The rules of performance reviews are changing. Not too long ago, management guru Peter Block said, “The performance review is the company’s opportunity to prove to you, once again, that they own you.” But as employees gain better access to information and assume more responsibility for managing their careers, the performance review is becoming another opportunity for you to demonstrate value to your company.
The purpose of a performance review
Performance reviews give employees and employers a chance to evaluate regularly whether they are happy with each other. The review is a meeting between you and your boss to discuss both the results of your work and the process you went through to achieve them. The discussion includes an evaluation of your initiative, problem solving, attitude, professional demeanor, and other qualitative aspects of your performance.
The conversation does not have to take place all at once; you can break it up into more than one meeting. And performance reviews can be negotiated if you go in with firm evidence in your favor.
Understand where your boss is coming from
It’s rare for someone to actively look forward to a performance review. If you have some hesitation, chances are your boss does, too.
Managers spend years trying to master the art of giving a really good performance review. But now you have the opportunity to make the performance review process much more fun, much more stimulating, and much more enriching for both parties. Make it as easy as possible for your boss to write you a terrific review.
Your boss may have some idea of your accomplishments, but is probably not keeping close tabs on both process and results. Most managers conduct and write up a group of performance reviews at once. Unfortunately they are often under deadlines set by the human resources department and by their boss, and may not have access to everything their direct reports have done during the year. You have to build the case for yourself. The better prepared you are, the easier it is for your boss.
Document your accomplishments
No one is paying closer attention to your work than you are. The performance review, and the promotion or salary increase that often goes with it, goes much better if you make a habit of keeping good notes about your accomplishments. In addition to helping you make your case in the review, these notes also provide moral support in between reviews. The company wants to know what you’ve done for it lately.
Ask yourself if your pay in line with your performance. Are you prepared to discuss your accomplishments?
One way to document your contribution to your company is to keep a job diary. Your first day on the job is not too soon to start. Make a habit of writing down what you did and how it helped meet the company’s objectives. Keep lists or spreadsheets, and anticipate the future by thinking about what you would like to accomplish next year.
Other people’s feedback is also valuable when you are preparing for a review. If someone sends you written kudos, put them in a file. If someone says something complimentary, ask him or her to put it in writing.
Even if your diary is incomplete, always prepare for your performance review by making a list of your accomplishments for the year.
Document your attitude
Performance is about results, but not just about results. Attributes such as positive attitude, willingness to put in overtime, and quality of work, are essential. Include a few good stories about your work in your diary to illustrate what you added.
Think seriously about what your general behavior conveys to those around you. Try to be “likable” in the corporate sense. That means being pleasant to be around, respectful of others, and deferential to people with more experience. It means being comfortable with the rules and willing to put in extra work when it’s called for.
Make the grade
When you get constructive feedback in a performance review, listen to it carefully and objectively. If part of the feedback is difficult to hear, take some time to consider what was said, so as not to appear defensive. Later, when you have some privacy, think about what you heard and whether you have an opportunity to learn from it. Companies value employees who can accept professional guidance.
The performance review is usually a separate conversation from the discussion of raises and promotions, but it is related. The outcome of your review is likely to be a sheet of paper with number or letter grades on it, and a set of attributes on which you are graded. Ideally you want to be in the top one or two grades for each attribute, so that you are in line for more responsibility and more money.
Then, the day after the performance review, it’s time to write in that job diary again.