What to write for areas of improvement on a performance review?

Patrick Ward Patrick Ward Follow Jun 20, 2022 · 14 mins read
What to write for areas of improvement on a performance review?

To create an effective written statement on “areas of improvement,” first decide on 2-3 areas and write specific, attainable goals for yourself. For example, “I will attend 1 professional development training session per month for 6 months to improve my communication skills.” The key is to show self-awareness of your low performance areas in a way that emphasizes how your personal development will add value to the business.

What’s at stake? In short, your finances — because performance reviews frequently determine your merit increases.

Among all the questions on a performance review, questions about weaknesses are an easy place to self-sabotage your chances at a raise.

Use the guidance below to craft an “areas for improvement” answer that highlights your value rather than hurting your chances.

“Areas of improvement” examples

Before we get into strategy, here are some examples of effective responses to the “areas of improvement” question on a written performance review:

Over the last six months, I have had difficulty solving problems on my own. I rely on co-workers or my supervisor to help me about 75% of the time. In six months, I will use the resources available to me to solve problems independently half of the time. I will do this by getting additional training related to my job functions and using resources available to me, like training manuals.

Last year, I had difficulty communicating with clients, colleagues, and leadership in a timely manner. Most of my emails and voicemail messages were not responded to until 4 or 5 days after they were sent. This quarter, I will work to respond to any form of communication within 2 or 3 business days. I will do this by implementing organizational strategies like using calendar reminders and paper planners to keep track of when I need to respond to communications.

Over the course of my employment, I have struggled to work collaboratively with other colleagues. I prefer to work alone 90% of the time, but I recognize the importance of team collaboration. Over the next six months, I will work to collaborate with team members and subject matter experts about half of the time. I will do this by attending training sessions that teach collaboration and teamwork techniques.

To hone your strategy, you may consider asking an HR team member for information on the rubric used at your company. Companies typically use rubrics that have a rating system of 1–10 or 1–5.

What are some example “areas of improvement” applicable to many roles?

Soft skills like communication, collaboration, time management, and problem-solving can be applied across a variety of industries and careers. According to the Society of Human Resources Management, soft skills are in high demand across the board. Take a look at the table below. You can see how these skills could be applied across a variety of fields. These are all critical skills that range from the food service industry to retail to healthcare to information technology. These skills matter regardless of where you are in your career or what field you are in.

SkillExamples of How These Skills are Used in the Workplace  
CollaborationGives credit to team members when it is dueWorks well with others towards the main goal of the projectHas an open mind to new ideas
Time ManagementPrioritizes tasks correctlyAdheres to deadlinesWorks quickly and efficiently
CommunicationExpresses thoughts clearly through written and verbal communicationResponds well to feedbackCommunicates within a timely manner
Problem SolvingUses critical thinking to evaluate optimal solutionsMakes decisions based on past outcomes.Using available resources to solve problems efficiently.

What can I write for my areas of improvement?

Here are some examples of what to write for your “areas of improvement” broken down by some of the most common soft skills: time management, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving.

Time Management

Since her last performance review, Sandra has had a difficult time managing her time. She is frequently late to work, 75% of her meetings go several minutes over the allotted time, and she meets project deadlines only about half of the time. She can use some of these examples for her areas of improvement.

  • I will turn in work assignments on or before the agreed upon deadline ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will conduct meetings in the allotted time frame ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will arrive on time for work ___% of the time after ___ months.

Collaboration

Last year, Jacob completed several projects. For about half of those projects, he had to make several adjustments after the deadline because he did not consult subject matter experts or his team members. Here are some suggestions for what Jacob could write for his areas of improvement.

  • I will work with subject matter experts to get information for projects ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will consult with team members on projects that require their input ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will help with team-oriented projects ___% of the time after ___ months.

Communication

Over the last year, Jasmine has struggled to communicate in a timely manner. She responds to most of her emails a week later. She also communicates the progress of projects with her supervisor and stakeholders about half of the time. Jasmine could use some of the following templates for her areas of improvement.

  • I will check and respond to my emails within 2 business days ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will communicate weekly with stakeholders to update them on the progress of projects ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will communicate issues that arise that affect the progress of my work with my supervisor ___% of the time after ___ months.

Problem Solving

Steven has been faced with several problems over the last year. He follows standard procedures, uses all available resources, and presents solutions to problems only about 25% of the time. Steven can use these examples when he is writing his areas of improvement.

  • I will use resources at my disposal, like training manuals or tip sheets, to solve problems that arise in my daily work ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will present solutions to problems that arise in my daily work ___% of the time after ___ months.
  • I will follow standard processes and procedures to solve problems that arise in my daily work ___% of the time after ___ months.

How can I use these areas of improvement to set goals for myself?

It’s important to note that no employee is perfect. You should not expect yourself to perform with 100% accuracy. When setting a goal, you need to ask yourself these questions.

“Where am I at now?”

“Where do I want to be 1 month from now… 3 months from now… 6 months from now?”

“How will I know when I’ve achieved the goal?”

“Is this goal attainable for me in the allotted time frame?”

“Can I quantify my goal with a number (i.e. a percentage)?”

Choose a percentage that reflects growth. For example, if you are late to work 4 out of 5 days per week, then you are on time to work only 20% of the time. A percentage that shows growth would be you are on time to work 50% of the time. The goal is to choose a “sweet spot” percentage, one that is attainable but also shows growth.

Some organizations, including the Society of Human Resources Management, recommend utilizing the S.M.A.R.T. method when setting goals. This could also be a useful tool to use. You can use this chart to help you determine what your specific goals should be.

Questions to AskExamples
SpecificWhat do I want to accomplish?I want to lead team projects 10% of the time.
MeasurableHow can I measure this?I can measure this by tracking the number of team projects I participate in vs. the number of team projects I lead.
AttainableIs this goal realistic for me?I have a lighter workload and can make extra time to lead the team projects.
RelevantIs this relevant to my job function?Leading team projects is relevant to my job function.
Time-BoundWhen do I want this goal met?I want this goal met within 6 months.
SMART Goal Example:I will lead team projects 10% of the time within 6 months. I will track this data by documenting the total number of team projects vs. how many team projects I lead.

How do you quantify improvement over time?

Take this opportunity to present your goals to your supervisor. Work closely with them to determine the metrics and the ultimate goal or outcome of your areas of improvement.

For example, Daphne currently conducts meetings that stay within the allotted meeting time only 20% of the time. This means 80% of the meetings she has gone over the agreed upon time frame. In 6 months from now, she wants to conduct meetings that stay within the allotted meeting time 75% of the time. Here are a few more examples of what each goal looks like before the improvement and after.

Before ImprovementAfter Improvement
Time ManagementChris turns in his work assignments past the agreed upon deadline 50% of the time.Chris turns in his work assignments past the agreed upon deadlines only 10% of the time.
CollaborationAngela works alone and does not consult any of her colleagues on work assignments 90% of the time.Angela works alone and does not consult any of her colleagues on work assignments only 25% of the time.
CommunicationSarah does not read her email or check her voicemail within 2 business days 60% of the time.Sarah does not read her email or check her voicemail within 2 business days only 15% of the time.
Problem SolvingRalph goes to his supervisor to help him problem solve instead of using accessible training and resources 75% of the time.Ralph goes to his supervisor to help him problem solve instead of using accessible training and resources only 20% of the time.

Once you and your supervisor have come to an agreement on how you will know your goal is met, you need a way to track it. This is the tricky part and one of the places where several people let their goals fall through the cracks. It can prove difficult to add yet another task to your workload, but it can also prove to be beneficial. If you can show that you’ve made improvements, especially using data like numbers and percentages, it will come in handy at performance review time. You’ll be armed with the data on your growth in these areas, which could help your chances of a merit increase.

Tracking your progress towards your goals could be as simple as a calendar reminder at the end of each day or each week, a document on your computer where you track each day, or a weekly email to your supervisor. You can even use the old-fashioned pen and paper method to track your progress. No matter which method you use, remember to keep track of where you are documenting your progress and stick with the same method. That way you won’t have any lost data.

What are some “ways to improve”?

Don’t just leave it to your supervisor to tell you the different ways you should improve. You know yourself best. Think about how you learn best. Think about the problem you are faced with. What will work best for you to make your goal more easily attainable? Here are some of the most common strategies for achieving your goals. No matter which method you choose, it’s important to commit to taking action and doing what it takes to work towards achieving your goal. Both commitment and follow-through lead to improved outcomes.

Internal training programs

Additional training with the company can help you, especially if you are struggling with procedures and processes within your workflow. Sometimes workflow training can be informal, such as shadowing a colleague, reviewing the procedure manual, or studying the training documents. Several companies also offer soft skills training seminars like time management, organization, how to work well with others, the basics of communication, workplace etiquette, etc. If your company is offering training to you, especially in one of your areas of improvement, take it. They are invested in your growth and are allowing you to better yourself.

External coursework or certifications

Not all organizations are big enough to offer in-house training, so training outside the company is also a great option. These training sessions can range from free to hundreds of dollars, so it’s important to do your research. Your supervisor or Human Resources department may even be able to point you in the direction of these outside training sessions. When you are working hard at achieving your goals, more frequent check-ins with your supervisor may be warranted. This will depend on if you and/or your supervisor feel it is necessary. You will both need to come to an agreement on the frequency and format of these check-ins. For example, you may have a weekly email exchange with your supervisor and use the information from those emails to meet monthly for feedback.

Mentorship programs

A mentor within or outside of the company is also an option. This person will be someone who is well versed in the skill you are trying to improve and someone that will hold you accountable that isn’t your direct supervisor. Some companies have a mentor program already in place, so be sure to ask your supervisor if this is an option. If it isn’t, think of someone who excels at the skill you are trying to improve, whether it be inside or outside of the organization, and approach them. You can say something like, “Hey Becky. I noticed you’re great at communication. It’s an area I’m looking to improve. Would you be willing to mentor me?”

Takeaways & Resources

The main goal of determining your areas of improvement is to help you. It can be easy to get defensive or uncomfortable but think about the ultimate goal, which is to help you. Even with the best advice, it’s still easy to get overwhelmed. These are the most common concerns and advice on how to manage these concerns.

  • What if I’m unsure of what my areas of improvement are? It’s hard to reflect on your performance. If you have taken time to think about what your areas of improvement are and still find yourself stuck, have a brief chat with your supervisor before your performance review. Use their feedback to craft your answers.
  • What if my supervisor disagrees with my areas of improvement? It’s okay if you and your supervisor don’t see eye to eye on your areas of improvement. Use this as an opportunity to have an open and honest conversation. Be sure to have data to back up your claims.

Even if you end up leaving your job, identifying your areas of improvement and setting goals to improve is a valuable experience. This is particularly true with soft skills like problem solving and communication. These are universally applied skills used across several different jobs and industries.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good response to “what is my biggest weakness?”

In a work setting, effective answers to the question “what is my biggest weakness” are honest, but focus on a competency area that is non-critical to the goal at hand. Showing self-awareness and desire to self-improve is a positive attribute, but it can have the unintended consequence of reducing your apparent competence when applied to important skill areas.

Patrick Ward
Written by Patrick Ward Follow
Hi, I'm Patrick. I made this site to share my expertise on team augmentation, nearshore development, and remote work.
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