Let’s cut to the chase.  Why do we dislike – and avoid – employee reviews?

They are awkward. Take too much time. Yields no results or changes. Don’t know how.

Have you heard (or said?) that before?

Employee performance appraisal systems (the dreaded annual review) tend to get a bad rap. After all, who hasn’t heard about — or experienced — a bad performance appraisal?

At worst, an annual review can feel like an ambush, a morale killer or a complete waste of time for staff. But when we do this correctly, effective performance appraisals can empower your team and improve your group’s ability to fulfill its mission.

A clear, thoughtful and consistent employee appraisal system can help your organization:

  • Manage talent and develop leaders
  • Align staff work with organizational priorities and goals
  • Increase employee productivity
  • Improve employee job satisfaction, morale and retention


Folks, it’s rough to be reviewed on your job description!  Especially that seven-page tome, the one that’s single spaced in 10-point font that also says “other duties as assigned”?  Make sure you actually set performance objectives – annual goals for each employee at the beginning of the evaluation period.  These are derived from the employee job description and help focus your staff’s work during the course of the year.  Performance objectives help focus time on critical areas of work, and have metrics, deadlines and benchmarks that employees are to meet during the year. This will help focus the appraisal and align you and your employees perceptions.


Before you create an employee performance appraisal system, consider what’ll work best for your organization. Things to consider:

  • Criteria Part 1. What criteria will your group use to review employee performance? Criteria could be based on employee job descriptions, competencies or individual goals. Which skills and competencies matter most to your nonprofit’s success?
  • Criteria Part 2. Make sure the criteria are objective. Make sure that when the review occurs the reviewer has quantifiable metrics to evaluate.
  • Feedback sources. Where will you get feedback about your employee(s)? Options include supervisors, colleagues and external contacts. Keep in mind the importance of ongoing feedback and coaching throughout the review period.
  • What system will you use? Options include a scale of 0 to 5 or categories, 5 being “what’s going well” and 0 being “what needs improvement.”
  • When will reviews be done? Options include annually, twice annually, quarterly or even more often. Consider how much time reviews will take and whether you’ll tie reviews to changes in employee compensation. Hint: Now’s a great time to dust off the employee compensation policy.
  • How will you set them? Employees often feel a disconnect between goal setting and performance reviews. Review your nonprofit’s operating plan and the goals set for each program. Break down those goals to the level of each department and staff member. What can each employee do to help, and how will progress be measured?
  • Self-directed reviews. Will these be completed by the employee as part of the review process?


Once you’ve settled on the basics, create an evaluation form. The form should include:

  • The basics: employee name and job title, reviewer name and job title, date of review period, date of review completion
  • The purpose of the evaluation, such as to review progress and establish future goals for development
  • A statement explaining that the information in the evaluation is confidential
  • Brief instructions on how to complete the evaluation form, including an explanation of the rating system
  • A list of areas in which the employee will be rated, based on the specific criteria chosen for that employee
  • A list of the employee’s previous goals and an area for discussion about progress toward each goal
  • An area to list the employee’s other accomplishments
  • An area to list the employee’s key objectives for the coming year and professional development objectives, including a timetable for milestones and accomplishments
  • An area for comments from both the employee and the reviewer
  • An area for signatures from the employee, reviewer and human resources representative

Attach the employee’s current job description (preferably, their performance objectives) to the evaluation form. When completing the form, provide concrete examples of what an employee does well or needs to work on.

Also, make sure all of your employee(s) understand your performance appraisal system, are trained in how to use it and realize its importance to your organization. Managers who aren’t confident in how to conduct performance appraisals aren’t likely to effectively identify what an employee can do to develop and grow.


To make the most of your employee performance appraisal system, engage your employees in thoughtful discussion about their work and experiences during the review period. Managers should schedule time with each employee to:

  • Go over the review
  • Highlight job achievements
  • Evaluate progress toward established goals
  • Establish expectations going forward
  • Discuss ways to support future development

Nothing  managers discuss with your employee(s) during a review should come as a surprise. To do their best work, your employee(s) need coaching and specific feedback on their performance year-round, not just at review time. Regular meetings—like  weekly one-on-ones—are recommended between the annual reviews.  Why?  This regular time with you supports ongoing efforts toward goal achievement.  This regular feedback gives adequate time for performance improvement, if needed. Plus, when your employees know where they stand, both of you won’t dread their annual performance review. You’ll actually look forward to it.

Need more tips? Check out my blog posts Find the Positive in Employee Evaluations or Personnel Documents for more administrative guidance. Need some help putting together this process for your team?  Give me a shout or book a call with me.