Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 6, 2010

How To: Improve your performance review experience

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

Here at the Finishing School, we hold a few truths to be self-evident:
1. Your performance review will be largely based on events from the 2 weeks preceding the review (rather than the prior year)
2. Your manager will rely very heavily on the self review you provide to complete her assessment of you
3. Performance reviews are often treated as a necessary evil, and few managers can deliver them well

Track your achievements:
Given these facts, it behooves you to keep solid records of your achievements throughout the year. Set a resolution this year to keep a log of all your accomplishments (large and small) so that when you need to write your self-review, you won't struggle to fill it with successes from 9 months earlier.

Set achievable goals:
Nothing is worse than having to acknowledge on your review that you failed to meet your objectives. Even worse is when these are personal goals you set for yourself. Don't shoot for the moon when you set your personal goals. If you think you can take 3 courses in advanced programming by the end of the year, set your goal to complete one.  You never know what emergencies will come up that can quickly sidetrack your plans.

Be prepared to work for quality feedback:
Most managers are not very good at delivering performance reviews, and let's be fair it's not an easy thing to do. Unless you have a great manager like I do, you're lucky if you get any constructive feedback at all. If you find yourself enduring a critique of your personality, or getting feedback that would have made a big difference 6 months ago (when it happened), you have some work to do. It will help to be prepared to ask some specific questions about how you can achieve more success in your role. One good exercise is the Stop, Start and Keep Doing question - Ask your manager "What would you like me to Stop doing, to Start doing and to Keep doing?" Keep the conversation focused on behaviors that are objective and measurable. And make a point going forward to check in with your manager or request mid-year reviews to ensure she does not hold onto feedback until it's too late to be helpful.

What are your top tips for surviving performance reviews? Have any horror stories? Share your stories in the comments.

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