5 Ways to Prepare for a Performance Review: Employee Version

126168641.jpg
Glow Wellness/Getty

Published 3/21/2015

The annual employee performance review is an important opportunity to get feedback from your manager in order to make sure your performance is meeting expectations and to learn what you need to do to improve. Performance reviews can be used to justify raises or promotions, so it’s important to make sure you performance is accurately documented.

However, the annual workplace ritual has also been compared to a trip to the dentist to get a root canal.

Both can be accurate descriptions.

Just like taking care of your teeth, the reason the annual performance review ends up feeling like a root canal is because of a lack of preventive maintenance.

With a heathy amount of upfront planning and regular check-ups, the annual performance review can be as painless as an annual teeth cleaning.

Here’s five ways an employee can prepare for an annual employee performance review in order to make it a productive and painless discussion:

1. Be clear on expectations and goals well before the annual review. Take a look at the job posting that was used to advertise your position. When we are applying for a job, or new at a job, it’s not uncommon to only have a superficial understanding of many details of the job duties. Once you’re on board for a few months, and have learned the ropes and company jargon, you really should have a clear understanding of every aspect of what the job requires.

If you don’t, ask your manager to review his/her expectations of you. Ask your manager if there is a job description for your position, but don’t be surprised if there isn’t. It’s more important to get your manager to explain in his/her own words how your performance will be assessed throughout the year.

Even if your manager or company doesn’t have a formal goal setting or development planning process, you can still set informal goals with your manager. By doing so, you’re not only demonstrating to your manager that you are ambitious and results oriented, you are minimizing the chances that you’re be surprised throughout the year and at the end of the year during the annual review discussion.

See “How to Set Annual Employee Goals” for an effective way to develop goals with your manager.

2. Get feedback on a regular basis. When it comes to feedback, the old saying “no news is good news” is bad career advice. We all have blind spots, and need feedback in order to improve our performance (before it’s too late). Don’t wait to get feedback from your manager. Most managers avoid giving feedback because they aren’t good at it, and don’t want to be the recipient of a defensive reaction.

For more on how to get and receive feedback, read “10 Ways to Get Brutally Candid Feedback.” Just make sure that when you do, you listen, keep your mouth shut, and say, “Thank you.”

3. Maintain a record of your accomplishments thought the year. Keep a folder of good (and bad) performance, customer feedback, performance reports, progress on goals, and anything else that supports your performance expectations and goals.

4. Keep your manager informed. Don’t assume your manager is 100 percent aware of your performance status and accomplishments. Without overdoing it, let your manager know when you’ve done something great. It’s also important to own up to any mistakes – managers hate surprises, and will appreciate that you are accountable.  

For more on “managing” your boss, see “How to Manage Up” and “How to Work for a Macromanager.”

5. Provide input to your manager. Even if you are not asked for input to your annual review, provide it to your manager anyways. While humility is certainly a virtue, your input to your annual performance review is the ONE time when it’s OK to “toot your own horn.”

Keeping a record of your major accomplishments and summarizing them on an annual basis also serves another purpose – it’s the perfect time to update your resume! Each year you should be adding at least a couple of “resume-worthy” accomplishments to your resume and LinkedIn profile.

In addition to documenting your accomplishments, it’s also a good practice to do an honest self-assessment of your failures and shortcomings. While I wouldn’t recommend handing this list to your manager, it serves as good preparation to receive any critical feedback in a non-defensive and constructive way. Let your manager know that you are aware of the shortcoming, be prepared to present your plan for improvement and listen to your manager’s ideas.

When an employee follows these preparation tips, the annual discussion should merely be a summary of everything that has already been discussed throughout the year. The focus can then turn to setting expectations and goals for the following year.