Some organizations are doing away with annual performance reviews in favor of continuous feedback, or are in a state of flux as they transition between the two. Performance reviews, annual or otherwise, do serve a purpose in your organization in providing feedback to employees and information about workers’ progress, skills and talents and their value to the business. Here’s how to make the most of your performance review, even if it happens only once a year.
Adjust your expectations
Yearly performance reviews often bring with them a sense of dread, as they tend to focus mainly on areas for improvement rather than accomplishments and achievements if not handled correctly, says Dominique Jones, chief people officer at talent and performance management software company Halogen Software.
“The traditional way reviews are done make it seem like they are something that’s done to you, rather than something you have a part in creating, and that can leave you feeling very negative and out-of-control. But that’s a mindset that you can shift by focusing attention on the areas you want to cover, not just on where you can improve,” Jones says.
Don’t ignore all the other, smaller conversations you have about your performance throughout the year; instead, make sure you’re keeping track of all the positive successes and wins you have and bringing those up in the context of the conversation.
“Challenge your own negative mindset, if you’re struggling with that. Performance reviews aren’t all about things you can’t control — they are a summary of your performance as a whole, so you can direct the conversation with the right preparation,” she says.
You should first clarify what the expectations and norms are around your performance review and determine the format. That can help you understand how the process works and what your constraints are within that framework, says Jones.
“Do you have to fill out a self evaluation beforehand? Do you need to solicit feedback from your peers? Are there documents and data you need to bring? Once you know the format, you can show up completely prepared for the conversation,” Jones says.
Create your own agenda
Part of taking control of your yearly review is setting out your own agenda so that you’re not just talking about your achievements, accomplishments and areas for improvement, but long-term goals and career progression strategy, says Rajeev Behera, CEO of performance management and feedback software company Reflektive.
“In a yearly review, unless you take the initiative, most of the time can be spent going over your generic competencies. That’s fine, but if you really want to make them more worthwhile, you have to get out of the weeds of the high-level stuff and start thinking about the challenges you face, where you want to grow, the direction you want your career to take and how to get there,” Behera says.
It’s also important to think about the future of the company and technology and how you and your role fit into that, since today’s digital advancements and technology innovations can change overnight. That can render some of your skills obsolete in an instant, as well as affect your potential career direction, so make sure you’re trying to steer these conversations in a future-proof way, he says.
Prepare in advance
Sometimes, going into your yearly review can put you on the defensive, if you’re not sure what’s going to be covered. See if you can get a general sense of what you’ll be talking about, and then prepare yourself based around that and your personalized agenda, Jones says. If you’ve already worked on shifting your mindset to one that’s more offensive, you’ve taken a great first step. Next, you should gather data, materials and information that highlights your accomplishments and achievements and proves your value to the company, she says.
“You should be collecting data and logging your achievements and accomplishments all year. Then you can pull all that together at review time so you have concrete examples of what you’ve done well, the successes you’ve had, and how they’ve benefitted the company. You also should have a few areas you’ve identified where you can improve,” Jones says.
Armed with journal notes, project tracking, hard numbers, sales data and other evidence can make your performance review time less of a battle of opinions and more of a two-way conversation about your strengths and weaknesses, Jones says. That can take much of the fear and anxiety out of the process and instead infuse some confidence and positivity.
Solicit feedback from everyone
Feedback, positive or otherwise, isn’t just the purview of your managers and leadership. You should be soliciting it from everyone you have the opportunity to work with and adding it to your journal of accomplishments, Jones says.
“It’s something that takes courage and can seem unexpected, but it provides a much more holistic view of our performance year-round. You don’t just work with your manager and their boss, right? Quite frankly, you’re probably working more often with peers and those who are junior to you, so it’s important to get their input, too,” she says.
Do a post-mortem
After your review, it’s important to take time and reflect objectively and calmly on the feedback you’ve received. You should also examine your goals and strategy to determine what’s working and what’s not, and refine that for the coming year, Behera says.
“If you can, try and implement a schedule of one-on-one meetings regularly with your managers to bridge the gap between annual reviews. You don’t want to get so caught up talking about the minutia of what you’re working on daily that you neglect larger goals and strategy. It’s a balancing act, but the general mission is to make sure you and your company are improving, year after year,” he says.