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Performance Review
Don't End Your Performance Evaluation Without Saying This
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Jane Scudder image
Jane Scudder,

Performance reviews: Opportunity to showcase your accomplishments and make a case for a promotion or raise, or a stomach-churning regular event comparable to dental work? In my professional opinion as a career coach the answer can be easily both.

A healthy dose of angst is something you can channel to take a review more seriously. But with a little bit of preparation, a few deep breaths, and reminding yourself of the results you’ve driven over the last 12-months (or whatever your review period is), you can rock it.

The key is to have an understanding of what you want to communicate, what you to learn, and clear next steps. In my experience that last piece is often neglected. It’s easy to focus on what you accomplished during the previous period of time and receive feedback from a superior or group—and this is all really important—but performance reviews are also an ideal time to establish your focus for the future so that you can continue to excel on the key initiatives your management team values.

Every company is different in how they handle reviews. Whether your company has a formula for how they are structured or you are calling the review and leading the conversation, there’s one thing you cannot leave your review without saying.

What is your #1 priority for the next 12-months, and how can I support this?

At the end of the day, we support our managers, who support their managers, who support their managers, and so on, and so on until you get to a Board or an individual owner who should have clear, prioritized goals. 

Taking a moment of your review to learn your manager’s priorities is a smart tactic to both help inform your future work and express empathy and understanding of your boss’ workload.

I encourage clients to spend 80 percent of a review looking back and 20 percent looking ahead. The name of the game is to learn from your past and focus that learning on action and growth. At the end of the day, action and growth is where a promotion, raise, and all that good stuff will come from.

This key question will help you laser into where your action should be focused so that you know you are driving work that matters. No matter where you fall in the ranks, this question will resonate with your boss. 

It will accomplish and reveal 4 key things:

1. Your manager’s actual number 1 priority. 

If she says she has 5 you need to push her to get to 1. She gets an A+ on ONE project and a mix of A’s, B’s, and C’s, on the rest. What is her A+ project?

2. You know where to focus if you need to prioritize

When you have 5 competing priorities and you have to make a choice on what to focus on for the rest of your day or week, that’s how you choose. This is also good directionally when you have to juggle meetings (and may also give you insight to why one particular colleague is always asking you to reschedule meetings because “a high priority need has come up.”)3

3. You know explicitly what work of yours supports this. 

Asking, “How can I support this?” will give you insight to which of your projects are her top projects. If she cites work that you are not a part of that’s something to take notice of as well.

4. You know what the future looks like.

Unless you are literally about to turn in your notice the next day (in which case, your performance review is likely not going to be productive for you anyway) this question will help you see your boss’ and the companies priorities and vision more clearly.

Performance reviews don’t have to suck. Your nerves may never go away but like anything else control what you can, and you MUST control what you walk away with—clarity on your focus.

And if you want even more questions, we have seven questions to ask during your annual performance review.


Jane Scudder is a certified coach & workshop facilitator. She also works as a strategy & marketing consultant and teaches a Career Development & Preparation course at Loyola University Chicago. She lives and works remotely in Chicago, IL.


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