Do performance reviews suck? Not just in the sense that they often induce gut-level, God-I-hate-this fear and revulsion in the employees who anticipate them (and they often do), but in the sense that they don’t really achieve much of anything. Research from GuideSpark says that, yeah, performance reviews are kind of a mess: 45 percent of employees feel they are a waste of time; 75 percent of employees say they don’t always lead to better performance; and even managers aren’t too keen on them, with 57 percent of managers saying that performance reviews “are a real time sink.”
But all hope is not lost for the humble performance review, says Matthew Rowles, senior resource manager at staffing firm Kavaliro. Employees can really make their performance reviews count, as long as they know what to do.
1. Get Yourself in the Right Mindset
“The most important thing is to approach [performance reviews] realistically,” Rowles says. “You don’t want it to be a situation where you’re going in to brag and really talk yourself up, but it’s also not really a place to be humble.”
Rather, Rowles says employees should see performance reviews as a time for honest and accurate conversations about their achievements and shortcomings. In order to do so, of course, employees need to be thoroughly prepared for their reviews.
2. Prepare Properly
To prepare for a performance review, employees should conduct a thorough self-evaluation before they meet with their manager. During this self-evaluation, employees should take a careful look at what they have demonstrably done in their roles to help the company in some way.
“The first thing you should do is pull out your performance review,” Rowles says. “Most companies, when they have their performance reviews, will set goals for the next one. The first place to start is to pull out the old one, see what goals you had set, and then go back through and write out what steps you took to hit those goals.”
Employees should ask themselves a few key questions:
- Did I hit my goals?
- If so, what did I do to hit those goals?
- If I did not hit my goals, why not?
Rowles says that employees who did not hit their goals should have clear explanations for why they did not, as well as examples of steps they took to hit the goals which they failed to meet.
Employees should also look at things they might have done for the benefit of the business that weren’t part of their goals.
“Maybe you worked outside [your normal role],” Rowles explains. “Maybe you switched roles within the company. You should list what you have done in that new role.”
3. Ask the Right Questions
After preparing carefully and thoroughly, it’s time for the performance review. During the review, employees should present the hard evidence they collected during their self-evaluations to demonstrate how they’ve hit their goals and/or helped the business. Employees should also use performance reviews to ask the right questions of their managers.
“Ask your manager direct questions about your performance,” Rowles says. “What do they think you’ve done well? Your idea of something you’ve done well may not be the same as [your manager's idea].”
Rowles says it’s also important to ask managers about areas for improvement.
“I think every manager appreciates whenever you are trying to make yourself better, so you should definitely ask where you can improve,” Rowles says. “What can you do to make yourself better? Are there any areas outside of your day-to-day performance that you can help on? Do you have strengths that can be used outside of your own role?”
When an employee asks a manager how they can improve, it shows the manager that they are dedicated to giving the best performance they possibly can. These sorts of questions can also bring about valuable feedback which will help employees grow in their own careers.
4. Follow Up Regularly
Once the performance review is over, employees should be using the feedback they received to consciously improve their performance. Toward this end, Rowles says it is useful to schedule regular follow-up meetings between performance reviews — especially if the company only conducts performance reviews once a year.
“It’s almost impossible to really track your progress if you only talk about it once a year,” Rowles says. “So set reminders to follow up with your manager, even if it’s not an official performance review. Go in — at the minimum quarterly, maybe monthly — and have a five-minute conversation with your manager to ask how you’re doing. That way, you’re making sure that you’re staying on track to hit these goals, and that way the next performance review you have is easier.”
For Those Who Didn’t Do So Well …
Sometimes, an employee will have a bad performance review. It happens. For these people, Rowles says following-up is even more important.
“Have those conversation with the manager even more frequently,” Rowles says. “Write down your goals as soon as you leave the performance review. Keep weekly updates on how you’re doing to hit those goals.”
Companies tend to watch employees more closely if they’ve had bad performance reviews, so these employees need to take extra steps to make sure they are on the right track. Doing so will ensure that they really improve — and have a great performance review next time around.