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You are not alone if you are feeling stressed or frustrated because your supervisor just handed you an employee review form and asked you to fill it out in an impossibly short period of time. This is the ‘annual performance review’ ritual in most companies. A lot is at stake – what you’re paid, your career path, and maybe even your job. Here are some suggestions to take charge of the process and make it work for you:
Eliminate surprises in your performance review: Talk to your supervisor about setting up one or two meetings to informally discuss your performance before the final review session takes place. Do these over coffee or lunch if no other time is available to either of you. Your objective in the informal sessions is to understand what your supervisor thinks about your performance. This will let you tailor an appropriate and well supported response for the official performance review meeting. You may also want to ask some trusted peers about how they perceive your performance and how others view you in the organization.
Deal with complexity through prioritization: Performance review forms tend to be a grocery list of everything a company may ever find important. Tackle the form as a series of priorities. Start by filling out the sections that deal with what is usually the core of any evaluation process, namely: (1) what were you supposed to accomplish; (2) what did you actually accomplish; and (3) how has the company benefited from your work. Complete the rest of the form after you can answer these completely.
Be honest with yourself: Be as objective as possible in assessing your performance in the review period based on your preliminary research and what you know about yourself. This will let you put perspective around your contributions if you under-performed. Likewise, if your performance was exceptional you will want to build a case for more responsibilities, career advancement, and compensation. You cannot do any of these effectively if you are not self-aware.
Rehearse your responses: Anticipate how the conversation with your supervisor is likely to go, what is going to be asked, and in which sequence. Practice in front of a mirror or with someone watching closely and critiquing your responses. You need to exhibit confidence without being overbearing. You need to justify your performance without being defensive. You need to respond with facts and specific examples.
Set the performance meeting agenda: If you have followed the earlier suggestions you should be ready to nail the review meeting. Walk in there and ensure that the agenda is balanced with an equal discussion of accomplishments, areas for improvement, compensation and alignment with your career aspirations.
Adapt your responses: Read the mood of the reviewer. Listen to what’s being said, what is not being said, and observe the supervisor’s body language. Is the supervisor happy with your performance? Adapt your message accordingly. If there were problems with your performance, give examples where you achieved or exceeded objectives. If this is not working, switch your responses to focus on how you can do better in the future. This has a tendency to reduce the downside of a review. If the review is going positive, position yourself more strongly to meet your goals – be it more responsibility, compensation, or career advancement.
Bring a journal: According to Stephen Thompson, Founder & Managing Partner, Tamworth Partners Inc., “in addition to the performance review form, you should come prepared with a log book listing all your accomplishments and challenges at a detailed level. Managers often are not aware of the challenges their employees face. This is important information for the current review, but also positioning for the next one”.
Areas for future improvement: Be proactive in asking for areas where you can do better. Everyone can improve and by being open to these suggestions, regardless of how well you have done, shows initiative and a positive attitude – both of which are welcome personal attributes. Explicitly searching for ways to improve can take some of the edge off your weaknesses because you are agreeing to fix them.
Control your emotions: Use facts to contrast your objectives to your accomplishments. Avoid emotional outbursts of any kind – positive or negative. Do not take things personally. Your objective is to do a good or better job for the company – and to be compensated fairly. If you have not done it completely this time, you will for the next review.
Thompson offers this advice for the next review: “The purpose of a supervisor or manager is to help all of their employees to succeed and therefore add significant value to the organization”.
Start planning for your next review immediately and try to collaborate early with your supervisor. Get another blank copy of the performance review form and establish specific objectives for the next period. Agree to meet every few months to proactively track your progress against these. Next year’s performance review will be easier.