Worry and anxiety are natural feelings to have ahead of a performance review. But coming into the conversation prepared and with the right frame of mind can assuage your fears. Here’s what to do before, during, and after your next performance evaluation.
How to Prepare for Your Performance Review
When done well, performance appraisals can guide employees along their career path. Think of it in terms of what employees should stop, start and continue, recommends Ellen Slane, an HR business partner at Employers Advantage, an HR consulting firm. What should employees start doing to build on their skills; stop doing because it’s limiting their professional growth; and continue to do because it’s working well?
Build your performance story with:
- Past performance reviews.
- Your calendar and inbox.
- Advice and constructive feedback from peers.
With just a week to get ready, focus on crafting your “performance story,” as Slane called it, pulling in the data and narrative that showcases your work. If you’ve filed away notes throughout the year about each completed project or goal reached, your self-evaluation may be nearly complete. If not, don’t try to build that narrative from memory, as you’ll likely miss details that way.
Luckily, you probably have plenty of source material within reach. Here’s where to look:
1. Peruse past performance reviews.
Those documents likely highlight the activities you need to start, stop, or continue. As you review them, ask yourself:
- Have I shown marked improvement since the previous review, including addressing past missteps?
- Did I take advantage of recommended professional development opportunities?
- Did I secure that planned promotion or stretch assignment?
“If we don’t take the historical documents and reviews into account, then we’re never really building on what we’ve already done,” said Ashley Cox, founder and CEO of human resources consulting firm SproutHR.
2. Check your calendar and inbox.
Big projects completed or certifications earned since your last review likely stand out in your mind as important accomplishments. But there are probably side projects or smaller skills-based trainings that have slipped your mind. Jog your memory by looking back through your calendar and inbox for:
- Names of people you have collaborated with
- Deadlines you were working to meet
- Career development programs you attended
- Extra activities you participated in, such as volunteering at a company-sponsored event
“It’s all within the scope of work,” Slane said. “Even if it’s things that are technically outside the scope of responsibilities, such as an Employee Appreciation Day, the manager is not seeing everything that you are doing.”
3. Talk to colleagues.
Some companies conduct 360-degree performance reviews, which incorporate feedback from an employee’s coworkers or direct reports. If your organization doesn’t, check in with your colleagues and coworkers for their thoughts on your work. For the most authentic feedback, ask open-ended performance review questions, Slane suggested, such as “How did I encourage teamwork and collaboration?”
Once you’ve gathered the data and constructive feedback, you’ll want to think about how you’ll frame what you’ve learned to tell your performance story instead of just listing a year’s worth of scattered accomplishments. Here are three ways to prepare for the conversation.
4. Look for quantitative and qualitative achievements.
As you build your story, look for accomplishments that are both measurable and unmeasurable to back up your claims.
In your self-assessment, include:
- Quantitative metrics that measure your performance.
- Qualitative data that build an engaging story.
- Your goals for the coming year.
Meeting or exceeding quantitative targets presents an important picture of your performance and capabilities. For a salesperson, quantitative metrics would include total sales and leads generated. For a manager, quantitative targets include retention rates and their team’s employee engagement survey scores.
Qualitative metrics also bring immense value to the organization. They can help you build an engaging story that fosters empathy between you and your boss. For a salesperson, that might include how they built affinity for a product through industry connections. A manager might bring up their ongoing mentorship of subordinates.
“It’s offering any sort of details — qualitative or quantitative — to make the case for yourself,” said Elisa Pineda, talent acquisition manager for Forage, an ed-tech platform that helps students get jobs. “It’s going to bat for yourself.”
As you craft your case, look for ways to tie those qualitative and quantitative metrics to your employer’s goals and values, Cox recommended. So, in a company that’s actively working to reduce turnover and increase diversity, a manager should highlight their successes in those areas. In an organization streamlining its workflows, a product developer who introduced a new time-saving tool should highlight that accomplishment.
5. Prepare your asks.
Performance reviews focus on how you’ve done in the past year or six months, but they also present an opportunity to think about where you’re headed and what you want — a raise, a promotion, or new skills.
Top performers on track for big promotions, pay increases, and career development opportunities should consider other ways to contribute. Cox recommends asking yourself:
- What do I want to be doing in the next year, five years, or 10 years?
- Is there anything that I haven’t had exposure to or experience with that I want to gain?
- Are there other opportunities to build my reputation and add meaning and value to the work I’m doing, such as supporting the organization’s philanthropic efforts?
For employees with a not-so-great year behind them, there are often still wins to document while building their performance story. “Even if it feels like the entire year was a disaster, the first thing is reviewing your notes and saying, ‘What wins did I have?’” Cox explained.
Those wins could include a thank you note from a coworker for filling in for them, she said. Or, maybe a client touted your helpfulness on social media. Bring those to your performance review because they matter, Cox said. “It means that you've taken your role as a team player, as a representative of the company very seriously and that you have contributed.”
6. Write down your self-assessment.
Whether it’s handwritten notes or an entire digital folder, gather specific examples, data, and talking points in a written form to bring to the interview. It demonstrates that you take the process seriously, Slane said.
“There’s no shame in bringing your own documentation to a performance review,” Cox said. “As a matter of fact, as an HR professional, as a leader, as someone who’s done lots and lots of performance reviews, I love it.”
What to Do During Your Performance Review
Even high performers who have exceeded every set goal can get nervous prior to their performance conversation. Keep your calendar free before and after the meeting, and take a few minutes to walk outside, Slane advised. “Just take some deep breaths, formulate your thoughts, look over your notes and make sure that you’re not forgetting the big highlights of what you want to talk about.”
During your review:
- Be ready to listen.
- Use simple, direct, and professional language.
- Address difficult feedback by listening without judgment.
- Ask for more time to respond, if needed.
As your performance review begins, your manager may start with an introduction. Listen to what they have to say and take notes, Pineda recommends. “Be ready to jump into it, but also be ready to listen first.”
When it’s your turn to talk, start telling the story you’ve built in the week before the meeting, mixing in the qualitative and quantitative data you’ve collected. “It’s really important to remember that you are advocating for yourself in this conversation and that if you feel like [your manager] left something out, that you make sure to bring it up,” Cox said.
Then, make your asks. Use simple, direct professional language such as:
- “I hit the goals you outlined at the beginning of the year, am I on track to max out my bonus?”
- “I know this past year presented some challenges, but after reviewing my action plan for the coming year, can I count on your support to hit my objectives?”
- “I have met or exceeded my goals this year, and I believe I’m ready for the next step, but I’ll need an advanced certification first. What would you suggest for me?”
- “I’d like to explore my interest in graphic design. Is it possible to shadow the social media team for a week to learn more about their work?”
Addressing Difficult Feedback During a Performance Review
Employees usually know when difficult feedback is headed their way. Even still, it can be nerve-wracking to face in the moment. “Remember, this is a two-way conversation,” Cox said, “but you need to be willing to listen to what’s being shared.”
Here’s what to do:
1. Listen without judgment.
Instead of launching into a rebuttal as your manager outlines areas of improvement, get curious, Cox recommends. Ask questions such as:
- “Can you help me understand what I could do better?”
- “Do you think you can help me understand the disconnect?”
- “Could you help me understand why you see it this way?”
The phrase “‘help me understand’ really leads from a place of curiosity instead of a place of judgment,” she said.
2. Take your time.
Don’t feel pressure to respond immediately, Cox said. “I'm much more appreciative of someone who said, ‘I need some time to process this because I'm feeling kind of emotional right now. And I'd love to be able to continue the conversation later.’”
Most people will need time to process the news, and that’s okay. Ask to schedule a follow-up meeting within the week, so you can gather your thoughts.
When the Company Is the Poor Performer
Volatile markets are presenting big challenges in some sectors right now, and conversations about an organization's future may also come up during a performance review. If your manager mentions looming layoffs or restructuring, here are a few questions Slane recommended asking:
- “Is there anything more I should be doing?”
- “Is there cross-functional training that would be important for me to complete?”
- “Are there any value-added projects that I can be part of?”
What to Do After Your Performance Appraisal
Once your review is complete, take these three steps to move forward on the promises or expectations set by your manager.
1. Get it documented.
Make sure that you’re clear about your next steps and goals — whether it’s addressing poor performance or moving toward your next promotion. “Nobody ever was served by assuming that they knew what was expected of them,” Cox said. “If you have questions, ask questions. If you need a follow-up, have a follow-up conversation.”
2. Monitor performance all year.
If you scrambled to write your performance story in the past week, put better practices in place for next year. Create a written or digital document and update it in real-time or, at the very least, each quarter, with your successes and challenges, Cox said, so you’re not rushing to prepare for your next performance appraisal.
3. Check in with your manager.
If your manager doesn’t conduct regular one-on-ones, take the initiative and check in with them on the goals identified during the annual performance review process. Ask them whether you’re making progress on them and where you can improve, Cox advised.
Why Prepping for Your Performance Review All Year Matters
With regular self-assessments at your fingertips and your progress well-communicated long beforehand, your next performance review meeting will be far less stressful.
“Not only [will] you be able to sit down and have a meaningful and productive conversation with your supervisor during your performance review," Cox said, “but it's a great way for you to be able to self-lead throughout the year and be able to get what you need as an employee [to reach your own goals].”
Want to get better at receiving feedback, whether in your performance review or everyday work? Download our workbook How to Request, Give, and Recieve Feedback to use as your guide.