On the long list of unpopular workplace inevitabilities, performance reviews rank pretty highly on the “most likely to produce eye-rolling among staff” metric.
A 2017 survey by Adobe found that more than half of office workers believe performance reviews are a “needless HR requirement”. Some companies – including Microsoft, Accenture and GE – have even abandoned the annual review model altogether, opting for less rigid approaches based on regular check-ins.
Darren Hill, founder of behaviour and motivation consultancy Pragmatic Thinking and co-author of Dealing With The Tough Stuff, says there’s an “inconvenient truth” behind the cultural resistance to performance reviews.
“Many managers actually don’t believe that performance reviews are worth having,” Darren says. “An unskilled leader who sees value in the process even though they lack skills will trump a highly skilled cynic every day of the week.”
But a performance review need not be a Survivor-style trial of physical endurance and passive aggression, and if you have that mentality then you’re not seeing the opportunity for what it is: a chance to genuinely impress the person who holds your career in their hands.
Here’s how you can do it.
Regardless of what the format requires, you should write, and be familiar with, a comprehensive list of all your achievements – and, ideally, their impact on the business – since the last review. Hopefully you’re already in the habit of keeping a work journal (if not, here are some good reasons why you should) so this should be relatively easy.
Take it in to the review with you and don’t be afraid to refer to it. This is about your performance – bringing with you a list of actions you’ve performed is totally okay.
Your mum might disagree, but you know full well you’re not perfect. And so does the boss. So they’re not going to be too impressed when you try to convince them that you’re God’s gift to employers.
Darren says honesty is a way to “build a psychological contract” between you and your plan of action.
“Forget ‘feedback sandwiches’ – good, bad, good – and other techniques to paper over underperformance,” Darren says. “Get to the point and talk about how to change behaviour.”
Bad performance reviews are often characterised by a kind of procedural banality, but if you let yours turn into nothing more than a box-ticking exercise you might as well pack it in for another year. Have a list of questions prepared – “What more do you need from me?”; “What more can I do to help the company?”; “How can I be in your job in five years?” – and use them if and when focus begins to drift.
And don’t forget that the performance review is not about your boss, so feel free to bring the conversation back to you when it starts getting a little bit too them.
Having self-belief is not only a basic requirement for getting out of bed in the morning – some organisations even include confidence-related metrics within their performance review model. But even if they don’t, building up a little self-efficacy – a belief that you can achieve your goals – will stand you in good stead.
“Turn up with a possibility mindset,” Darren says. “If you don’t believe success can happen, or believe it will happen, then you’re likely to be right in both cases.”
If you’re dreading the thought of copping a grilling from the boss, keep in mind that they may be looking forward to it as much as you. Giving criticism to someone’s face is hard for most people, especially when you’re confined in a potentially high-stress environment.
Approach your performance review as a collaboration, rather than an interrogation, and you might walk away singing a happier tune than your colleagues.
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