1. Think of it as a gift. A well-executed performance review is a gift from a boss to an employee, yet we often don't think of it that way. Most people are averse to hearing about their weaknesses, which are an inevitably part of a quality performance review.
In fact, if you receive a performance review without hearing what you could do better next year, you've been robbed of your gift. The best way to grow professionally is to have a boss challenge you beyond your current performance.
That is not to say that you should not hear great things about your current performance too, but if the review ends with all accolades and no new growth challenges, you've been short changed.
2. Listen for clues. Your performance review is one of the best indications of how your boss sees you. Does he see you as a top, middle, or low performer in your department? He might not spell it out to you, but if you listen, you'll pick up on the clues.
If you don't get the impression that your boss sees you at the top, chances are he won't give you the high-profile assignments that will propel your career to the next level. It might be time for you to start thinking about changing jobs to find a boss who will be your champion.
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3. Delay any rebuttal. It's very hard to sit and listen to feedback without responding — especially if the feedback highlights criticism that you were not expecting to hear. Only a very bad boss blindsides someone with negative feedback during a review, so if you are hearing concern with your performance for the 1st time during a review, then shame on your boss.
Leave the meeting and digest what you've he! ard. Keep in mind that providing evidence to demonstrate that your boss's review was inaccurate is not going to help much, so consider a rebuttal carefully.
Learning to take constructive criticism without getting defensive is a mark of professional maturity, so unless the feedback is way off the mark, thank your boss for the review and move on.
4. Prepare a self-evaluation. Plan ahead by keeping a file of your accomplishments. Then, prior to your review, draft a document reviewing your accomplishments. Use bullet points, making it easy to read with measurable outcomes.
Provide your self-evaluation to your boss prior to your review. Some organizations actually require a self-evaluation, but if yours does not, do one anyway.
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Be bold about your accomplishments, but not boastful. Research tells us that women understate their performance in self-evaluations compared to men, and tend to give credit to their teams rather to themselves as individuals. So if you are female, think about stating your accomplishments more boldly.
Susan's Bottom Line: A performance review is your time to highlight your accomplishments, hear what your boss thinks about your performance and to listen for the subtle clues.
When executed well, a performance review will provide you with challenges for professional growth beyond what you imagine for yourself and you will accept them as the gift that they are.
A gift? I'm all for staying positive, but in 20+ years in corporate America, I never felt like a performance review was a "gift," so I'll need to start with that point of difference relative to Susan's advice.
"Constructive" I can live with, but a "gift" feels a bit over-the-top to me.
That s! aid, I ag! ree in concept with Susan's direction, and would encourage you to take a very proactive approach to this critical process. Here are my thoughts:
1. Take ownership of your review IMMEDIATELY. Susan is right. You should offer input – but you need to do it immediately.
Do it as soon as you can pull together cohesive thoughts in terms of both your accomplishments and your strengths. Why now? Your boss will vet your review with her boss and likely with her contact in the human resources department.
She will need to allow several days for that process, so if the review is a week away, she's very close to starting it. Once the review has been approved, she will not be terribly inclined to make significant changes to it.
It will make her look like she either did not do a thoughtful job in creating the review in the first place, or that she is a weak manager and was bullied into making positive changes during your discussion. Neither reflects well on her — and you want your boss happy (and happy with you).
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2. Be aggressive yet factual in your presentation of your accomplishments. Think hard about how the company has moved forward and the role you played in that process. Provide quantitative metrics when you are able to do so.
Did the organization improve? Did you play a role in that? If so, how?
If you are unsure of what you personally achieved, ask mentors or peers you trust what they think your role was in positive outcomes. Do not stretch the truth or you'll lose all credibility in this process (and look like a selfish employee who wants credit for the work of others).
3. Drill down with questions during the review. Don't necessarily debate points when you hear them (another area where I agree with Susan), but make sure you truly understand them.
Two non-combative ways to get there are by simply saying, "tell me a little more about that," or "help me understand what brought you to ! that pers! pective."
Make sure you understand not only the constructive feedback, but the data points utilized in your manager coming to that point of view. If you have a full understanding of the concern and basis for it, you'll be much better able to address it or refute it (after a 24 hour cooling off period and after you have effectively organized your fact-based thoughts to refute it, if necessary).
4. Remember that nobody is perfect. Every review will have at least a couple of opportunity areas on them. If not, the person giving the review has failed you.
We can all get better. How can you get better?? This insight is the closest thing I can find to a "gift" in this often stressful process. By the way, I appreciate when employers articulate whether a shortfall is a weakness — a serious concern — or an opportunity for improvement, which we all have.
5. Insist on an action plan to improve performance. Get consensus with your boss in terms of how you'll address your opportunity areas or weaknesses. You'll be happy about this when it's time for your next review.
Remember, we're all works-in-progress so have a positive attitude about improving your performance.
Pat's Bottom Line. Take a proactive approach in this process. Stay on offense by giving comprehensive input a week or more prior to the review.
Work to deeply understand the basis for any concerns your boss may have. Push back (respectfully) in a follow up meeting on areas of disagreement. Develop an action plan, and take on opportunities for improvement with a full head of steam.
Patrick O'Brien is a business executive, author of Making College Count and a professor at Miami University. He co-founded a company which has delivered success programs at more than 5000 high schools and colleges nationwide.
Susan Davis-Ali, PhD is the author of How to Become Successful Without Becoming a Man. She is the founder and President of Leadhership1®, and an Executive Education Fellow at the Carlson Scho! ol of Man! agement, University of Minnesota.