How to Write a Mid-Year Performance Review that Inspires Employees

The first time I wrote a mid-year performance review for an employee was no walk in the park. I knew that performance reviews are one of the most important things a manager does. The decisions one makes directly impact another person’s life. So when I opened a document to write my review, I looked at the screen and wrote…

Nothing.

I just started at it for an hour questioning myself. Was my feedback fair to this employee? What contributions did they make that I was missing? I didn’t know where to begin.

Capturing a human’s professional identity in a few paragraphs is hard.

I don’t want you to have as hard of a time I did. After writing over seventy performance reviews as an engineering manager, I’ve created a nice format for myself. Now I want to help share that template with you.

So how can you write an mid-year performance review that helps employees?

Disclosure: This article includes affiliate links to any books I reference. I may receive compensation when you click on links to these products.

What’s the Point of a Mid-Year Performance Review?

There’re two audiences to consider for a performance review. 

First is your company. Your organization determines the review process – raises, promotions, etc. Your goal as a manager is to learn this process. Details I pay attention to are:

  • How are people incentivized in the company?
  • What examples do managers use for promotions?
  • Who are the high performers that are role models?

The second audience is the employee. The goal for them is clear feedback. Employees want to know how to excel. They need to know where they need to grow. Your job is to guide them on how they can achieve their goals.

The tricky part is communicating this information.

Performance Reviews are about Constructive Feedback

Performance reviews are about feedback. But giving feedback is more than saying “you did well here” or “you made a poor decision there.”

You need to explain the impact of their actions.

And none of this should surprise your employee.

Giving constructive feedback requires practice. You need to regularly share your feedback with your employees – waiting until the performance review hinders them. They could have adjusted months ago.

Don’t wait on feedback.

Check out my articles on how to give positive and constructive feedback to learn more.

The Structure of an Mid-Year Performance Review

Performance Reviews need to summarize what your employee excels at and where they need to improve. I separate my assessments into two sections:

  1. Which contributions represent the employee’s best work?
  2. Constructive feedback on areas of growth.

I then break each section down to reflect my company’s career framework. Taking Square’s Career Ladder as an example, I have sections for technical execution, ownership, etc.

These groups capture the nuances of one’s performance. People are complex – each person brings different strengths and weaknesses. This structure enables me to dive into those details.

The final piece is to highlight the behaviors of the career framework. Defining these behaviors shows the specific spots employees need to pay attention to.

I like this method because career frameworks have a LOT of information. Noting the behaviors they can ignore gives more space to focus on one’s growth areas.

An Employee Performance Review Example

Using Square’s Career Ladder, we’ll evaluate a Level 5 Engineer.

Where Did this Employee Excel in this Yearly Performance Review?

Technical Execution

I’m happy to see the work you’ve put into writing design documents this review period. You provided clear plans that other engineers understood and aligned with you on. You highlighted risks and broke down the project plan into incremental milestones. Your design docs allowed the team to make demonstrable progress on its goals. Your work minimized churn due to missing features. Please continue to write these documents whenever you lead projects in the future.

  • Writes, co-writes, and reviews design documentation.

Where can this employee improve in this Yearly Performance Review?

Technical Execution

When reviewing your pull requests, I noticed a lack of unit tests. The projects you worked on required you to touch critical code paths that lacked tests. These changes led to a spike in bugs and a reduction in quality. I would like you to focus on unit tests and adopt the team’s best practices in future work. It may be hard to balance with the desire to ship, but learning how to do so will make you a better engineer.

  • Improves code structure and architecture in service of testability and maintainability.

How to Give a Raise with a Performance Review

A big part of performance reviews is news of a raise. More money affects the livelihood of your team. Unfortunately, this distraction gets in the way of the performance review’s feedback.

To refocus the discussion, I share the news of a raise before the review. I usually do this a day or two before sharing the performance review.

This approach removes the anxiety from the review conversation. It allows everyone to focus on the goals defined from the discussion.

Conclusion

Giving a performance review is daunting for new managers. There’s no clear format and every employee requires a unique touch. 

The method I’ve outlined here, which relies heavily on your company’s career framework, has resulted in discussions with actionable goals. 

But this is what’s worked for me.

How do you write performance reviews? What tips do you have so I can improve mine? Let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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