How to manage your Performance Review?

The yearly appraisal process is about to start – here is how to make it work in your favor.

As every year at about this time, in almost all corporations, the yearly appraisal, the evaluation, the Performance Management Process[1] is about to start, if it hasn’t been initiated already.

Many of us feel critical about this “adopted habit”, yet does it require preparation form our side, forms need to be filled in and send away. At the end there is a conversation which, case it’s not running well, could have quiet an impact on our bonus payment and next potential salary raises and career steps.

Here is how to master the process and how to make it work to your advantage;

Why does it exist?

First, the process, which normally is yearly, is not there to make your life miserable. It does exist to give senior leaders of organizations a view on how the employees performance in general is progressing year over year, whether the organization is already performing at its upper end of potential or if there is room for improvement and in which areas.

It also is meant to increase visibility of the top-performers in groups and departments, where people should grow into new roles and who would be suitable to fill job openings.

And it turned out to be useful for the differentiation of bonus-payments to the individuals.

What it is not?

Before we investigate what the system really is and how it can work for you; lets be clear on what it not is:

It is not a substitution for your regular one-on-ones with your leaders, its not an institutionalized process to punish employees or to make your life miserable and make you have sleepless nights. It’s also not a way to give your boss more power over you. (by the way – your boss most likely is also preparing his documentation to be sent to his boss …)

Why is it important for you?

The performance review process consists of a sequence of meetings and tasks, where everybody involved will defend his interests.

  • The company wants to know how its most expensive resource – the people – are performing. They have an understandable interest in developing high performers, keeping good performers, and dealing with poor performers.
  • Your Boss certainly wants the same, but he has his own agenda, preferences amongst the people in his team and his perception of everybody’s performance. He also has to deal with the expectations of his boss and so on.
  • Your colleagues might see the process as competition to see who wins the biggest share of the bonus, etc.
  • You – there are things at stake. But the better you prepare, the more you get out of it!

What it is and what are the steps:

The performance management process is an organized corporation-wide workflow of meetings, definitions, data generation and aggregation and decisions. The core consists of well-prepared and structured one-on-one conversation / feedback & planning sessions between the individual employees (you) and their accountable leader (your boss).

In a nutshell;

  1. You are invited to prepare for the performance review. Probably, it is not the first time that you did this, so you should have a document from last terms’ appraisal. You will be asked to elaborate your view on
    • how you have performed on each goal/target you were given during the previous review,
    • what you suggest as targets for your job for the coming term,
    • what your development and career targets are, and forward this to your manager[2]
    • what your general self-appraisal is regarding your contributions, projects, etc. from the last term,
  2. Your boss is doing the same thing. He is reviewing your targets and is writing down his perception on how you did perform regarding the individual items and in general. He will also draft your targets for the coming term. Most likely he will keep his evaluation with him until your Review-session. He will do this for all his direct reports – so he has the bigger part of the job.
  3. Your boss will schedule the meeting. During that review Meeting you will be invited to give your self-evaluation about the targets from the last term followed by your view on how you did in general and what you see as your target for the coming term.
  4. Your boss will then give his view and discuss item by item with you. This is followed by general appraisal and targets for the next term. Depending on your situation, you will discuss your development and/or career plan.
  5. At the end everything will be documented and signed. This includes items where your boss has a different view on your performance and where this difference has not been overcome during the conversation[3].

Following your meeting, your leader will have to report, depending on the company, in presence of his peers, about the outcome of the process in his area, up to which degree the targets of the last term were met, how the performance of everyone has been evaluated and why. He will also give an outline about the targets for the next term. He then will report who he deems as potential for promotions, raises and who might benefit from a lateral move. And who will remain without any change.

This is how you prepare for the individual steps of the PMP:

Before it starts

There are two major factors that influence in the outcome of your performance review:

  • Your performance during the past year
  • The quality and quantity of the input you prepare for the different steps of the process.

Let’s briefly address your performance during the last term; there is and always will be a difference between plan and reality. It is obvious that some of the targets you agreed upon during last year’s process became obsolete, impossible to achieve or substituted. It is important however that you keep track of those changes and highlight them occasionally during your one-on-ones with your leader. The point here is to avoid that things get forgotten and turn up as surprise during the conversation. So, keep something like a change-log and update with your leader accordingly.

For those things that did not change; achieve them! Do a diligent planning in your calendar once you have your performance plan approved and start working on it.

As you go through the year you will meet your targets, have other achievements, and make important progresses in direction which were unplanned. Find a way to keep track of your output. Have your achievement diary. So, when it’s time to prepare for that meeting, you have all the good things you did at hand and nothing gets lost.

When the process starts, embrace it with a positive attitude. You can only win! Commit to make it a positive and stress-free process.

Preparing the material you send to your Leader in advance;

When preparing your self-assessment, be honest, transparent, and fair. When laying out your achievements, don’t exaggerate, but don’t be shy either and take ownership of the awesome things you did. But don’t bring up irrelevant stuff, nor mention anything negative unless you really must. Don’t beat yourself up.

Help your boss!

Put yourself in the situation of your boss. He probably has more than one person to evaluate. He probably can’t remember all the good things you did during the past term. So, help him through your outstanding preparation.

Whenever you can, support your assessment with data. This gives an enormous amount of credibility, shows that you are aware of your Leader’s needs for back-up material. Send Sales, Margins, Units sold, shipped, build. Costs reduced, avoided, etc. Prefer data from sources other than yourself, if possible. Add graphics, etc.

If you have, show feedback you obtained in writing from clients, suppliers, colleagues, etc.

Document for him your strong points and explain in few words why that was/is/will be making a difference. Be proactive and send some data along with your prepping material. She for sure will appreciate it. But be disciplined: for the prepping material you send in upfront only send data. Leave any interpretation, judgement, opinion, and thoughts for the upcoming conversation.

Preparing for the conversation and the material you want to have with you;

When scheduling the conversation, just take care of the usual stuff (not on Friday afternoon, not before lunch, etc.). If you can, give yourselves some 60+ minutes for exchange and discussion.

Make sure you have all material you send in in advance with you as well as addition back-ups for everything else you might want to bring up or expect to be asked for.

Make sure that – in case there are targets you missed – you have your story developed and are able to briefly acknowledge the miss; but show what you did instead to mitigate and what the positive outcome was – including things you learned that made you and your company advance.

Be clear on your (realistic) meeting objective.

Have in mind that this meeting is also the best moment to discuss development measures, such as conferences or training, seminars, etc. You also want to bring up your career expectations / suggestions and might want to discuss a raise. But be realistic and sensitive. It is more likely to get out of the process with a raise or promotion if you overachieved during the last term.

The meeting

Embrace the day with a positive attitude. You are prepared for the conversation, have a set of expectations and meeting objectives and your backups available for all items where applicable.

Be aware that this is one meeting for you, but one of many for your boss. Acknowledge that you probably are much better prepared for it, so – as mentioned earlier – be humble and helpful. Accept also that not everything you have prepared will go through smoothly, but you went trough a detailed preparation and you know that you did many things well – so own your performance.

Your boss will have something to criticize something – that ok! (Think of your positive mindset): this is an development opportunity, ask him to help you in your improvement process (that makes it a shared responsibility), take advise from him (take notes!!!) and – if the situation allows – ask for additional training (attending a conference, enroll in a course, etc.) or support by sharing the task with a colleague. Maybe its not working out, however the manager will note that you are willing and committed to make things work in the interest of the company – that is important. It shows that you have the right attitude.

The feedback you get during the meeting; if positive: take it and be quiet. If negative, see above. If you are asked for feedback with regards to your boss himself or the company: this is not the moment to give any negative “constructive” feedback – you do that later if you must. Be prepared to say something nice which makes sense. If pushed to criticize, mention something you are certain your boss is already fully aware of and where he already has successfully taken steps to mitigate. This is your evaluation; you don’t want to add any shadow of negativity to it.

The targets for the next term are generally done very fast. Most certainly your boss has prepared a set of ideas (his own or from his superiors), some of which are not to be debated, others you can discuss and modulate in a way you could be more likely to achieve them. Again – the better you are prepared …

Normally during that same meeting, you are invited to bring up and discuss your career goals. If your boss does not ask, I suggest you bring it up. If there is no time, you can make sure to book another appointment to discuss your career with your boss shortly.

This is the moment to suggest, if possible, in line with your targets or career/development goals, to ask for projects, training, seminars, etc. Stuff that supports your progress, gives you a competitive edge – and is paid by the company.

Targets, Career goals and Career aspirations are documented in the performance review. Once documented, it will be read by others, your bosses’ boss, HR department, etc. This means that people become aware about you and your aspirations. The more people with influence and / or decision-making power have a positive awareness of you as professional, the better the odds to be top of their minds when assigning career opportunities.

The documentation

What is written, can’t be forgotten. In most cases, to ease the workload of your boss, you will be asked to document the performance review with all its areas. This is your unique chance to make sure that everything what has been discussed and what is important for you, gets documented.

When writing or reviewing this document, have its two main purposes in mind;

  • It’s meant to be your guide for the next term, with clearly defined expectations of what you must deliver to meet/exceed expectations for the next review.
  • It gives a clear picture of your achievements, corporate behavior and plans for your future to the people who haven’t been present during your meeting, nor are they closely watching you on a day-to-day basis. You want them to get the right impression of yourself as a professional.

So, make sure the document serves both purposes and keep tweaking it until done.

And remember: the next evaluation is always just around the corner.

[1] The process has different names in the corporate world – I will call it Performance Management Process (PMP)

[2] I call the person who is leading you by different names: Leader, Boss, Manager, etc. I also do not differentiate between Gender and Race. At the end, its all meant to be the same.

[3] This is an example on how the meeting can be done. This might be different in your company. It is also possible that your leader has a proposal on how he wants to run the conversation. However, the content is similar in most cases.

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