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How to Prepare for your Performance Review

Performance review season is upon us.  Managers are in the midst of collecting collective feedback to help you learn how you are being perceived in the organization.  For many, this time of year is filled with dread, uncertainty, and perhaps, hope.  Many people walk out of this experience with a promotion or a raise.  And some walk out with one last chance.  Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of expectations, this article will help you navigate and optimize the upcoming performance review.

Before your Review

Think about what seeds you want to plant.  Where do you want to go next in your career? This is the time to share your hopes and dreams and goals for your future at the company (if your dream is to leave the company, read this).  Do you want to get promoted?  Do you expect a raise?  Do you want an international assignment?  Do you want more or less oversight and responsibility?  Do you want to try a different product/department/take on a new challenge?  Is there any training that you’re interested in taking that aligns with your role?  Find some time for peace and quiet so you can get really clear on what you’d like to do next in your career.

Then, if this is not built-into your review already, give your manager a heads up that you would like time to share your career goals and would value her/his input on how to achieve them. Ask if the performance review is an appropriate time to review or if there’s another time in the near future that’s more suitable.

Because the performance review is one of the only dedicated times of the year when you and your manager sit down and focus entirely on you,it’s a perfect time of year to share your vision for growth and learn what it would take to actualize your vision.  Mentally prepare yourself to have this conversation with your manager. (If you have trouble advocating for yourself, practicing in front of the mirror may help).

During your Review

performance review is a true gift.  It’s your chance to peek behind the curtain to see how you’re being perceived in the organization.  It’s also an opportunity to hear from others what you do well and what you can do differently to improve.  EVERYONE has strengths and opportunities for improvement, no matter how successful they’ve been.  (You’ve likely read about Steve Jobs’ shortcomings, one of the most influential people in tech).  A good manager will share both the positive and the opportunities for improvement with you.

Many people, during a performance review, will disregard all the positive feedback and wait, with bated breath, for the negative feedback and become entirely fixated on the ladder (this is especially prevalent for people with Type A personalities who strive for perfection).  Try to prevent yourself from doing this.  Soak in the positive feedback and listen to all the ways your organization recognizes your contributions.  But also listen thoughtfully to the opportunities for improvement.  As hard as it can be, try not to take the feedback too personally.  In the end, it’s up to you to decide if you trust what you’re hearing and what you want to do about it.

 Do’s and Don’ts During the Performance Review 

  1. Don’t use “you said/you did”– If a sensitive topic comes up, this may be a good time to address it in a productive manner (use your gut to decide).  If you choose to do this, try to avoid “you said/you did” statements.  Using this approach will put your manager in defense mode and suddenly, it’s you vs. her/him.  Keep the tone of the review focused on how you can partner together to make the most of the upcoming years.  

If you don’t get along with your boss or don’t trust your boss, you’re not alone.  A recent Harvard Business Review survey revealed that only 53% of employees felt like their manager actually cared about their well-being. (If you need more support in managing a difficult boss, read this).  If you’re on the other side of that spectrum, that’s a true gift!  Be sure to let you manager know that you appreciate their thoughtfulness.

  • Don’t say, “that wasn’t my fault”– It’s human nature to defend yourself.  But steer clear of these words or they’re likely to paint you in a negative light. You also don’t have to take feedback you don’t agree with in silence.  A better way to respond is to say, “I understand your perspective and that is something that I’ll work on in the future.”  

If you think it’s necessary to present the other side of the story, set up another meeting to discuss.  But, after you share your side of the story, admit what you’ve learned through the experience (demonstrate self-awareness), how you’re incorporating the feedback, and how to move forward in a productive manner. 

  • Do listen to your manager– Even if it’s been a tough year, the performance review is your chance to wipe the slate clean and give it a fresh start.  The performance review can be a chance to help transform your environment from a place of stress to a more peaceful place.

With this being said, your manager does not define who you are as a person- only you can do that.  You get to choose what information you internalize and what you disregard.  But don’t miss a chance to learn more about yourself- learning almost always leads to more open doors.

  • Do be gentle on yourself– The performance review is one of the only times through the year when your boss has the time and space to focus entirely on you.   When done right, you hear both positive feedback and opportunities for improvement.  And, since you’re reading this, you’re likely invested in your career and in yourself so it can be difficult to hear those opportunities for improvement.

After your Review

Do something special for you the evening after your performance review to allow the information to be received in the way it was intended- to help you grow. Take a couple of days to allow the information to sink in so you can appropriately digest what was heard and determine what you’d like to do with it.  

Think through these questions: 

  • What can you focus on to compliment your strengths and what training can you get to address your opportunities for growth?  
  • Given what you heard, is this the right environment for you or are the problems so systemic to the organization that you’ll keep running into the same challenges no matter how much you change?  
  • Are you willing to make the changes required to thrive in that environment?  
  • What can you influence in this situation and how would you like to use that influence?
  • How will this organization support your long-term vision for career growth?

Remember, this is just one moment for feedback out of the many you will have over the course of your life.  Ultimately, you are in control of your own destiny and you get to choose what you do with this information.  Let this be the jumping off point to help you decide what the right next step is in your career and your personal growth.

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