My Career 05/01/2015 by "Launch Recruitment Team"

The Do’s and Don’ts of Your Performance Review


Just like ‘report time’ when we were at school, a performance review can be a daunting period. And more often than not, we’ve never been armed with any “Performance Review Training” throughout our careers; we’ve just muddled through based on our previous experiences.

Today, PRs aren’t just about, well, a review of your performance. PRs are an opportunity to sell yourself, to highlight the value you bring to your employer, to discuss what professional development opportunities would increase your value and skills, to negotiate challenges and their rewards, and finally, to build your relationship with your manager with unique one-on-one time designed specifically to be all about you.

It’s probably performance review time where you’re working! So I’m sharing some tips on how you can make this process a positive one right from the first whisper, “Review”. Here is what you should know before you head into your review, how you can get the most out of it, how you should get your story and your ambitions across, and how to promote yourself and your value!

Jason Kay, in his article “How to Handle a Performance Review” suggests that, even if your boss doesn’t conduct performance reviews on a regular basis, it is well worth asking for one. You might think of a performance review as equal to a trip to the dentist but they are crucial for your career and give you an opportunity to show your boss that you are valuable. Plus, reviews are often the time when an employer will hand out raises and promotions (however, it’s not the time to ask for an immediate raise, see Do Nots #2); this in itself is reason enough to want a review.

Some Dos

1. Prepare an outline of your achievements over the past performance period.

You can anticipate that your manager will be at least vaguely aware of what you’ve achieved since your last review period, but it’s likely that you will have a much more comprehensive idea.

Prepare a document to take into your PR demonstrating your wins over the last review period. Outline your achievements against your KPIs and KRAs.

Then, describe everything that you’ve achieved that goes above and beyond what had been set for or expected of you.

Demonstrate the impact of your achievements to the business, to the team, to your role.

Tip: How To Gather This Information

Ideally you’ll be keeping record of your achievements but more often than not the ‘doing’ gets in the way of recording!

If that’s the case, start by reviewing your business calendar. Your appointments, meetings and tasks will serve as a reminder of what activities took place over the last period, and jog your memory as to your achievements. Then, for the upcoming period, why not highlight/colour code entries in your calendar that will help you easily identify them for your next review?

If you want some ideas or a template to help get you started with this process, HR Web offer 3 performance review templates in Word format that can give you some guidance. These templates and some more simple ones from Business Balls are targeted to employers but should give you an idea of the types of questions you may be asked and give you an opportunity to prepare for this.

2. Drive your own challenges by coming prepared with your future plans.

Your manager will have their own ideas on what they expect from you over the coming review period. And so should you. Demonstrate that you take initiative to drive your career.

For example, your manager may have set you targets they consider are fair but will challenge you, but you’re the one who really knows if the bar is set too low. Be ready. Be proactive.

A recent article published on The Muse by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), asked 9 entrepreneurs from the YEC what they wish their employees would share with them in their performance review.  Every single employer mentioned that they wanted their employees to discuss both theirs and the company’s future. One CEO, Bhavin Parikh of Magoosh Inc even went so far as to say that he likes his employees to talk about what they want him and his company to stop doing! He calls this “innovation through subtraction”.

Use ideas that are innovative, interesting, challenging and that make you feel good. “I anticipated you would set a, b and c goals. I would like to add x, y and z to that project list. I believe I can take these on while still delivering a, b and c.” Use this as a negotiation tool (see 3 below).

3. Know what you want for your future with this employer. 

Forward plan what you want after the next review period. What return do you want for your investment of time and dedication? More accountability? A promotion? Greater challenges?

Know this in advance to negotiate your ‘rewards agreement’ for when you meet your additional goals. So while negotiating your suggested additional goals or projects (see 2 above) –

“… I’d like to agree that should I reach those added goals by my next review, goals that will add a, b and c value to the team, in return I am:

a) provided budget for a new staff member  or

b) promoted to Team Leader  or

c) granted 5% salary increase.”

4. Arrive armed with detailed information on your ideal professional development plan for the next review period.

Your manager is likely to have some ideas of the areas in which you could improve, though some may not. Either way, who’s the boss of your career and professional development? You are!

Decide what formal education is relevant to you and to your employer. Research and gather options. What do the courses or training options offer, what are their costs, what time is required of you to be out of the office. Tell your manager that you’ve already researched the market, weighed up cost versus ROI, and noted which one you rate as the best and most cost efficient.

Deliver with it an outline of what the ROI will be to your employer, your manager, your team, your role; how will the new skills learnt relate to the business and what is the tangible return?

Armed with this information, your manager can now seriously consider it. If your manager needs to obtain approval elsewhere, then you’ve made it easy for them to deliver a business case for it. They won’t have to research it or spend time on it, or wait for you to do it when the momentum is lost. It’s already there, “Sounds great; email me that outline and I’ll forward it to L&D for approval.”

Lisa McQuerry’s article on suggests you approach your boss like a mentor when discussing future plans. She suggests letting your boss know about your long-term career aspirations and asking his/her advice on how s/he sees your future plans fitting into the business.

5. Use maturity to handle unrealistic expectations.

Don’t sign off your new period’s KPIs and goals if you feel you have been set unrealistic targets. This is a mature conversation, so negotiate wisely.

If you suspect unrealistic expectations will be presented, prepare yourself for it. Know what you will say and have some solutions at the ready, “The anticipated workload to meet those goals is more hours than there are in the day. I need to let you know I will need more resources to meet those KPIs. Could I suggest we make use of the PR department to complete this work? Could we prioritise these goals so we can move some from immediate KPIs to road-mapped projects? What other ideas could we consider to resolve this?”

There may come a time when your boss will thank you for not taking on these unrealistic goals. This may have been so in the public case of US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki who signed off on a plan, in 2010, to force Veterans Affairs doctors to reduce a massive scheduling backlog. This resulted in a disaster that encouraged cheating and, in the end, cost Shinseki his job. According to an article by Paul Giblin and Rebekah L. Sanders in USA Today an internal audit found that it was an organizational failure in setting unrealistic expectations without providing adequate resources.

According to the same article, other experts say the Veterans Affairs example has been experienced in the private sector “where unrealistic, vague or difficult goals lead to bad behavior, such as car salespeople selling vehicles to people with bad credit to meet untenable sales targets.”

Lisa Ordonez, a professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona says, quoted in the same article, that it is vital to set up a system of checks and balances.

It is vital you speak up if you think expectations are unrealistic. Equally important is to make sure you feel appropriately challenged with the expectations being set before you sign off on them.

6. Help! My review isn’t going well!

You aren’t receiving the feedback you expected: you’ve got poor results, there’s no pay rise, no bonus, no promotion…

You already have a clear understanding and document demonstrable of your achievements and your own output. Do you think your review is fair?

If not, open communication is the key wherever possible. If you think you’ve been unfairly treated, start by having a mature and intelligent conversation about the areas within your review that haven’t met your expectation. Listen and try to imagine it from your manager’s perspective. Have they articulated reasons well? Did the result (eg: not receiving a bonus) derive from your performance specifically, or is it a company-wide result?

Understandably, it may be shocking to hear unfavourable results in your performance review, and you may be ill-equipped to handle it at that moment in time. Perhaps you weren’t prepared for the negative feedback? Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by emotion? Never have a conversation like this when you’re feeling emotional! Instead, take a deep breath and say, “I appreciate your time today in my review. I have to be honest and say I’m disappointed in your opinion of my performance. I would like to reconvene for a follow-up review as I’d like some time to process the results of my review before having a further discussion on it.”

If you are upset, don’t go into detail at this time. Exit your review professionally, have a think about things, process it, gather information that may support a different opinion, and use your follow-up meeting to have a fully prepared, mature, non-defensive conversation about it. Whatever the outcome of this follow-up meeting, whether you’ve managed to change opinions, results or not, you’ll have documented your considered response to the review and you’ll feel better for it.

Additionally, Alan Henry in an article in Lifehacker says that it is worth starting a work diary to chart successes and activities and to talk to colleagues and request feedback from them. However, don’t ever discuss the details of your performance review with work mates (see Do Nots #4). Use a negative performance review as an opportunity to improve and fix those areas that you might need to work on.

Put yourself on a performance plan if your boss doesn’t and make sure you keep to it. Alan Henry describes this as your opportunity to record your boss’s feedback in the review and put yourself on a timetable to fix the problems. Don’t forget to let your boss know that you are actively working to fix the issues that were raised in the review and make sure you have regular meetings to check that your boss is happy that you are reaching your targets.

Some Do Nots

  1. Don’t expect your manager to know or remember everything you have achieved this period. This is a common mistake employees make. Achievements may have been months ago, or managers may have several other people whose performance they are accountable for. Remembering everything achieved by everyone in their team is an unrealistic expectation.
  2. Don’t ask for rewards with an expectation for them to start immediately after this review. The time to negotiate a change in conditions that begins after this review was at your last performance review when between you and your manager you set out what you will achieve and how you will be rewarded for it. In this review, look towards negotiating a shift in conditions (a raise, a promotion, more staff) based on meeting the next period’s KPIs and goals.
  3. Don’t continue if negative emotions are starting to overwhelm you. It’s okay to feel emotional; it’s not okay to respond emotionally. Ask to take a break or to reconvene at another time.

Alison Green of points out that if you are angry and defensive your boss may think you are not open to feedback and therefore will be unable to make the changes necessary to improve your performance. It is far better to request time to think over and process the feedback and discuss it further in a day or two.

Don’t discuss your PR with other employees. Good or bad, discussing your review is poor form, and it will get back to your manager. Be professional.

In summary:

  1. Prepare and document your retrospective deliveries.
  2. Prepare self-set targets for the upcoming period.
  3. Know with what you want to be rewarded after the next period.
  4. Arrive prepared with your educational requirements to ensure you’re always learning and staying relevant to the business.
  5. Handle unrealistic expectations with mature communication and negotiation.
  6. Avoid negative emotions; reconvene if you’re feeling vulnerable.