How to Get the Most From Your Performance Review

Things to Do Before and After an Employee Evaluation

Performance Review
This employee seems to be getting a good review. Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Do you remember the feeling you got in the pit of your stomach when it came time for your teacher to hand out report cards? It didn't matter whether you were expecting a good one or a bad one. You just couldn't be entirely sure of what he or she thought of your work until you saw it. The same is true of your annual performance review from your employer. Even if you are confident you are doing a good job, it may still stress you out.

After all, it can determine the future of your job.

Employers often base their decisions about raises and promotions on performance reviews which are also called employee evaluations and performance appraisals. Sometimes they even use them to decide whether or not to fire someone. To let you in on a little secret, many managers dislike performance reviews as much as their subordinates do. They would much prefer to offer feedback on a more regular basis, but yet their employers require they do them.

When it comes to a performance review, you may feel helpless. The person who will write it wields a lot of power. His or her opinion of what you've done over the past year—not necessarily an unbiased account—goes into the report and therefore into your permanent file. While you don't have a lot of control over this situation, you do have some. You need a strategy for dealing with your review that will help alleviate some of your stress and could even improve the outcome.

Here are some things you should do:

First, Become Familiar With the Process

Sometimes the fear of the unknown is the worst part of the whole review process. If you familiarize yourself with how it all works, you may feel more in control. If you haven't been evaluated yet at your current job, ask your coworkers what to expect.

It is also essential to understand why many employers use performance evaluations as a way to evaluate their workers. Theoretically, their goal is to provide feedback, clearly communicate expectations, and open up a dialogue with employees. In an ideal world, this would be done more frequently than once a year. Unfortunately, far too often, it doesn't happen that way.

Next, Prepare a Self-Review

Before your manager reviews you, evaluate your own performance. Make a list of all your achievements and accomplishments over the last year. If you have kept track of them regularly, this should be relatively simple to do. If you have not, this task will be much more arduous. You will have to spend some time figuring out what you accomplished over the year. Then note ways your employer benefitted from your efforts, for example, increased profits, a bigger client roster, or retention of older clients.

Be very specific. For example, how much did profits increase? How many clients did you bring on board or get to stay? How much did they spend? Highlight everything you want to discuss during the review. Gather any documentation that will back up your claims. Look over your self-review the night before you meet with your boss so you will be prepared to discuss it the next day.

Decide How You Will Respond to a Bad Review

Thinking about what to do if things don't go well with your evaluation isn't going to make you less nervous, but it will allow you to respond to a bad review effectively if you have to. By developing a plan in advance of needing one, you will be able to do all the right things and none of the wrong ones. 

Resist the temptation to react immediately after your review. Instead ask to meet with your boss in a couple of days, after you have had the opportunity to look at it objectively and calm down. One of two things will happen: you may realize the negative feedback wasn't really as off the mark as you first thought or you may conclude the review was indeed unjust.

In the event that you agree with your boss on some of the points he or she made, keep your appointment and use it to go over ways to improve your performance.

You should also meet with your boss to present your case about a review you sincerely feel is unfair. Use clear examples that counter the criticisms he or she made. If you were too overwhelmed during the initial performance review to discuss your achievements and accomplishments, do it during this followup meeting.

After Your Performance Review: Take-Aways

Regardless of the results of your performance review, think of it as a learning opportunity. You should be able to take away valuable information, whether it is about yourself or your reviewer. If you received valid criticism, figure out how to make improvements over the next year. Do you need to update your skills, manage your time better, or get to work on time more regularly?

Did you realize your boss simply wasn't aware of your accomplishments? Make a point of arranging meetings throughout the year instead of just at review time so you can keep him or her informed.

Even glowing feedback presents you with an opportunity. It will inform you of what you need to keep doing and what additional things you need to do to make next year's review even better.

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