Tips for an Effective and Constructive Annual Performance Review to Ensure Professional Success for the Coming Year
The holidays are drawing near, and for many of us, this means parties, presents and celebrating the special holiday time with family and friends. But for companies that run on a calendar fiscal year, it also means that the dreaded “Annual Performance Review” looms large for workers. So, many employees are rushing to get their final projects done before taking a holiday break and many managers are tallying up wins/losses, with both sides gearing up for a seeming “battle royale.” But why does the process have to be dreaded? It doesn’t.
The notion of traditional performance reviews is changing, giving way to a more collaborative, inclusive process where both sides are learning things to take forward. Your annual performance review (or any performance discussion) doesn’t have to be dreaded, and certainly isn’t a place for you to dress for battle. Instead, it should be a discussion where you have the opportunity to understand your performance, feel appreciation for where you shine, and get feedback about development areas. It should also be an opportunity for you and your manager to “level-set” the expectations for the role and lay a foundation (or put a stone on the path) for your learning and evolution.
So, with that in mind, let me share a few ways to make this process different from how you may have imagined it in the past:
Get in the Right Mind
There is nothing a manager dreads more than a stressful performance discussion — trust me when I say that giving a worker constructive criticism is often uncomfortable and frankly, a little scary (after all, no one likes to tell someone that they aren’t doing the best job possible!). Unless your manager is a completely deranged masochist, they want to see you doing better and would rather not have those conversations. If you can remember that ultimately, they are there to help you, you’ve already started things on the right foot.
That said, it is the manager’s job to help identify areas of improvement and offer suggestions on how to do that; your manager is your manager for a reason, and the company is depending on him or her to ensure that the right efforts are made, and right results achieved.
Be Active – Help your Manager Help You
Managers are human, and many of them were placed into management without the benefit of professional training and coaching on how to be great managers and bring out the best in employees. I am not excusing this practice, as it is the company’s responsibility to ensure that their managers are equipped for success.
But if less-than-ideal management is the scenario with which you’re faced, you don’t have to be a victim of that circumstance. If your manager is not the best communicator in the world, you have two choices. Let the conversation go poorly, and get nothing out of it beyond resentment for them being horrible communicators — or take a more active role:
- If you hear things like, “Susie, you are ALWAYS late on deliverables,” or “EVERYTHING you do is horrible,” then accept the feedback and ask for clarification. Mention to your manager that in order to improve, it is important for you to have specific focus areas and that broad, sweeping statements like “always” and “everything” are tough to learn from.
- Ask for examples of when you were late, and talk through the dependencies that you had on others, or things that were out of your control that may have affected the delivery.
- Ask your manager for insights on how they would have handled it or mitigated those risks.
- Ask what you could have done differently to bring about a different outcome.
- After they answer, repeat it back to show that you understand the feedback and how to apply it to future scenarios. This demonstrates both ownership and active listening – both excellent for you and for your learning.
Go in With Knowledge
As an HR executive, I am a strong believer in understanding which competencies or skills are necessary for success in your role, and using those to guide development. If your company or manager doesn’t use competencies to help define your profession/role and what would be expected of someone in it at your career stage, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them at your disposal. Here’s a step-by-step plan for doing that:
- Go online to different industry or professional groups and see if they define a set of competencies that you can leverage. If you can’t find one, go into different job sites and look for job descriptions for roles similar to yours.
- Look at several of them and pull out similar traits/sets of experience that you see – if they show up more than twice from different company’s postings, it is likely that this is a “common” skillset that is desired for your type of role.
- Build a list of competencies that you can talk about with your manager. Then assess yourself on those competencies, and have your manager do the same from their perspective.
- Take both assessments and have a discussion about gaps and overlaps; this can provide a tremendous amount of learning.
- Then take these gaps/overlaps and drive a discussion about the types of projects you are currently involved in or would like to be involved in. Are they going to get you the type of experiences that you need to build your competencies? This can be a very effective way to understand how what you’re working on aligns with what you should — or could — be doing. It will also set a nice roadmap to what you can take on for the future.
Don’t Just Check the Box
Having a set of goals at the beginning of the year, and checking them off in a box throughout the year does not always translate to excellent performance. One can take on a lot of activities and complete them, but drive very little impact.
Instead, think about the following: Did anything change as a result of what you did? Did anything improve? It doesn’t have to be millions of dollars or months of time, but being able to draw a line between what you did, and what the desired outcome was, is critically important.
It is also important to look at quantitative and qualitative aspects of what you delivered. Did you get everything done on your list, drive excellent impact to the company, but were like a bull in a china shop and behaved in a way that everyone refuses to work with you? If that is the case, you would have to ask yourself, honestly, how well you did. In many of today’s dynamic environments, the work that you get done is just as important as how you do it, and how you work with — and through — others to collaborate.
Preparation is Key
Your annual review discussion is not the time that you want to wing it. Take the appropriate amount of time to reflect on what you delivered, and prepare for a quality discussion:
- Have enough respect for yourself, and your manager, to mull over what went well, and what could have gone better.
- Identify the key messages you want to land during your discussion with your manager.
- Prepare supporting statements that demonstrate your understanding of how things went.
- Since I have said in earlier articles that no one can tell your story better than you, bring along some results and examples that can punctuate your points. This can be data, feedback from others, charts or visuals.
- I also encourage people to keep a running folder throughout the year of “kudos” that they receive from others – which you can use during ebb periods, as well as to support what went well.
Any performance discussion is an opportunity to connect, reflect, renew or revise—and also to learn what to start doing, stop doing, or do differently. These are key opportunities for you to connect with your manager on your day-to-day work, as well as provide them insights into what you need, what you want, and to help them learn what motivates you.
Hopefully, you’re having them more than once a year. At the very least, ensuring there is a more active role on your part during that process can make those discussions — be they one or many — more beneficial!25