The performance review “destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line,” Culbert wrote in the Journal. “A one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense.” A Ph.D. in clinical psychology, Culbert hates performance reviews, if anything, even more today. “It’s all b******t anyway,” he says.
Despite Culbert’s protests, the performance review remains a fact of life for workers at most big companies. What is the best way to survive this annual ritual and come out on top? Culbert’s advice: be calculating, and remember that subjective forces are at play. “Don’t get emotional,” he says.
Paul Falcone, a human resources executive in Los Angeles and author of 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews and The Performance Appraisal Tool Kit, has more concrete advice to offer. First, Falcone says, you must take the initiative. Do your own self-examination in advance, he suggests. Some companies ask their employees to fill out self-review forms. If yours doesn’t, put yourself through the paces anyway. “Otherwise it’s like being a turkey on Thanksgiving,” Falcone says. “You put your head down on the block and wait for your boss to lower the ax.”
He recommends starting the process two months before your review. Write a memo detailing your achievements. What have you done to increase revenues, to decrease expenses, to save time, to reinvent your department in light of the company’s changing needs? Make sure you track the entire year since your last review. “Bosses don’t remember what you did 11 months ago,” Falcone points out.
Additionally, Falcone recommends you spell out what support you need from your boss. Also, detail your goals for the next year. What sort of measurable outcomes are you shooting for? This will help you in your review a year from now.
In your self-review, and in the performance review itself, speak plainly. “Talk English, for Pete’s sake,” Falcone says. Do not say anything like, “We leveraged strategic resources.” Speak in specifics, not generalities.
If you can, Falcone advises, frame the discussion yourself, casting your boss in the role of gentle coach and mentor rather than disciplinarian. “A lot of people go into the review asking, ‘How did I do, boss?’” he observes. “If you do it right, you’ve done the boss’ job for her, with respect and humility.”
What if the boss levels some unexpected criticism? Handle it calmly and openly, Falcone recommends. Apologize, but try not to take it personally. He suggests saying something that includes the word perception, as in, “If your perception is that I’m not doing this as well as you expected, then I take responsibility for that, and I’m sorry.” He calls such a response “business maturity.”
Own up to mistakes when you make them, he advises. Then thank your boss for the feedback.