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How to prepare for your next performance review

It’s that time of the year again...performance reviews. You’ve spent all year working hard, and now you have to hear what everyone thinks about you and your work. You’re probably a little nervous, and you’re not alone -- over 78% of employees are frustrated with the performance review process. While there are definitely negative aspects of performance reviews, the truth is that good performance reviews still provide a lot of value to both employees and their companies.

To help you ace your next review, we’ve put together a roadmap to help you get ready:

Three to Six Months Before

Expectations are key. Start by understanding what it means to be successful in your job, so you can have a common understanding with your manager of what good performance means. You want to show that you’re successfully doing everything that you’re being asked to do. This means outlining your goals and expectations with your manager. If you’ve been at the company for more than a year, this should have been part of your previous performance review discussion. Regardless, by having this conversation ahead of time and knowing where you stand, you’ll have time to make the changes that impact your performance review.

Many performance reviews are peer-reviews, which means that your coworkers are assessing your performance. This means it’s important to have strong working relationships with your colleagues. This will largely be a manifestation of your day-to-day interactions, but one way to proactively improve the relationship is to talk honestly with your coworkers. Get out of the office, grab a cup of coffee, ask questions and listen to your peers talk about how you can better work together. Your coworkers will appreciate that you value the relationship enough to have this conversation with them.

Ahead of the meeting

Walk into the performance review meeting prepared. Here’s four things that you should do to get ready:

1) Prepare a List of Accomplishments

Remember that goal setting conversation you had with your manager? Write down how you’ve accomplished those goals -- you need to show that you’ve done everything in your power to accomplish what’s been asked of you. If there are areas where you’ve gone above and beyond, make sure to highlight those. And if there are goals that you didn’t reach, provide a thoughtful reason why.

Pro tip: take year round notes of your accomplishments to make this process easier.

2) Analyze Your Own Performance

Performance reviews are a great time to reflect on your performance over the past year. Every person has opportunity for improvement, and that’s what a performance review is truly about. It’s a feedback moment to help you understand how you can get better at your job.

Nobody knows your own performance more intimately than you do, so take a moment and analyze your work over the last performance period. One approach is to think about your performance as a SWOT Analysis:

This will help you get prepared for the feedback that you’ll receive, while also showing your manager that you think critically (and care about) your performance.

3) Mentally Prepare for Constructive Criticism

Hearing negative feedback can be hard; it feels personal, especially when it’s coming from people that you work with every day. Always remember that constructive criticism is for your benefit; it’s meant to help you become a better at your job.

Take some time to think critically about how you’re going to respond to negative feedback. Make sure that you never come across as defensive. Always start by thanking your manager for the feedback, and then ask questions about how you can improve upon this aspect of your work life.

4) Know What To Ask For

Often, performance reviews are tied to promotion and salary conversations. Before the meeting, talk to your manager to make sure that it’s an appropriate time to talk about promotions/salary during the performance review conversation.

If it’s an appropriate time, make sure that you know what you want and why you deserve it. The accomplishment list that you created is a great place to start.

During the Meeting

You’ve done everything you can to prepare for the meeting, and now it’s time to meet with your manager.

The performance review will likely start out by your manager reviewing a summary of the performance comments that were collected from your peers. Your manager will go down the list of questions/comments and provide a synopsis of how you measured up to each characteristic measured in the performance review (communication, problem solving, teamwork, technical skills, company values, etc). Make sure you listen carefully to each piece of feedback and when you hear something negative, don’t get emotional; remember this is all for your own benefit. Take this opportunity to soak in all the feedback and ask questions to better understand the feedback and how you can improve.

When walking into the performance review, here’s a few quick tips to remember:

  1. Relax, have a conversation: take a deep breath and try to have a normal conversation with your manager.
  2. Don’t be defensive or confrontational: approach each piece of feedback as an opportunity to get better.
  3. Don’t shift the blame: take ownership of your mistakes.
  4. Articulate where you’ll add value:help your manager understand the specific ways you will provide value to your team and company.
  5. Focus on career development:make sure that you leave the conversation knowing how you can get better, and with clear next steps.
  6. Build off positive feedback: find a way to connect the positive feedback that you receive to your career goals.

After the Meeting

After your performance review, you should have a good sense of what’s going well, what can be improved, and what you need to do to reach your career goals. Now you need to solidify these action items and work with your manager to develop a performance plan. This plan includes a list of specific and measurable objectives that outline what you need to accomplish over the coming performance period, and crystalize what the company expects from you. The plan also includes action items from your manager and/or any professional development support needed to help you reach these goals. (more on goal setting here).

After the performance plan has been established, make sure you have regular follow up meetings (use your one-on-one!) to discuss progress towards the objectives. If you’re struggling with a specific objective, don’t be afraid to talk about it with your manager; it’s your manager’s job to help you clear roadblocks and reach your objectives.

Your ability to follow through on this performance plan will have a significant impact on your next performance conversation. Good luck with your next review!