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Surviving Performance Reviews at Work

Surviving Performance Reviews at Work


It’s that time of year again: the annual performance review at work.

The mere term can send the best of us spinning down a dreadful abyss of terminal thoughts. It has the potential to incite fear in the most seasoned professionals.

But, I promise, it doesn’t have to be that way.

With a little mindful planning and consideration, it can be one of the most engaging and helpful elements of your career that propel you ahead.

In this post, we will discuss how to survive your next performance review and make it your best one yet.

Performance ≠ Anxiety

Why do performance reviews give us such anxiety?

In speaking with countless employees over the course of my career, I found one thing to be all but certain. No one really enjoys the process, but it’s a necessary evil.

Performance reviews at work puts you in a state of vulnerability.

When performance reviews at work aren’t done thoughtfully, they aren’t always helpful, and in turn, can do more harm than good.

Not only is the history of your performance being discussed, but a lot hinges on the outcome of your review. Your performance review is likely tied to promotion opportunities, bonuses, and pay increases so it’s understood as to why you may anxious going into the meeting.

But with a little preparation and mindfulness, this can be a meeting that’s worth your time.

Qualities of a Good Performance Review Conversation

Before diving in, let’s investigate what you should be looking for in a performance review conversation at work.

There are several factors that make for a productive meeting.

  1. It’s a two-way dialog—you aren’t being spoken at, but it’s a collaborative conversation where you’re also engaged.
  2. An commonly understood purpose of the meeting—you know what you’re going to be discussing (i.e. peer, manager, and self-feedback, performance ratings, promotion, upcoming goals, etc)
  3. You receive actionable feedback — things you can tangibly work on.
  4. You have a plan — even if your plan includes following up in a few weeks. Whatever it is, make sure you’re comfortable with it.

Come with an open mind.

A good performance review can help you get what you want at work, but it requires an open-minded approach from both sides.

But being open-minded doesn’t mean being passive. If you want a good performance review, then it’s your responsibility to make sure that your manager knows what you want out of the process.

Be sure to clearly communicate your thoughts and expectations going in.

Have a solid plan going in.

It’s good to have a plan for performance reviews.

Why? Because they can be stressful, and you want to come out of them in one piece with your sanity in tact. You also don’t want your morale damaged by the experience. But even if you feel confident that nothing bad will happen during your review, it’s still worth having an idea of what might happen and how you can prepare yourself for it.

So, what should be included in the plan?

You’ll want to think about:

  • What are your goals for this review? (Growth and learning responsibilities, management opportunities, promotion, a raise?)
  • What areas do you need to improve in?
  • What have you done well in the past year?
  • What projects/work are you most proud of?
  • What do you support do you need in order to be successful in the work moving forward?

Make sure you’re getting feedback throughout the year.

Granted the formal review process is just one a year, but you’re being evaluated constantly so make sure you’re getting feedback throughout the year. Quite honestly, nothing at this point should be a surprise.

If you’re performing well, hopefully that isn’t a surprise and you’re being rewarded and recognized. And if you’re under performing, you should be aware of that as well.

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget how important this is and let yourself get caught up in your daily tasks and forget that there’s more to performance reviews than just one day per year. To avoid this trap, ask for feedback from your colleagues, manager and peers on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

This way, when it comes time for your review (or at least before), you’ll have plenty of information about how others see your work so far and what areas need improvement.

Don’t just sit there and take it—Have an active role.

A performance review at work is an opportunity for you to learn about your strengths, weaknesses, and to gather feedback. It’s also a time for your manager to help you improve in areas where you need it most. However, it’s about you, not them.

Your manager will probably have a lot of information to get through so make sure they’ve allotted at least 45 minutes to chat with you. But more importantly, go into the conversation armed with your own talking points. This is the time to discuss what worked or didn’t work for you. You can ask explicit questions on what they’re expecting from you. Honestly, the sky’s the limit. As long as you’re respectful and thoughtful, it will be a good use of your time.

Use this opportunity as an open forum to share with your manager so make good use of the time.

If you’re stuck on a structure for your conversation, I recommending using the stop, start, continue framework.

It’s simple, direct, and provides a starting point.

Do list your accomplishments, no matter how small they seem.

Most of us don’t relish the idea of having to sit down with our manager and explain all that we’ve done in the past year. But if you want to get ahead at work, it’s important that you do so–and not just once a year.

When it comes time for your performance review, make sure that you’re prepared with a list

of accomplishments from the previous 12 months. If possible, try to quantify these achievements as much as possible, for example: “I raised $20 million in new funding” is better than “I did well.” This way, when your manager asks about what went well this past year (or even if he doesn’t), they will see all those things listed out right there on paper.

Pro-tip: In listing your accomplishments, along with using data, consider adding the impact you had.

I promise, when your manager sees this, it’ll be hard to deny how badass you are.

If you’re the manager, take your time and be thorough.

If you’re the manager, take your time and be thorough—this is important for your employee so don’t rush through it.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the details of your day-to-day work, but taking a few extra hours (or days) to really think about your employee’s performance will help ensure that their review is accurate and fair.

Also, if your process doesn’t involve peer feedback, go the extra mile to collect that feedback well in advance thus allowing you to give a well-rounded and holistic view of their performance.

As a  manager, you don’t have to know everything so proactively ask questions. It’ll shows that you care about getting it right which is important as an employee and for yourself who wants their team working productively together toward shared goals.

If you’ve been passed over for a raise or promotion, try not to panic.

If you’re being passed over for a raise or promotion, try not to overreact, as hard as that may be—especially in the moment.

This is a common mistake many people make when they have to deal with performance reviews at work. They take it personally and let it affect their future performance, which can lead to anger and resentment toward their boss and other coworkers.

Try not to operate in that space.

The best thing you can do is take in the feedback, find the time and space to synthesize it, and come back with a plan of attack to be successful in the future.

Prepare for your performance review by familiarizing yourself with the company’s current business strategy, goals, and objectives.

Avoiding a performance review at work blunder is not rocket science.

You just have to be prepared.

Another helpful strategy is familiarizing yourself with the company’s current business strategy, goals, and objectives. You’re probably familiar with your team goals, but go the extra mile and go deep at a company level.

The more you can link your work performance outcomes to organizational wide goals and objectives, you’ll be better off for it.

See Also
What to Do When You Start a New Job and Get a Better Offer

Once you learn about the current goals, think about they align with what you’ve been working on. If there’s no natural alignment between these two things then chat about why with your manager.

Some jobs may not directly support a company’s north stars and that’s okay, but that shouldn’t impact your performance review at work.

Additionally, if there are major shifts in business focus or organizational strategy, for example, shifting from consumer products towards healthcare services, ask if these changes have implications for your role within the organization. If it’s not immediately obvious, ask anyway, because knowing what changes might come will help guide future career growth conversations.

Researching these things will help give context as well as demonstrate an understanding about what makes your role important within its larger context at work which should be part of any good performance review at work.

Understand that performance reviews are not just about what you accomplish, but also about what you didn’t accomplish too.

This can be tricky.

In a good performance review, the employee’s manager will highlight some of the great things

they did over well in the past. They should also take time to discuss areas where they can improve their skills or performance in order to become more valuable at work.

This is generally considered necessary because it allows both parties involved–the manager and employee–to be on the same page about expectations for future work together.

However, despite this positive intentionality behind formalized performance reviews at work, there are times when these conversations go awry and work against you.

That said, be open and honest about your work performance misses, however, come with a strategy to mitigate these challenges in the future, including asking for support and additional resources.

Take time to reflect on your accomplishments and areas for improvement before meeting with your manager.

Self reflection is key during a performance review cycle (hence why we complete self-reviews).

Purposeful self reflection before your 1-1 will help you prepare for what you want to discuss during the performance review.

We mentioned collectiving key accomplishments you made throughout the year so that when it comes time for your review, all of these accomplishments are fresh in your mind.

Write down things that could use improvement before speaking with your manager.

Think about what questions might come up during the meeting–for example: What do I want out of this next year? How can I improve upon last year’s performance? Are there any goals I would like set now or later down the road? What is keeping me back from my top performance at work?

Limitations of a review

I provided a ton of information on how to make performance reviews work for you. However, like with most things, there are inevitable limitations.

No matter how outstanding your performance at work may be, understand equally great outcomes are not guaranteed. Your manager is likely operating within the confines of company rules, policies and procedures. That raise, promotion, bonus, or you name is can never be promised and a stellar performance review may not matter.

It’s also worth mentioning, many performance management systems are simply imperfect. Throughout my career I’ve seen performance management done great, good, bad, and downright ugly.

Why is this important to note?

Because I’ve seem employees go on a downward spiral based on feedback provided during a performance review at work. And I want to share, it’s not the end of the world. Even in situations with a more rigid framework in place like the famous “up-or-out” approach, it will be okay.

Go forth and be great

I hope these tips have helped you prepare for your performance review at work. It’s important to remember that the process is a two-way street, so it’s just as much about what you can do to make it go smoothly as well to ensure your long term success.

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