Most supervisors can agree that annual performance evaluations alone are not the best methods of employee assessment, that it is better to meet employees face-to-face as routinely as possible. However, annual performance reviews are necessary, either as a written record of verbal performance reviews throughout the year or sole employee assessment when other methods are not available. Regardless, the comments you make on your annual performance review can make or break your company as they help you mold and direct your employees.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Although many employees look negatively on performance reviews, seeing them simply as managers "getting back" at the people they don't like, you can help change that stereotype by writing annual reviews that employees can actually use to help themselves improve at their work. In other words, praise things you don't want the employees to stop doing and specifically describe their weaknesses. Creative Business Resources (CBR) recommends using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measurements to discuss those strengths and weaknesses. You'll need to have some language that shows how you "feel" the employee is doing, CBR implies, but you should also have some measurable data, such as customer feedback surveys.
Suggestions for Improvement/Advancement
Just a description of their weaknesses can't show employees how they can improve because employees and supervisors may have very different interpretations of how those weaknesses can be fixed. For this reason, you need to give specific, detailed explanations about how the employee might address the weaknesses. Giving both the supervisor and the employee something to measure the employee's progress by, a specific goal that the supervisor can set in the review, can help ease the process when it comes time for the next performance review.
Supervisors conduct performance reviews to assess the overall performance of their companies, but they also do so to determine who will get promoted, demoted and even fired. Because employees are reading between the lines for this information on their performance reviews, it makes sense to include it, though CBR suggests learning a "neutral" language of performance reviews that you can write it in -- a professional language that does not sound biased by personal feelings.
Comparisons Across Time
If this is not the first performance review you have written for the employee, revisit the earlier reviews to take stock of how the employee has or has not improved over time. This way, you can specifically acknowledge when your employee has been taking to heart what you've written in his previous performance evaluations and suggest a face-to-face meeting if he has not.