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How to Write A Great Performance Review

Image via Dmitriy Shironosov/

At the Excellence in Government conference on Sept. 6, Tom Fox, the Washington Post’s Fed Coach, gave a federal audience some tips on developing and motivating employees by coaching with long-term development in mind. Coaching, Fox said, is the number one characteristic of top leaders at Google and is growing within many other organizations, both private and public. Since a large part of coaching is providing feedback, Fox gave managers some tips for crafting better performance reviews.

Preparation is Key

First, managers should spend twice as long preparing for a review as they will in giving it to the employee. Fox acknowledged that this is difficult for many managers who are pressed for time under growing workloads. To make things easier, he recommended several models to feds in a time crunch. “We all know we should give feedback, but these types of models can help us in preparation,” Fox said.

The SBI-D Model

The SBI-D model—which stands for Situation, Behavior, Impact, Desired outcome—is one such model that can be used with employees who need improvement.

  • Situation: It begins with the manager relaying the situation, or context of the problem in specific detail. This includes the who, what, when, where.
  • Behavior: Next, describe the problematic behavior, talking about both what the employee did and how it was done.
  • Impact: Then explain the impact of that behavior. Communicate how it affected the organization, team, or program.
  • Desired Outcome: Finally, Fox stressed the importance of clearly identifying the desired outcome, or what should be expected in the future. Setting clear expectations is vital to the improvement of both the employee and the organization as a whole.

While models like SBI-D help craft annual performance reviews, Fox advised feds to give ongoing feedback. “Use critical events as opportunities for coaching, rather than waiting until the next review,” he instructed.

What strategies do you use to give feedback?

Zoe Grotophorst is the Director of Research & Content Services at Government Executive Media Group. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the George Mason University School of Public Policy and received her undergraduate degree in public policy from the College of William and Mary.

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