Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Get a Better Performance Review

I have mixed feelings about performance evaluations.

I've yet to talk to an employee or manager who look forward to them. But sometimes it's the only way to get workers and their bosses to sit down and actually discuss what's going on.

For many years I've written about performance reviews, the pro's and con's, and so I decided it was time to revisit the issue and give pointers about how to not only survive your performance evaluation, but make sure it goes well. Here's the story I did for Gannett/

If ever you wished you had the powers of mind-reading, it might be during your annual performance review.

You may think that if you could just figure out what the boss really thought of your performance and what you can do to improve it without all the business jargon and hemming and hawing, you actually might be able to nab that promotion or pay raise.

Instead, you're stuck with the boss rambling on and on while you have no clue of what you're supposed to do to improve — or whether he even thinks you need to improve.

It's difficult to find anyone among the leadership- or management-expert ranks who believes performance reviews are a good idea, and that includes Joseph Grenny. He calls such appraisals worthless and notes that research shows such feedback only prompts 1 in 5 employees to change behavior.

Still, it's not likely that Santa will show up to whisk away performance reviews on his sleigh this year, so how can employees succeed in making such a feedback process pay off for them?

Grenny, one of the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, (McGraw-Hill, $18), says one key is understanding that your boss is human. That may mean that he is really rather miserable doing an evaluation because it's difficult to offer criticism.

But it also may mean that he doesn't want to be seen as a wimp by not offering tough enough feedback, Grenny says.

The bottom line: Most bosses want their people to do better but don't know how to provide the necessary information to help employees achieve the goals.

To get around your boss' poor communication, take matters into your own hands with a pre-emptive strike before the formal evaluation, Grenny says. Meet with colleagues and the boss before your formal review and try to ferret out areas where you need improvement.

"Ask them (colleagues) how you're doing as a team member. When they give you feedback, ask for facts, not conclusions," he says. "You want concrete examples."

That way, you can take corrective action before a review, perhaps lessen the severity of the criticism and show you're taking steps to improve.

Don't get defensive when given feedback. Instead, repeat back what you've learned. Grenny suggests saying something like, "So, what you're saying is if I do XYZ, then you'll have a more favorable view of my performance?"

He adds that if the boss mentions an improvement that will require his input, further training or education, ask if he can help you with resources.

Despite your efforts, you may find that someone is dancing around an issue concerning your performance, or trying to sugarcoat criticism, Grenny says. Even though it may be difficult, you might have to push for honest, critical comments.

"You want him to be honest with you about how you can help him," Grenny says. "Make it safe for the boss to disclose what he's really thinking."

Once you've gotten critical feedback from the boss, always follow up, Grenny says.

"I'd give it two to four weeks, then I would check back in with him on your progress. After that, you can wait another six to eight weeks," he says. "You want at least three scheduled meetings on your calendar for the next year with your boss regarding your progress."

Also important: Put your action plan in writing.

Not only does this help you remember steps you need to take, but it also keeps the boss focused on what you're doing to succeed, he says.

Grenny also recommends improving your performance by:

• Finding a mentor. If you need to be a better communicator, ask your boss if he knows someone who might be willing to advise you in this area, or seek out someone you know who excels at such tasks.

• Practicing. Break down each skill you need to master into smaller parts and ask for feedback from your mentor or boss as you tackle each challenge.

• Replacing disappointment with progress. Maybe you weren't thrilled with your review, but keep your boss informed as you make progress. The excitement of moving toward success will help relieve the sting of criticism from an unfavorable job evaluation.

What other tips do you have for improving a performance evaluation?



mary said...

Good posting, thanks for sharing. I'd echo the importance of the boss-employee relationship. As a wider objective, I think it's imperative that bosses/managers foster a safe environment where employees feel safe to speak up and give honest feedback.

For me, preparation is the key to success in appraisals/performance reviews. Appraisals are not meant to be an opportunity for a chat or gossip. This is a formal system to review, assess and record your work performance. This evaluation will ultimately lead to decisions that may have a long term impact on your career, so it's important to take them seriously and undertake proper preparation.

Arrive at the appraisal armed with relevant information and data that demonstrates how your work and contributions have made an impact.

Refer to your previous appraisal: have you followed up on and resolved any issues that may have arisen then? Pay particular attention to any special projects or things you had committed to and provide a status report. If you have not achieved or completed the things that you were expected to, be prepared to give a good explanation, backing it up with reasons. Be careful not to sound defeatist or lay blame on anyone. Stick to the facts and offer your insights as professionally and objectively as possible.

Professor Binna Kandola of UK business psychologists Pearn Kandola, comments: "Unfortunately, far too often there are a multitude of forms, pages of advice and unclear instructions. The essential point is that it is the quality of the conversations, not the quantity of the paperwork, that counts."

You can read the full article here:

Anita said...

Thanks, Mary, for adding so much information to this discussion!

Helping You Hire said...

Great post! And thank you to Mary for adding on. I also agree that boss-employee relationship is important as a good relationship leads to a better work environment and both parties feel as if they can openly communicate with one another. My boss at the staffing solutions company I work at is very good at making sure she has good relationships with all her employees which in turn leads to effective communication and great job performance.