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[Quickstart Best used as part of a structured, performance feedback gathering process (a.k.a. "Performance Reviews"]

Guide to Writing Multiple Performance Reviews

This guides assumes your company has a structured performance review process where written feedback is periodically gathered in multiple directions. E.g. self for your own work, upward for feedback you write for your manager, downward for feedback you as a manager write for your team members, and peer for feedback written for others in the organization. These tips are most useful for writing multiple downward and peer reviews in a single review period.

Step 0: Have your review instructions ready

For sample review prompts and templates, see: Performance Review Templates

Step 1: Catalog your work

Collect all the information you need and put it in one place. This can create a space to quickly jump through different reviews or content and iterate quickly. Information might come in the form of feedback guides, past reviews, project plans, design docs, or even large PRs that were particularly important from the review period.

  • Write a basic checklist, grouped by review types and names
  • Create a folder for all of your review drafts
  • Have a copy of your review prompts in a doc you can easily reference—refer back to this frequently and use it as a guide and clear rubric

Step 2: Sketch out a basic outline

Using your review prompts, start a draft review doc and include sections to complete. Jot down initial thoughts as you sketch it out, stick to bullets or phrases, and don’t worry too much about how “good” the feedback is yet.

Step 3: Read through any supporting feedback or additional data sources

Collect all of the information you want to incorporate into your review, and read through it very carefully. As you read, toss notes and bullet points into your outline. Don’t self-censor, but do focus on things that have clear, explicit supporting examples or appear consistently across sources. When you come across a great quote from someone, pull that into your outline and remember who wrote it — great reviews represent more voices and it’s important to reflect that authentically in the end result.

Repeat this step a few times until you think you’ve properly distilled down what you’ve read.

Step 4: Edit and iterate on your outline

Now that you have your outline, sit with it for awhile and edit while asking yourself different questions:

  • Did you end up pulling out a few areas that fit naturally into a broader theme? What is that theme?
  • Are some of the areas ones you’ve talked about before? If so, how has the feedback changed since prior reviews?
  • Do the quotes you pulled out represent this feedback well or give a concrete example to explain it? If not, do you have a concrete example you’ve seen that can help supplement the point?
  • Is this feedback important enough to highlight as part of the review? Was it a one-time error or unusual mistake? If it’s a strength, is it one that the person demonstrates unique ability in or has shown improvement in since the last cycle?
  • How well do the themes resonate with what you’ve seen of their work? If you are seeing things in people’s feedback that surprise you, think about why that is and take another pass through the information you have to get more context and better understand it.
  • Do you have any concrete ideas for ways to address the feedback that you can capture and share? How can you help this person grow and be even better in the next cycle?
  • Try to zero in on 3–5 major themes or key messages per review prompt. These should feature concrete examples, resonate well with you and the feedback you’ve gathered from others, and contain some specific ideas to address the feedback going forward. Without those, you run the risk of using generic phrases that might not mean much of anything. There are also a few frameworks out there that can help you deliver more effective feedback like this (E.g. SBI Feedback.

Step 5: Prosify

Now take time to structure your thoughts in writing. Leave certain sections in outline form as needed (e.g. bulleted lists for the key 3–5 themes) as they can be easier to process, but use prose to capture how themes relate to each other and how best to communicate them overall. Don’t focus on flowing dialogue or turn each review into a short novel — think about the person or people who will read it, and what messages you want them to take away from it, as clearly as possible. If you soften the language too much, bury it in needless filler content, or omit concrete examples or details, you run the risk of your key messages simply being lost and ignored.

Step 6: Proofread and profit

Finally, take a quick final read-through to make sure the feedback resonates with you. Hit submit and you’re done!

Meta-Step: Mix it up

For a final efficiency tip, try pipelining your reviews. Jumping between people and outlines first may be easiest before writing prose.

  • Step 1: Catalog your work

For each team member, in any order:

  • Step 2: Sketch out a basic outline
  • Step 3: Read through any supporting feedback or additional data sources

For each team member, in any order:

  • Step 4: Edit and iterate on your outline

[Take a break and scan through your outlines until you feel good about them.]

For each team member, in any order:

  • Step 5: Prosify
  • Step 6: Proofread and profit

Questions & Feedback?

For the original version of this guide, see How to iterate your way to great feedback: an engineer’s guide to performance reviews

Open an issue or submit a PR!