Taylor Tobin
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As the holiday season approaches, employees from all fields prepare to make leave requests, to select a gift for office Secret Santas, and to get themselves ready for their end-of-year performance reviews. These sit-downs between a supervisor and an employee give the boss an opportunity to discuss the employee’s work performance and to offer suggestions for improvement where warranted, while the employee can talk through her experience throughout the year and set forth clear goals for the future.

By nature, these reviews are often anxiety-inducing experiences for those on the receiving end, but a few key strategies can help ease the nervousness and allow you to leave the meeting with productive information and tangible results. 

1. Write your own performance review.

In many cases, a performance review will involve a written report by the supervisor, chronicling her perception of the employee’s progress over the course of the year. To prep yourself for the receipt of these points, Forbes recommends writing your own performance review, taking an incisive look at what you’ve accomplished and making note of your achievements and the major goal posts you’ve cleared. “Pull together your achievements, goals, feedback, and needed resources into a concise and structured format, so that you are fully prepared for the review,” Forbes advises.

Writing your own review helps broaden your perspective on your own performance, and it also gives you the chance to clearly articulate the positive advancements you’ve made. Some bosses tend to allow negative feedback to overwhelm their performance reviews, so coming in with a curated list of what you’ve done right can be a helpful reminder of your value to the company. 

2. Enter the meeting with a “wish list” of clear goals for the future.

Yes, a performance review represents an opportunity for a manager to evaluate her employee’s work, but it’s important to remember that these meetings are intended to benefit both sides. As a professional invested in your own progress at work, you should have a strong sense of your ambitions for the future, and your review provides a venue to make those goals known to your supervisor. 

“Prepare a career wish list in advance of your review. Think about what you’d like to achieve so you can share these ambitions with your boss when you meet and get his or her input on how you can be successful,” recommends The Wall Street Journal. Within reason, starting an open dialogue with your manager about your goals reinforces your commitment to the company and makes you seem like an even worthier investment of your manager’s time and energy. 

3. Before the meeting, take some self-care steps to put yourself in a good mental place for feedback.

In order for a performance review to be mutually productive, a certain level of calm needs to exist on both sides. While plenty of managers report uneasy feelings prior to performance reviews, the burden of nervousness tends to fall on the employees. However, taking a few moments before the meeting to engage in self-care can improve your mental state and usher in a sense of serenity, making the critical aspects of the meeting easier to digest.

U.S News and World Report suggests an easy, breath-oriented way to level yourself out before stepping into the conference room (and while you’re seated at the table): “Take 10 deep breaths before you enter the room, and focus on your breathing throughout the meeting. Pay attention to your body and how you're feeling. Sit comfortably and if you feel like you're holding your breath at any time, sit back, relax and take in a deep breath.”

4. To put your best foot forward, view your performance review through the same lens as a job interview.

Before heading to a job interview, any sensible candidate will research the company’s successes and future pursuits, will come prepared with questions and prospective responses to hiring-manager queries, and will arrive well-rested and sharply-dressed. Applying these same principles to a performance review poises you for a positive experience.

Lifehacker spoke to HR consultant Fred R. Cooper about this subject, and he offered the following tip: “You’re being interviewed for your continued employment but also for whatever comes from that beyond your continued employment.” The latter justifies the application of interview tactics to a performance review, which can help move you farther along your desired advancement path.

5. Resist the urge to become defensive.

When many (perhaps even the majority of) people receive critiques about their performance, the instinctual response involves defending their past actions. In the context of a review, however, defensiveness causes more harm than good. These meetings require open-minded outlooks from both sides, and the ability to hear and metabolize criticism in a constructive way reflects far better on you than “fighting back”. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to just sit silently and accept whatever fate your employer has in mind for you. AOL Finance presents this advice to those who want to assert themselves but worry that they may become combative during their reviews: “ If the review starts to get negative, keep your cool, smile, and calmly remind your manager of why your job performance deserves an ‘excellent’ rating (even use the term ‘excellent’). Your objective is to put your employer on the defensive, and make him or her justify not giving a great employee a good raise.”

6. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions that get to the heart of your concerns.

A good manager will incorporate a clear list of objectives into an annual review, giving you a sense of the benchmarks you need to hit in order to move forward in your career. But if you’re concerned about achieving these specific goals and feel the need for more guidance and clarification, don’t hesitate to ask your manager to elaborate. Remember: these meetings are for your benefit as well as the company’s, and you have every right to walk out with the information you require to succeed.

For example, you can ask about the timeline to promotions as well as advice to improve your positioning to receive one, if that's not already addressed in your review.

7. If you do decide that follow-up meetings will be helpful, don’t hesitate to request one with your manager.

Communicating with your manager on a regular basis is the best way to avoid surprising information during your end-of-year evaluation. If your review does include negative feedback that you didn’t anticipate, the best way to display your proactivity and your determination to improve is to schedule a follow-up with your manager to talk through the points and lay down a plan for improvement.

Monster.com recommends taking a bit of time to absorb your manager’s feedback, then contacting your manager to ask for a second meeting. This allows you the opportunity to fully sort through the critiques and prepare questions to help guide you back on track.

More on Acing Performance Reviews

These tips provide a useful jumping-off point for end-of-year reviews, but if you’d like to take a deeper dive into the subject, these Fairygodboss articles offer advice and guidance to ease you through these potentially-challenging career moments.

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