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Performance Reviews

Your performance review is next week. Here’s what you need to do.

Whether it just crept up on you, or you were so busy dreading it that you buried your head in the sand like an ostrich, it’s that time of year again: your performance review is coming up! But don’t worry. Don’t panic. We’ve got some advice for maximizing your time in the seven days before the big day. We want to make sure you leave your review feeling confident about the year behind you and the year ahead of you.

For your performance review next week:

  1. Assess your performance.
  2. Figure out what you want from the review.
  3. Discuss your successes and failures.
  4. Use data and history to back up your discussion.

This is for the promotions and compensations element of performance review. If you want more about the learning and development part of reviews, check out our pieces on asking for feedback and more facetime with your manager.

Prepare Your Story.

It’s nearly impossible to adequately discuss everything that happened in the span of a year, so don’t even try. Instead, focus on summarizing your year in the form of a story. The Harvard Business Review reports, “In terms of making impact, [a story] blows the standard PowerPoint presentation to bits.” Building a narrative is more compelling because:

  • Stories are naturally engaging and fosters empathy between you and your boss.
  • Stories are more capable of maintaining our attention. If you’ve ever sat in on a meeting then you know first-hand how easy it is to become distracted during a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Stories are easier to remember than a jumble of stats, data and blocky chunks of writing.

Using storytelling will help your boss follow the narrative of your successes — and put your failures and mistakes in the context of your development. This holistic approach to storytelling also allows you to circumvent recency bias, which is especially important if your year started off strong, but ended on a sour note.

Build a compelling narrative.

  • First, research. Before your review, identify what it is you want. Then do a mental run through of the major work events of the past year – The wins and the misses – to use to build a narrative. For example, if you want your boss to know how well you’re doing in your current role, lookup competency libraries for your role – basically what your role is supposed to cover – and emphasize how well you do in each area. Then, figure out the best data to emphasize your successes.
  • Next, outline. Make the connection between the what you want and why you should get it. If it’s a new role, figure out how your strengths make you well-suited for it and address how you’d overcome any shortcomings standing in your way. Highlight accomplishments that double as examples of how you’d be successful in the future. Talk about your failures in relation to how you overcame, reacted, or moved beyond them.
  • Finally…during your review, highlight the above, and don’t forget to be direct and ask for exactly what you want.

Figure out what you want beforehand.

In addition to your key message, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what you want during your performance review. Maybe it’s been a rocky year and all you want is to keep your job or you’ve had a stellar year and you think your bonus should reflect that. In either scenario, ask for it or you’ll leave your performance review with as a great a sense of uncertainty as you entered it with.

Don’t beat around the bush. Use simple, direct, professional language like, “I hit the goals you outlined at the beginning of year, am I on track to max out my bonus?” Or “I know this past year presented some challenges, but after reviewing my game plan for the year to come, can I count on your support to hit my objectives?”

Now, you can ask, but you don’t always get what you asked for. However, by asking, you’ve made an opening to have a conversation about what’s standing behind your boss’s “No.” Instead, of trying to read your manager’s mind, you can exit your review with the knowledge you need to make the right next step. You’ll know whether there’s an issue with your performance or if the timeline is simply wrong for what you want.

How to talk about your mistakes or failures in a performance review.

You won’t be the only one talking during your performance review. Your boss will likely have some positive things to say, but will also identify some “opportunities.” Don’t let yourself get caught off-guard. Go into your meeting aware and prepared for the constructive criticism coming your way:

  • Have an honest conversation with yourself. Seriously, you should have an idea of what the ups and downs were in your year and what you bring to the table as an employee and where you could use some improvement.
  • Step into your boss’s shoes. After you’ve taken a good look at yourself as a worker, take a go at what your manager might say. Knowing what’s coming will take some of the sting out. Take the “attack” out of the surprise by going into your meeting with open eyes.
  • Stay positive during the negatives. The last thing you want to do is get defensive about the feedback your manager may give you. Just remember, no one is without their flaws and you aren’t expected to be a perfect employee. In fact, many companies require your manager give you points of improvement.
  • Prepare a response, not a rebuttal. You will only create a negative experience if you give your boss excuses for any failures or try to invalidate their observations. Respond either during the meeting with actionable steps you can take or ask for some time following the meeting to create a game plan for success.

Support your story with stats.

Keep your story from sounding like a fairytale by backing up your claims with metrics. Whether you’re a salesperson with a major increase in year-over-year sales or you’re a manager that drastically reduced employee turnover, take the time to find those numbers and package them in an easy to read format for your boss. Numbers are sticky. They’re more compelling than words alone. They help you chart your progress and figure out how to get to the next step.

If your metrics aren’t the greatest, be sure you pull in outside data. Maybe your sales weren’t great, but maybe sales weren’t great nationwide and while your numbers were down 5% that was still less than the 17% national average for the sales team. Provide context, not excuses for your misses.

To sum up:

  1. Figure out the main plot of the story. Did you overcome a great challenge? Did you learn from a misstep? Did you find an unexpected way to solve a problem? Did you learn a particularly helpful skill that you applied to work? Did you more than make up for a mistake?
  2. Stick to the story. Be sure to focus on details that support your story, so you don’t overwhelm your boss with conflicting or confusing information. Instead, focus only on a targeted list of accomplishments you achieved over the past year.
  3. Don’t leave out your failures or mistakes. Being selective about information doesn’t mean ignoring the problems when you tell it — omitting them could even bring them to the forefront of your boss’s mind. Instead, acknowledge them and weave them into the narrative as learning experiences or setbacks that you overcame.
  4. Identify the moral of the story. Ask yourself, “What message about me do I want my boss to take away from this meeting?”
  5. Set yourself up for a sequel. As you wrap up your review, be sure to show your manager how what you’ve experienced will shape your next chapter at the company.

You’ve got this.

Performance reviews may be scary, but they don’t have to be daunting. If you’ve spent the week preparing, trust in yourself to do a good job during your review. Remember, this is not some weird, mystery boss alien dropped off before your performance review. This is the very human person you’ve been working alongside all year. Your manager struggles with performance reviews just as much as you do, so you’re in this together. Just behave as you would during any other important meeting with a superior. Ask questions, take notes and repeat key points back to your manager for clarity. Get the most out of this precious, uninterrupted time with your manager. You want your manager to leave the meeting feeling like you’re an engaged employee ready to implement their directives for the year.

After your performance review, take some time to review your notes. Then, create a plan for implementing your boss’s feedback and identifying how any changes will affect you and your work for the upcoming year. Break your plan into monthly and quarterly objectives, so you can make steady progress over the next 12 months.

Got more than a week to prepare?

If you’re actually type A person who’d never leave it to the last minute to prep for your review, you can check out this guide that helps you prepare for your review over several months. To reduce the anxiety and the mystery that swirls around performance reviews, you can talk to your manager about setting up mini-quarterly progress meetings. This way, you always know where you stand career-wise and you can address minor issues before they become major issues that put your success at your company in jeopardy.