Secrets of performance review success


Annual performance reviews can sometimes seem like a bureaucratic chore with no obvious benefit: at best, a tedious box-ticking exercise; at worse, a chance for your boss to take out a year’s worth of pent-up frustration on you in one concentrated burst (not for nothing is the annual appraisal occasionally referred to as the ‘annual reprisal’).

But it doesn’t have to be dreary or dreadful. Here we take a look at how to prepare for and handle your performance review in a way that’s positive for your confidence and career development. 

#1 Exceed expectations

The first and most obvious way to prepare well for your annual performance review is to play a blinder at work over the preceding 12 months! If you have overwhelming evidence of stellar performance beyond the responsibilities and objectives thrashed out in your previous performance review, your manager will be obliged to acknowledge it.

#2 Get your facts straight

Whether you are expecting flak or fulsome praise, make sure you assemble all the facts about your performance in advance of the meeting. A year earlier you should have agreed and been given a list of performance goals and targets as a framework for your activities. Run through the list again now, and ask yourself objectively how well you think you have done against each of them:

  • Did you miss, meet or exceed each individual target?
  • What examples can you give to show this? (Testimonials from delighted customers or amazed colleagues could help.)
  • Did you demonstrate the competencies needed to achieve each target?
  • Where you missed a goal, can you put your finger on why that was?
  • What would help you do better next time?

Make it clear how you have overcome challenges by providing lots of detail. Try to put a hard financial or material value on the successes you have had, particularly if you are using the review to float the topic of a well-earned promotion or payrise. (If you are going for a step up in salary, you might go so far as to present proof of the kind of price your skills are commanding in the sector.) If things haven’t gone so well, you are building a case for your defence, finding solid reasons outside your control why you didn't manage to meet your objectives (or putting your hands up honestly to things you might have done better – nobody's perfect). 

#3 Blow your own trumpet

This is no time for modesty – if you don’t blow your own trumpet about how well you have done, no one else will blow it for you. Show that you have full confidence in your own abilities and expect your boss to recognise them too. 

#4 Under-promise, over-deliver

The review isn’t usually just about evaluating how things have gone – it’s about looking ahead too. Even if you have had a good year, don’t be pressured into setting yourself up for a fall by agreeing impossible targets for the year ahead. Market circumstances may change. Some elements may be beyond your control. The best way to ensure another decent review next time is to under-promise and over-deliver. 

Before going into the meeting with your manager, consider:

  • What objective(s) do you want to focus on over the next 12 months?
  • Are you happy in your current role or do you want to develop your career in a different direction?
  • What support would you need to do that?
  • What are your personal aspirations and priorities?

Don’t leave it up to your manager to tell you unilaterally how you’ve done (or what you are going to be doing) – this is a two-way conversation that starts with you.

From workSMART’s FAQ section on Performance Reviews.


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