Performance Appraisals and Phrases For Dummies
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Filling out an evaluation form for an employee appraisal may seem daunting, but you can follow some techniques to make it less so. Evaluation forms vary from one company to another, but there are some overarching principles that can help you handle this step more easily and effectively:

  • Start with your best employees. By starting your evaluations with these individuals, you can clearly define, for yourself, the actual meaning of excellent performance. With this standard in place, you’ll be able to interpret and evaluate the performance of the rest of your team more easily.

  • Write first, rate later. The best approach is to go to a given item, write out your written comments, and then enter a numerical rating. When you write the numerical rating first, you may find yourself adjusting your writing in order to match those numbers.

  • Think while writing. By writing out the assessments of your employees’ performance in a particular category, you’re forced to think specifically about their actions, their objectives, their competencies, and the outcomes of their efforts.

    Whether you’re writing a positive or negative comment, be sure that it’s laced with examples and supported by times and dates as you deem necessary. As you create and review your written comments, adding appropriate descriptive phrases as needed, you’ll be generating a clearer picture of your employees’ performance and the rating that it merits.

  • Consider how it will be read. Don’t forget that whatever you write in the appraisals is going to be read by your employees. If your comments are vague, unsubstantiated, or focus on personality over performance, you’re setting the stage for problematic sessions with your employees.

Selecting a rating

With many numerical rating scales, there is a mini-description associated with each number. For example, the rating form may list several behaviors associated with communication, accompanied by a rating scale that reads:

5 — Exceptional: Consistently exceeds expectations.

4 — Excellent: Frequently exceeds expectations.

3 — Fully competent: Meets expectations.

2 — Marginal: Occasionally fails to meet expectations.

1 — Unsatisfactory: Consistently fails to meet expectations.

Describing strengths and weaknesses

When writing about your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, your comments will be most effective if they focus on specific behaviors and competencies. Your comments will take on more meaning, have a greater motivational impact, and have a longer shelf life when you phrase them in behavioral terms.


Although it’s nice for employees to hear that they “do excellent work,” the focus is totally unclear and the employees can’t anchor your comment to any particular action. So, although your employees would like to receive positive feedback in the future for their excellent work, they don’t know which behaviors to repeat.

For example, instead of saying that your employees do excellent work, give them specific examples of such work, such as “Provides extremely high-quality work on time.” With this type of comment, your employees clearly know the two components that generated this positive feedback — quality and timeliness.


When writing about your employees’ weaknesses, the same basic framework applies. You need to be specific and avoid phrases such as “attitude could use improvement.” Your comments will be more effective and more motivational if you leave out the word attitude and focus specifically on behaviors that are indicative of a questionable attitude, such as complaining, arguing, or refusing to help others.

After the review, part of your job will be to work with the employees to help them become more effective in the areas currently needing improvement. The more specific you are in your description, the better able you’ll be to focus your developmental efforts. And because your employees understand the specifics of the areas needing improvement, they’re likely to be more receptive to your guidance.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Ken Lloyd, PhD, is a nationally recognized consultant, author, and columnist who specializes in organizational behavior, communication, and management coaching and development.

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