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8 Equity-focused performance review templates

In cooking, there’s an entire discipline solely dedicated to the presentation of food on a plate: plating. How you present or “plate” the food you are serving matters as much as the food itself. It’s true in cooking, and it’s true in performance reviews. That’s why good performance review templates are a core component of equitable performance management practices. Think of performance review templates as your plating process, and your specific feedback as the ingredients. 

Performance reviews bring up a lot of opinions, beliefs, and emotions for managers and employees. It’s hard to land feedback well, let alone steer clear of bias in performance feedback. So what should you include on your “plate” to ensure your ingredients shine in your next review cycle?   

What do you write in a performance review? 

The answer to what should be in a performance review is simple: an honest evaluation of the employee’s performance against their goals for the full length of the review period. That’s it. It seems obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not. Too many performance reviews lack structure and specificity. Whichever type of performance review system your team uses, encourage reviewers to stick to objective business results. Textio’s research shows that there are demographic patterns in who receives the most irrelevant, exaggerated, and non-actionable performance feedback. And, unsurprisingly this heavily biased performance feedback occurs most in the reviews of women, employees of color, and other underrepresented groups. 

Performance reviews impact who has access to opportunities, who advances, and other important outcomes. The content of these reviews matters greatly to ensure equity. There is also a lot of feedback that doesn’t make it into the review at all, which is problematic in its own way. Withholding feedback does no one any favors. It can exacerbate existing equity issues and slow down an employee’s growth trajectory. The feedback you give in performance reviews—both positive and critical—is important for your whole team to have access to on a regular basis. Otherwise, those patterns create, reinforce, and deepen inequity.

Biased feedback is causing attrition

See how performance feedback is affecting retention in 2023

Sections to include in any performance review template

  • Goals: Without clear goals established before the performance review, the goal post inevitably moves. Employees should come to the performance review knowing exactly what they’re being evaluated on. 
  • Performance: After establishing clear goals, the question becomes did the employee meet all of those goals? These evaluations should be supported by a few objective business metrics. 
  • Development areas: All reviews should include growth-focused feedback, even for your strongest performers. Everyone has room to improve, so make sure to offer enough growth feedback to everyone on the team. 
  • Recognition: Meaningful and detailed praise encourages employees to double down on strength areas. It also ensures they feel seen for their positive contributions to the company's goals. 
  • Company values: How someone accomplishes their work is an important aspect of culture. That’s why company values should ideally be included in performance conversations. It’s not just about the ends, but also the means.
  • Extracurriculars: Important but less visible work often goes unacknowledged in the performance reviews. If someone is going above and beyond their role by participating in committees, team building, and hiring panels, it's important to recognize those areas as valuable to the company.    
  • Future focus: It's important to end reviews with next steps. Performance reviews work best when they pair constructive feedback with suggestions on how to apply the feedback moving forward.

Most importantly, tie quantitative ratings clearly to the qualitative written feedback. Research shows that even though women are more likely to receive positive qualitative reviews, they tend to have lower ratings overall, which can inhibit their ability to advance. As you can imagine, this is consistent with other demographic groups and is very important for ensuring that your company has a level playing field.

How do you structure a performance review? 

How a company structures its performance reviews plays a big role in how actionable its performance feedback is and how likely that feedback is to be implemented. Structure helps create consistency across the company and targeted prompts ensure business relevance in reviews. A combination of structure with targeted focus is a powerful antidote for counteracting biased evaluations.

For example, in most performance review templates, there are open-boxed prompts like “how did the employee meet your expectations,” or “describe the employee’s performance.” These are so broad and general that they over-rely on the particular evaluator’s self-awareness and skill in objectively evaluating others. That’s why relying on consistent templates can be such a game changer in achieving more equitable outcomes at your company. Building objectivity, focus, and fairness into the template helps evaluators stick to the areas that they should be focused on most. 

If you remember one thing, remember that when there is an “open box” in a performance review template, it invites bias. Structure and accountability are equity’s best friends. 

8 performance review templates to help you get started

Even though most companies only have one formal performance review a year, there are many ways to incorporate consistent, high-quality feedback all year long. Whether it be during the onboarding process or on a quarterly or mid-year basis. Each company’s performance management process is a little bit different, but the templates below can help you create a foundation for whichever cadence you use. 

Jump to a review type: 

1. Quarterly review template

Style: 45-minute informal check-in each quarter 

The quarterly review can serve more as an informal check-in. This is where you should be tracking progress against pre-set goals from the beginning of the year. It’s also an opportunity to solicit feedback on engagement, growth opportunities, and deeper conversations outside of typical one-on-ones. Make sure to ask your direct reports how one-on-ones are going from their perspective. One-on-ones are one of the most important performance supports you and your direct report have, so this is the time to make sure those are going well.  

Make sure to cover: 

  • Progress against quarterly goals
  • Employee engagement pulse check 
  • Feedback on one-on-ones and working relationship 

2. Mid-year review template

Style: 1-hour semi-formal check-in 6 months before the annual review

In the mid-year review, you can formalize the structure a bit more than in the quarterly review. This is where you should be previewing how the employee’s performance is lining up based on milestones. The mid-year review is the most important review in the cadence to avoid any surprises in the annual review. That means if there are areas that would theoretically hold the employee back from a promotion, raise, or similar, this is the time to shine a light on those areas. 

Make sure to cover: 

  • Progress against business goals using the same system as the annual review
  • 3 development and strength areas relevant to their role and goals 
  • Career pulse check that states clearly where the employee is heading based on current performance and company context 

3. Annual review template 

Style: 1-hour formal performance appraisal, followed by 1-hour goal-setting session for the next year 

The annual review template should be formalized since it is a determining factor in compensation, career advancement, and what the next year looks like for the employee. This is the crown jewel of the entire performance management cadence. And, it should also be audited for fairness by someone in HR, leadership, or DEIB since it has such a significant impact on employee advancement. 

Make sure to cover: 

  • Performance against the year's goals in some structured way (e.g., ratings) 
  • 3-5 development and strength areas relevant to their role and goals 
  • Values spotlight to show how the employee can keep contributing to the culture 
  • Acknowledgement of any out-of-scope work (e.g. leading an ERG or committee) 
  • Rewards summary: evaluation of current or next role 
  • Future goals ideally presented in a follow-up session

4. Manager review template

Style: Written downward review  

As a manager, if you’re doing your job well, you support the growth and development of your entire team. This extends to how you’re giving feedback throughout the year, not just in the performance review. As the famous framework Radical Candor suggests, challenging directly while caring personally is the best way to ensure our teams have access to the information they need to keep improving. And, that’s what performance management is all about: making sure we stop periodically to allow a free exchange of information between our closest collaborators. 

In the downward review, focus on the employee’s performance against the goals you set for them at the start of the year. Also, take into consideration how you’ve distributed work assignments and projects. Have some employees had more chances to prove themselves with more visible work? Take the full picture into account in your review.  

Make sure to cover: 

  • Performance against goals
  • Strength and growth areas backed up by concrete examples 
  • Outline of next year's goals to discuss together 

5. Self-review template

Style: Written self-reflection

It’s important to be cognizant of the modesty mandate some groups face. Research shows that some groups self-promote less and can even face more backlash from self-promotion. Encourage employees to speak honestly and objectively about their performance by circulating company-wide guidance on what's expected in self-reviews. Include an example of an effective self-review to ensure that everyone has access to the information needed to write a great self-review that characterizes their successes and struggles accurately.   

Another thing to keep in mind is that individual contributors know their work best. Making sure to take inventory of the work that was accomplished can be important for those who have managers that manage a lot of people or aren't up-to-date on the work of their employees. Ideally, all managers should be fully informed about their team's work, but realistically this isn't always the case. Including a description of the work that was accomplished throughout the year can be very helpful in ensuring fairness. 

Make sure to cover: 

  • List of projects, assignments, and other extracurriculars to ensure the manager is up-to-date on all contributions 
  • Reflection based on self-identified strength and growth areas 
  • Sharing desired next step in career or current role  

6. Peer review template 

Style: Written submissions solicited at a regular cadence or at the end of shared projects   

Peer reviews are particularly prone to bias without guidance and training. Make sure to offer guidance on common performance review biases to everyone at your company. When it comes to peer evaluations, try to stick to shared projects or collaborations. It’s fine to offer feedback on the company values as well, so long as this is done with a thoughtful structure that avoids open-ended prompts. Those open-ended prompts can lead to personality-focused criticism or praise, which we want to avoid in performance feedback.  

Make sure to cover: 

  • Feedback on shared work using consistent prompts 
  • Guidance on common performance review biases to avoid 
  • Optional: feedback on company values that is centered on relevant business outcomes 

7. 90-day review template

Style: 1-hour one-on-one 90 days into the role 

A new hire’s first 90 days are critical to get right and can make a big difference in retention trends at your organization. It also determines how quickly the new hire will ramp up and be able to add value. Starting off with clear and reasonable expectations is the best way to ensure a smooth onboarding experience. It's also engaging for your new direct report to have some wins early on. 

Make sure to cover: 

  • 30/60/90 day plan
  • Learning goals for key company context (e.g., product knowledge or brand positioning)
  • Overview of the entire performance management process, including the typical feedback cadence

8. 6-month review template

Style: 1-hour formal post-onboarding session 6 months into the role 

After six months in a new role, the new hire is hopefully fully ramped and consistently contributing to team goals. This is a great time to pause and offer feedback on how things are going so far. Depending on how this aligns with the broader company's performance management it can be a separate session or baked into the mid-year or annual performance review cycle. 

Make sure to cover: 

  • Progress on onboarding goals from the 30/60/90 day plan
  • Engagement check-in 
  • 1-2 stretch opportunities to focus on before the next review 
  • The new hire's feedback on the onboarding experience  

Why does the structure of performance feedback matter so much?

All employees deserve access to actionable and consistent feedback so they can continue to improve. A template can provide a great structure to solicit better feedback (or “plate” your existing ingredients better), but it’s not a complete solution on its own. It’s equally important to provide everyone who is writing reviews at your company with language guidance to mitigate biases in the review process. For more on this topic, explore our Language Bias in Performance Feedback report.

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