Coming up with an appropriate phrase for a performance review is more than just stylistics: when you capture just the right phrase to describe an employee's performance, he or she gets a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses and you help redirect the praise or critique to the objectives of the company. While boilerplate phrases can provide a sense of typical commentary during a performance review, they should not substitute for a more studied observation about each person's contributions.

Traditional vs. Enhanced

In describing a core competency in a performance review, you can fall back on traditional phraseology – which may convey expectations only abstractly – or you can incorporate enhanced, more detailed language to reflect correspondingly higher expectations. For the communication skill set, instead of saying "communicates clearly and effectively at all levels," you can say "regularly solicits constructive feedback and asks thoughtful questions." As for team building, "deals effectively with others" can be enhanced by "regularly looks for common ground among team members and encourages collaboration."

Phrases Based on Employee Responsibility

Phrases for performance reviews can be grouped according to the type of employee responsibility. For planning and organization, key words might be "goal-setting," "prioritizing" or "profit-minded." For leadership, phrases might include "responsiveness," "decisiveness" and "delegating." When reviewing an employee's attitude, words such as "initiative," "energy," "volunteering" and "loyalty" describe qualities sought-after by many companies. A positive review for leadership might say "Sondra is an excellent coach and generally receives top performance from those under her supervision." A negative review for teamwork might be "Todd exhibits an 'us' versus 'them' mentality that strains team relationships."

Exceeding, Meeting or Below Expectations

Wording of a performance evaluation will naturally differ based on the quality of the work performed. When a worker meets or exceeds expectations for cooperation, you might say "We know we can turn to Helga during difficult situations because she can bring differing groups together." For performance that falls below expectations, you could say "John adopts new tasks quickly, but when it comes to training his subordinates on these tasks, he does not do well." On the ethical spectrum, a "strong understanding of fiduciary responsibility" is contrasted by "makes occasional misleading statements."


Phrases that focus on results in a performance review keep the discussion away from a reviewer's subjective experience and grounded in concrete examples. "How do you think you've done this past year?" gets the ball rolling and the employee involved in their own evaluation. Reiterate the company's performance standards and how he or she did or did not comply: "As you may be aware, this department requires account executives to secure at least 10 new accounts per quarter." Again, ask for input: "How would you go about solving this issue?" Lastly, show your support with: "We know you're capable of doing better."