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  3. A complete guide with everything you need for a performance review
A complete guide with everything you need for a performance review

A complete guide with everything you need for a performance review

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • What is a performance review?
  • Why do I need a performance review?
  • How to prepare for a performance review
  • Have a paper trail
  • Set some goals
  • Keep an open mind
  • What to say during a performance review
  • How to follow up after a performance review
  • Key takeaways

A performance review doesn’t have to be scary. Learn everything you need to know about preparing for a performance review and how it can help you in your career.

The words “performance review” can strike fear in the hearts of the most dedicated employees. But don’t be intimidated. A thorough, thoughtful review of your job performance can help you become a more focused, engaged employee and give you the tools you need to plan the next steps in your career development. Understanding the purpose of a performance review can help you be more confident in accepting feedback and give you a roadmap on how to improve in your career.

In this article, we’ll discuss several aspects of a performance review, including

  • What is a performance review?

  • Why are performance reviews important?

  • How to prepare for a performance review

  • What to say (or not say) during a performance review

  • Following up after a performance review

What is a performance review?

A performance review is a standardized assessment used to evaluate an employee's job performance to provide feedback about areas that need improvement, what they're doing well, setting goals, and how to develop pertinent job skills. As an employee, you can use this feedback to ensure you're on the right track toward meeting your goals and adjust any behaviors or habits that might be holding you back. Generally, these formal reviews have been performed yearly, but recently, more companies have been migrating towards more frequent reviews on a quarterly, monthly, or even weekly basis.

An effective performance review is a two-way conversation about employee achievements and concerns, and the employee should gain a better understanding of what's expected of them. Ideally, employees should be able to offer their feedback to make sure everyone is on the same page. 

After a performance review, an employee should walk away with three key pieces of information:

  1. What they’re doing well

  2. Areas for improvement

  3. How their performance aligns with the company’s goals.

Statistical Insight

According to a Gallup poll, only 19% of workers feel that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work, and only 24% feel that their manager includes them in the goal-setting process. Take the initiative and make sure you’re getting the most from your performance review.

Why do I need a performance review?

Performance reviews are important because they give employees a clearer picture of how they're doing in their roles. Objective, focused feedback allows employees to know when they're doing well, and lets them know which areas need improvement. If you don't know how you're doing, it is more likely that your job engagement will decrease, leading to more negative issues that will be harder to change in the future. Everyone likes a pat on the back now and again, and most want to know how they can improve. Performance reviews are also utilized when making salary adjustments and promotion opportunities, as they make it easier to identify and remunerate outstanding employee performance.

Performance reviews are also vital to goal setting. Clear goals and appropriate feedback motivate employees, and working towards a set goal tend to improve employee performance. The goals set during a performance review should be specific and reachable. According to a study by Dr. Edwin Locke, this led to higher job performance 90% of the time, rather than just saying, “You’re doing great. Keep it up.” 

And setting goals in a performance evaluation is critical for your career. According to Dr. Locke and Dr. Gary Latham, five goal-setting principles can help your chances of success:

  1. Clarity. When your goals are clear (i.e. SMART goals), you know what you’re trying to achieve.

  2. Challenge. Goals should be challenging, but doable.

  3. Commitment. You’re more likely to agree to a goal you’ve had a hand in setting.

  4. Feedback. This helps you adjust expectations.

  5. Task complexity. Understanding this will help you, as an employee, achieve the goal without becoming overwhelmed or “burned out.”

When performance reviews are done well, they can provide support and show that your efforts don’t go unnoticed, and demonstrate that your employer will provide support and constructive guidance when you’re working towards new goals and opportunities.

Statistical Insight

Companies that use employee performance reviews effectively are 2.7 times more likely to have employees who are engaged in their work, and 3.7 times more likely to “address workforce development needs.”

How to prepare for a performance review

A productive performance review should be a two-way conversation between the employee and manager. That means you shouldn’t go into one unprepared, as your evaluations, observations, and notes should be included in the process.

Have a paper trail

Gather examples of your job performance, including achievements and documented commendations from both your co-workers and supervisors. If there is a self-assessment form, complete it honestly and objectively. This is not the time to self-aggrandize, although you should think deeply about your strengths and accomplishments. Begin by writing down the goals you set in your last review, and what you’ve done to meet them. If you don’t have those (or you’re new to the company), consider the company’s goals and how the work you’ve done contributes towards them. Or, analyze your job responsibilities and what you’ve accomplished in your work. Gather dates, documents, presentations, and emails to document your claims.

Set some goals

Take some time to set your career goals. What's next for you, and what steps do you need to take to accomplish them? Ask yourself if you're happy with your current path. Or are you looking for a change? Consider what you'd like to be doing one or two years down the road. Consider the following when setting your goals:

  • What skills would you like to further develop by your next review?

  • What new responsibilities would you like to be given?

  • What projects interest you?

  • What position would you like to have in the next two to four years? How can you get there?

Keep an open mind

Constructive criticism isn’t always easy to hear. Prepare by thinking about where you think you could use some improvement. Keeping an open mind can help you maintain a professional relationship with your manager. Don’t get flustered or defensive, and ask for specific examples. And remember the two-way street analogy. Your employer should be open to suggestions on how else the company can help you do your job more effectively, and achieve your set career goals. This is the time to ask about how your team/department is faring, if the overall corporate goals have changed, or what positions might be available in the future.

Statistical Insight

According to a Clutch survey, 68% of employees who receive accurate and consistent feedback feel fulfilled in their jobs. 

What to say during a performance review

The truth is, performance reviews can be awkward. The focus is on you, and there might be a lot on the line. And when you’re feeling a little bit off, sometimes the wrong words find their way out of your mouth.  But resist the urge. This is an opportunity to “sell” yourself, and keep your career on track. Knowing what to say (and what not to say!) can help you steer your performance review and keep yourself in the best light. Here are seven things you should never say during a performance review:

  1. “Not my fault!” This is not the time to point fingers, which looks unprofessional and immature. Instead, tell your manager that you appreciate the feedback and that you'll correct it in the future, and then ask if you can discuss it at a later date. That way you’ll have time to explain yourself peacefully, objectively, and professionally.

  2. Don't say yes to everything. Constantly agreeing and nodding gives the impression that you're not taking the criticism seriously. Make sure you actually understand what your manager is telling you, and then suggest ways you can improve in the future.

  3. "You, you, you…" Beginning statements with "you" can come off as accusatory. Instead, focus on the word, "I," as in "I understand" "I would like to focus on" or "I would like to talk about that." Also try to avoid the word "but," which can appear confrontational. The word "and" will still get your point across and make your conversation more productive.

  4. “Oh, I didn’t really do that much…” Accept the praise — even if you’re a modest person, this is one of the times you need to “toot your own horn” and remind your manager of the value you bring to the company. It’s okay to acknowledge teamwork, but don’t diminish your contributions in the process.

  5. “Will this get me a raise?” While the subject of salary may come up during your review, asking for it directly may be off-putting. Use your documentation to demonstrate why a raise is warranted and the positive things you’ve accomplished for the company.

  6. “That’s not my job.” Everyone is expected to go above and beyond from time to time, and stating that something is not your responsibility looks like you’re not a team player. If you honestly didn’t know a task was encompassed in your job description, say so, and promise to incorporate it going forward.

  7. “I don’t know how to do that.” Part of the review process is to focus on growth, and when you say this, it might appear that you’re hesitant to develop your skills. Instead, inform your manager that you would like to grow in that area, and formulate a plan to take on new or greater responsibilities.

How to follow up after a performance review

If you had a great review (and why wouldn't you?) it is appropriate to thank your evaluator, as long as you don't go overboard. While the conversation is still fresh in your mind, you can mention something specific like, "Thank you for acknowledging my work. I appreciate that you saw the value in what I do and that it had a positive result for the company.” You can also send an email shortly after, but a handwritten note is a nice touch. Be sure to thank them for the positive feedback, and that you are prepared to take on new challenges and responsibilities, and will continue to be a productive member of your team. Don't, however, go beyond a thank you note. A personal gift might be misconstrued by both your manager and your co-workers.

If the review didn’t go as well as you had hoped, don’t despair. The situation (and your career) can still be salvaged. You will still want to thank them after the review, either in person or via email. Acknowledge the feedback, and mention how you plan to incorporate it into your job performance going forward. Then follow up with actions. The important thing is to not act impulsively if you feel the review was unfair or inaccurate. Take a day or so to review the evaluation, try to understand the criticism, and write down a list of questions about what you disagree with. And make sure you understand why you disagree — is it valid, or are your feelings just hurt? 

Expert Tip

Remember, a performance review isn’t necessarily a once-a-year thing. By maintaining a connection with your manager you can adjust your job performance and outcomes in real-time, and support your career trajectory. This way, you’re not surprised or blindsided by any feedback you might receive in a performance review, and can continue to work towards positive career goals more efficiently.

Performance reviews might seem outdated, but they’re vital for maintaining an open, ongoing dialogue between employees and management. Regular, constructive reviews maintain verification of your past job performance and clarify job expectations and goals. This will help you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, and set you in a positive mode to achieve success in your career.

Key takeaways

  1. A performance review is a standardized assessment used to evaluate an employee’s job performance.

  2. Performance reviews are important because they give the employee a clearer picture of how they’re doing in their role. 

  3. When preparing for your performance review, compile examples of your job performance, including achievements and praise from colleagues and supervisors. 

  4. It’s important to follow up with a manager after an evaluation, to ensure both of you are on the same page regarding your mutual goals and expectations.

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