Performance review time potentially one of the least desired events of the work year. Your experiences could range from receiving seemingly arbitrary comments, vacuous praise, a sense that your manager hates this more than you do, to comments on a job well done and even the (occasional) useful comment. Can you make this a better experience for yourself and your manager? Can you prepare? Yes to the latter, you can certainly prepare, and even better develop your review throughout the year. The answer to the first is that it cannot hurt to try, even if you have the most difficult manager imaginable.
Learn everything you can about the review process. What is the corporate policy on reviews? Does your division or organization implement the policy in a specific way? How do the reviews influence the individual compensation? Is there an overall summary, for example, a letter or ranking? If there is a summary, is it completely at the discretion of the manager, done by a management team, or based on some form of forced ranking? How are the rankings linked to overall corporate, division or group performance?
Understand your boss objectives and beliefs. Is he doing this to check off a box? Does she want to present her employees in the best possible light to others? Is he truly interested in your development? Does she have a hidden agenda? Does he believe that performance reviews are primarily for the benefit of the organization or for your development? Is there any political benefit to your manager for investing her time in this process? What is the political payoff to your manager for over-evaluating or under-evaluating his team?
Gather the relevant information. Throughout the year, keep files of accomplishments ranging from completed project plans, letters of acknowledgment, notes from phone calls. Gather your position description, the goal/objective document for the current year, last year performance review, mid-year reviews, and desired competencies for your job (or the one you aspire to).
Put yourself in the shoes of management. What results and contribution was management looking for from you this year? What did you do that contributed to your boss reputation? What behavior was your boss looking for from you (e.g., cooperation, team leadership, delivery of results, innovation, compliance)? Did you solve or cause any political problems in the organization?
Write it up. Write it up, that is, from the perspective of the boss what did you do for him and his organization this year? For format, think about how your boss likes to receive information does she want all of the gory details? Is he swayed by evidence? Does she want just the facts? Is he interested in shared credit? Put aside your natural style, and provide a review for your boss based on her style. Focus attention on your contributions, your strengths, and how they aligned with the organization and your boss objectives.
Meet with your manager. Ideally, your manager will use your performance review to acknowledge your contributions and strengths. She will give you a few helpful suggestions for the next year, and then move onto how to build success. Unfortunately, performance reviews are rarely ideal. If you have done your homework, you should be able to anticipate the mood of the meeting. Check your emotions at the door and listen carefully. Listen for the acknowledgments of contributions and strengths. Listen for the suggestions and criticisms don`t argue take these away and try to learn what the message is. Listen for the underlying beliefs and needs of your boss. What behaviors and contributions is he looking for from you?
Debrief. Review the meeting as objectively as possible. Quiet your internal voice that agrees or disagrees with comments made and try to note the words and tone used. Once again, look at the world through your boss eyes and needs what did he get from you and what does he need from you? What pressures is she under that led her to these conclusions? What beliefs, values and motivations drive him that you might or might not hold?
Some systems allow, or even encourage responding to written performance reviews. If you believe your performance review is unfair, carefully evaluate whether the issue is a matter of degree, whether there is some basis for the comment, whether there are any political motivations, and whether you have clear evidence supporting your position. If you believe after careful consideration that you have a case, meet with your reviewer and present any counter-evidence you have not previously provided. If the review stands (remembering that the boss usually wins), consider whether it is you are in the right job.
In the best possible world, performance reviews provide you an opportunity to review your contributions, calibrate your understanding of expectations, receive affirmation of your strengths, and learn about how to contribute even more in the next year. More likely, you need to be doing your best to influence opinion throughout the year. Remember that the more you can see the world through the eyes of your boss, the more likely you are to be able to meet her expectations.