Performance reviews can be very intimidating -- studies have shown it can even put your brain in “flight or fight” mode. However, performance reviews need not produce such reactions -- mostly because you should already know what’s going to be in your performance review. Performance reviews should not surprise you.
However, the office world is far from ideal -- every office and every employee is constantly learning and adapting to unexpected circumstances, surprising situations, and unpredictable shifts. Alison Green, the titular manager at her site Ask A Manager, answers questions about such surprising problems. She always reiterates that performance reviews should not be surprising, but she’s handled questions where people experience exactly that problem.
6 reasons why your performance review may end up surprising you:
1. You’ve never had one before. Receiving that kind of feedback in a formal administrative setting may be alarming, especially if it also coincides with a new job or your first experience working in an office.
2. Your manager and you are disagreeing on what constitutes as feedback. Remember, feedback from your boss is not advice or a suggestion -- it’s a mandate to change for the better. At the same time, it’s good to make sure your boss and you are on the same page about what you’re doing well and what could be improved on -- always ask for specific examples if you're confused, and ask for a follow-up meeting to check in later, because miscommunication could explain a lot more than you realize.
3. You’re only paying attention to your manager’s feedback. Coworkers and peers may not have your manager’s point of view when it comes to your work, but they have unique insight on how well you work with them -- and being a team player is in your best interest.
4. Your manager isn’t a good manager. Unfortunately, sometimes we get drawn an unlucky card. Your manager might be overly critical, unfair, or lack a certain self-awareness. In that case, it’s always good to talk to them, or go to the HR department.
5. You need to work on your own self-awareness. It’s good you have confidence in yourself, but make sure it’s not misplaced! Disagreeing with your performance review doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Maybe part of the takeaway from a negative review is to back up and review your own self-awareness; it may have a part to play in how you respond to a performance evaluation.
6. Your office doesn’t have a good performance management system. If your office doesn’t have a good performance management system -- whether they’re using Google docs, dispensing with the system altogether, or the owner of the company simply uses a secret performance management system where they basically judge every employee with their spouse -- your surprising performance review will just be the tip of the iceberg.
Ideally, your performance review shouldn’t surprise you because:
1. Your manager is giving you continuous feedback. Your manager should always be giving you constructive feedback regarding mistakes you make, praising you for successes you’ve had, and telling you what aspect of your performance needs improvement. If they're not doing it on their own, you're asking for it. This continuous discussion will help you understand what they’ll say at your performance review -- because they’ll have already said it.
2. You’re speaking to various departments that benefit from or are related to your work. You should be similarly connected to your peers, team members, and co-workers. Communication should be constant and free-flowing, meaning you can always check in, and you should feel comfortable that people will provide you with both positive and negative feedback after projects.
3. You’re self-aware about the quality of your own work, your strengths and weaknesses in your current role, and your working process. There’s no better judge than yourself, and your self assessment will likely reflect that.
4. Your office has a performance management system that works. There are several things to keep in mind when creating a performance management system. We can suggest one in particular.