.
Fortunately, whether you need to do a self review, employee review, or both, a little bit of preparation can help you navigate this time with a little more composure and confidence.
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