Spring is performance review season — your employer may hold mid-year performance reviews, or if your company is on a July-to-June fiscal year, now would be the time for the annual performance review. These evaluations are not just additional busywork, but can play a role in deciding raises, promotions, lateral moves, or even who stays/ who goes during a restructuring.
What if you recently made a high-profile mistake – e.g., errors in a presentation you made to senior management? What if your results are below average – e.g., you’re in sales and behind your targets? What if a coworker complained about you – e.g., you were picked to manage a project and a potential team member opted not to work for you?
We all have hiccups in our careers. Ideally there is time to course-correct before a small setback lands in a bad performance review. However, if performance reviews are just around-the-corner, there may not be enough time to change negative perceptions. If you are worried about your upcoming performance evaluation, here are five strategies to prepare:
Get real about your shortcomings
Of course, it’s better if that coworker didn’t say anything derogatory about you, if your sales numbers were on target, or if you never blundered during a presentation. But if your performance is in any way in need of development, assume that these shortcomings will come up, and be prepared to discuss them. Hang back during the performance review, and wait to see what your manager brings up as the key issues and examples of underperformance. Your manager may have different priorities than you – say, s/he may be more worried about your teammates not wanting to collaborate with you over you falling behind in your sales numbers. Maintain a list of all the areas and specific instances where you might be judged negatively, and be prepared to discuss these, but take your manager’s lead on what comes up.
Identify what you can change
When a negative comment or situation is brought up, take responsibility for your role in it. Even if you believe you are not at fault – e.g., your coworker is oversensitive, or your sales targets are unrealistic, or you are overworked and therefore ran out of time to doublecheck your presentation numbers – identify what role you played in the situation. You haven’t invested the time to build better relationships with coworkers, or you are too overbearing in group discussions. You have been slow to react to the challenging buyers’ market. Or you need to build in more time to triple-check your presentation, maybe even corralling an outside set of eyes. There are always things you can change and ways you can improve as an individual.
Ask for the specific help you need
As you acknowledge what you need to change, this is an opportune time to ask for help and resources from your manager and the company. There might be training available, even 1:1 coaching. If it’s a question of additional staff or time on your schedule to get things done, your manager may agree to delegate to others or shift your workload. Your manager might also offer to be a coach or sounding board for you – perhaps meet with you more frequently to help get your sales numbers back on track.
Confirm the company will support you
When you come to your performance evaluation self-aware of your development needs and prepared to do the work to improve, this should be well-received by your manager. Pay attention to how s/he reacts to your proactive behavior. If s/he dismisses your suggestions outright or is unwilling to help you improve in the areas s/he identified as the problem areas, this is a red flag that s/he might think the situation can’t be rectified. I wouldn’t put your manager on the spot during the review and call out their unwillingness to help. But I would ask for clarity on what the next steps are. If you offer to be more careful for future presentations or double your sales efforts to boost your numbers or to prioritize relations with your coworkers, and your manager dismisses these objectives, then ask for what s/he specifically wants to see from you. If s/he gives a general answer like “improvement” or worse, “I’ll know it when I see it” then ask for how s/he will measure improvement. You need to have a tangible goal to shoot for. If your manager can’t (or won’t) give you one at the performance review, then ask for a meeting in one month to check back on your performance. You want to make sure to start course-correcting after any bad performance review.
Recommit or reconsider
A productive performance review includes candid feedback and specific recommendations on how you can improve (including measurable goals and a timeline for meeting these). If you have a productive evaluation meeting with your manager, even if it doesn’t show your best work, then you can absolutely bounce back from this. Your come-from-behind spirit might actually strengthen your relationship with your manager! Therefore, the final step in overcoming a bad performance review is for you to recommit to make the improvements and to press on at the company. A caveat to this would be in the scenario where your manager appears uncommitted to you and unwilling to specify how you can improve or support you in that process. In that case, you may want to reconsider whether your current role is the best place for you. You might be better served with a different manager and therefore try to move laterally to another group. Or your company may not be good about developing its people, and you may decide to look at competitors.
If you don’t have an employer who gives performance reviews, or you work for yourself, give yourself a mid-year performance review. Are you on track with the new year’s resolutions you set in January? What do you need to change? Where do you need support?