Evaluating employee performance is an ongoing process. It involves frequent meetings in which employees and supervisors clarify job expectations, set specific goals, and have opportunities to give each other feedback. For this process to go smoothly, supervisors must establish a pattern of careful record keeping. It is not enough to rely on memory if you want to prepare a fair and honest appraisal of an employee’s work. Appraisal forms can help you organize and focus your observations and conversations on outcomes and productive behaviors, not busyness and distracting activities, throughout the course of a year. Whether you develop a form that is customized to your company specifically, or use one of the many templates available, a well structured employee evaluation form can lead to fairer and more meaningful appraisals that build trust and benefit both the employee and the company.

If you opt for a template, there are a number of ways to find one that suits your needs. There are many online sites that cater to performance management and more specifically to writing employee appraisals. A number of these sites offer examples or templates that can be downloaded without cost. You can also order pre-printed forms from companies on the web. This may be an efficient way to get the job done, but keep in mind, these forms will be generic in nature—someone unfamiliar with your company decides what is and isn’t important.

For a better result, create your own forms – or at least create your own list of criteria to evaluate. This allows you to create a document that reflects performance that aligns with your organization’s needs and values. You can use the same basic template for the entire company, customizing parts of it according to individual areas’ requirements. When you develop your form, try to come up with a format that encourages a conversation between the manager and employee. One way feedback is better than nothing, but successful performance management requires an engage of ideas and interaction. The availability of this type of form will encourage supervisors to document employee performance more accurately and regularly than they otherwise might – no more trying to remember all the things that “Jane” did or didn’t do last year.

In addition to basic employee appraisal forms, there are other types of forms that you can use to gather information. A larger company may want to introduce the concept of 360 degree feedback for their management staff, and develop a customized form to use for that purpose. 360° feedback allows managers to draw input from a wide cross-section of people they interact with each day, not just their immediate supervisors. Because this form will have a wide distribution, it needs to be succinct and easy to understand; otherwise you may not get the response you desire.

An employee evaluation form can be as simple or as complex as your needs require. Ideally you will use one simplified form for ongoing feedback sessions that occur throughout the year and a more detailed version of the same form for semiannual and/or year end appraisals. Whether you’re working from a simple table with just a few categories, or a more sophisticated, detailed document, having a form to capture your employees’ strengths and opportunities and a place to document their progress will go a long way in helping you build trust and credibility with your staff.