8 steps to survive your performance review

By Robert Half on 4th September 2014

The very thought of your next performance review may fill you with dread, creating anxiety you can do without in the workplace. Rarely are they the most pleasant experience for employees, even those who are hitting all their targets and meeting the expectations of the their boss.

It can be uncomfortable talking about yourself and your performance, and receiving feedback on how you've been doing. Sometimes, you may feel as if your manager has missed the point, or failed to appreciate the contribution you've made over the last 12 months. And at other times, the whole experience can be just plain awkward.

But your review is coming around whether you like it or not, so you may as well try to make the most of it. These tips for surviving your next one-on-one with your manager can help settle your nerves and get you through what can at times be a negative, disappointing experience.

Prepare for your performance review in advance

Preparation for your performance review is crucial. Planning ahead and making notes should help you bring up all relevant points, and have answers prepared for any tricky questions that may arise. If something has gone wrong in the workplace, or your standards have slipped a little, it makes sense to have formed a cohesive explanation. It is also an opportunity for you to ask for feedback, a performance review shouldn't consist of a one sided conversation.

Often, you will be asked to complete a self-evaluation form, which your boss will use as the basis for discussion. It's your responsibility to work through this carefully, spending time on your answers. The information you provide in this document will, in part, determine the direction of your meeting and how successful it is.

Your self-evaluation also presents an opportunity to highlight achievements you have made over the past year, and provide evidence as to your contribution. Having something of substance to say for these sections of the document can help take the heat off during your review. Here are 8 performance review tips to help:

1. Take things seriously

You might find the whole experience uncomfortable - and your manager may be feel exactly the same way - but it's important to take something positive from the review. If you approach it with the wrong attitude, the session could end up being a waste of time.

It isn't often you get the chance to communicate with your manager directly in this way - behind closed doors - so you should take the opportunity to be constructive and demonstrate your professionalism and maturity. After all, if you move up the career ladder into management, it will be you who has to deliver these performance review for junior staff members.

2. Be willing to learn

Your review offers a great opportunity to acquire additional knowledge, whether this is about your organisation, industry or specific role. You might even find out a little more about your manager's attitudes and expectations, which can help in terms of gaining their approval in the future. There is plenty of scope for open discussion during your appraisal, so be willing to listen as well as talk.

When you return to your desk, take a little time to document the new information you have picked up - this could be useful in the future. After all, your performance review is a development exercise - it is designed to up-skill and motivate employees, and support their career progress. The extent to which this occurs depends on the attitude of individual employees, and their willingness to learn and improve.

3. Retain your focus

Sometimes discussions may get sidetracked, and you'll end up talking more generally about business, the weather, even the price of fish. This is a waste of time! You may not always be comfortable talking about yourself and your job, but this is the whole point of the review meeting. Unless it focuses on your personal performance - in the context of your role and organisation - there is little point to it taking place.

So if your manager keeps going off on tangents, it may be incumbent on you to refocus on the core topic of conversation - in this case, yourself. You can have a pleasant chat about other matters over a cup of coffee later, but having sat down in the review meeting, it needs to be a constructive hour.

4. Seek clarification

Sometimes your manager may provide feedback that is contradictory, or doesn't appear to make sense for another reason. If this is the case, question them on it. If there is any element of confusion in your mind when you leave the performance review, then the session has been a waste of time. Your manager will expect you to act upon their feedback and recommendations, and do so quickly. But if you are confused about your instructions, you'll simply end up in a muddle.

5. Be realistic

It makes sense to try and meet your manager halfway during your review meeting. This means being realistic about what you have achieved over the past 12 months, and acknowledging where there is room for improvement. If you tell your boss you are perfect, then expect to be shot down in flames. But equally, you don't want to downplay your own achievements too much - particularly if you are angling for a promotion or a pay rise.

If you deliver reasoned, rational responses - both in your self-evaluation and in the review interview - you will have a much more positive and valuable meeting. Your manager will appreciate the maturity you have shown, and this can help build trust between you. The ability to be objective gives you much more credibility as a business professional - something you will need in abundance as you try to progress through the ranks.

6. Avoid muck-spreading

You want to be wary of placing too much blame on your colleagues or other departments where things have gone awry. If you immediately get on the defensive and wheel out a host of excuses, you could end up undergoing more of an interrogation than you'd expected.

You may not be responsible for problems that have occurred, but there are ways and means of conveying this information more subtly. Providing evidence of your attempts to overcome these difficulties is the best way. If somebody else's failings have impacted on your ability to perform, there's still nothing to stop you from finding a solution. This shows initiative, a positive attitude to work and real commitment to the cause.

7. Don't argue

The reality is, you're not always going to agree with your manager. In fact, you might take an opposite view on most things, but the bottom line is they are still your boss. And unless you're able to form a healthy working relationship with them, life will be much for difficult for you in the office.

As such, there's little point in getting involved in a heated debate as to the rights or wrongs of a particular situation, or try and challenge all their pre-existing views. All you can do is listen to your manager's feedback and take it on board. If you want to change their opinion - or their impression of how you operate - the best way to achieve this is by delivering results in the weeks and months ahead.

8. Know your worth

During your appraisal you have a rare opportunity to speak to your boss one-on-one in a formal setting, so if you're planning to ask for a promotion or pay rise, this is your chance. As the saying goes, 'if you don't ask, you don't get' - don't be too timid to bring up the subject. Employers are conscious of the need to keep their best performers happy, so if you're a valued member of staff, they may be willing to improve your contract.

But you need to know your worth to the organisation - there's little point asking for a better job or an increased salary if you've been under-performing. Consult the Robert Half Salary Guide to find out what you're worth before going into your performance review. You must provide evidence of your achievements and the value you offer - if you're delivering a high return on investment it may be possible to increase your earnings.

More From the Blog...