Sometimes a performance review can prove an occasion for out-and-out dread. Maybe your team’s struggled to meet its goals and everyone’s feeling the heat; perhaps problems at home have taken a toll on your work; or maybe you’re just not clicking with your new boss. Whatever the reason, you know the meeting’s going to be difficult and your scores are going to lag. What can you do to prepare?
First, remember that performance reviews are meant to be conversations, not monologues. You have a voice, and the process isn’t complete unless you use it. Though what you actually say will depend on your particular situation, the key in every case is to be prepared and keep your cool during the discussion.
Being honest with yourself is a big part of keeping things productive. If there’ve been complaints about your performance or you’ve made real mistakes in your work, be ready to lay out a strategy to resolve the issues, suggested Susan Morris, a Norristown, Pa., coach who works with technology professionals on management and leadership issues.
Don’t try to hide any performance problems of which your manager is well aware. Instead, have a plan that will improve communications with your co-workers, raise the bar on your quality control, or speed up your turnaround time on assignments. At the same time, don’t neglect your strengths. “You want to remind the boss about what you’re really great at,” Morris added.
Your challenge is more difficult when you have a personality conflict with your boss. In that case, your strategy largely depends on your career path. For example, if you believe you have good prospects for finding a new job, you could weather the review and then look to move on. But if you like the company and the position, or if you feel like a job search isn’t an option, you’ll have to find other ways to address the issues.
One approach is to take an honest look at the relationship. Talk to colleagues you trust to get their feedback on how you interact with your manager. What are the dynamics they see? Are you behaving in ways that you’re not aware of? It might be that some aspects of your work habits are frustrating the boss and can be addressed without much pain on your part.
Another option is to sit down with the manager and confront the issue. Acknowledge the challenges in your relationship and ask what you can do to help fix them. The approach is risky, Morris noted: “The manager may have written you off.”
In addition, the company’s culture comes into play here. While raising the subject may succeed in a Facebook-style culture that fosters open communication, a manager in a rigid hierarchy may not be willing to have the conversation at all. “You have to read the organization as much as you read the manager,” Morris said.
Dealing With Feedback
Don’t be afraid to take a breath. If you’re told something during the meeting that you need to digest, say you’d like to take some time to think about it and resume the discussion the following day. That will give you some distance and the ability to think through your options.
Whatever you do, your boss’s opinions are going to be a part of the conversation. Be open while you listen, but remember you don’t have to agree with what you hear. On the other hand, Morris points out, if you’ve heard their criticisms before, you have to address them. If you’re not willing to do that, “then you should be ready to move.”
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