upstart thoughts on talent and leadership

Surviving Performance Reviews

In ! Kristy, Employee Tips on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Ah, the performance review. As well-intentioned as the best organizations are about encouraging frequent informal feedback, stressing the “no-surprise” review, and creating a simple process, performance reviews can be stressful and awkward for even the most awesome employees and great managers. A few tips for the journey:

Remember that your performance review is not what people are going to read at your funeral. A review is one limited, admittedly subjective perspective on how you performed in one area of your life during a limited timeframe. It’s not a judgment of your entire career or your entire person. Put it in perspective and don’t let it rule your self-concept.

Gather a broad perspective on your performance. If your company has a formal system for gathering stakeholder feedback, offer your manager a diverse list of people who’ve had direct contact with your work over the past year. Focus on internal customers but don’t forget other managers, peers who’ve collaborated with you, and direct reports who can comment on your leadership competencies. If you don’t have a formal process, you can still offer stakeholder feedback to your manager in the form of emails and work products that will give evidence of the value you added through the eyes of others.

Get explicit. When writing your self review, include as many specific descriptions of great performance as you can. Quantify the impact of your work on specific business outcomes. If your system includes a review of core competencies, cite examples of your behavior that show how you exemplify each competency.

Listen to feedback. Listening to feedback and accepting feedback as valid are two different activities that we often assume have to happen at the same point in time. When you are receiving a tough bit of feedback, 1) Remain neutral. 2) If the giver of the feedback is making generalizations, ask “Can you give me some specific examples that will help me understand how I might have given that impression?” 3) Thank the person for the feedback. 4) Take some time to process the feedback and decide what you will do about it. Sometimes we ignore feedback because it wasn’t delivered in the exact right way by someone we respect… but I still believe we should mine even the most abrasively delivered feedback for the kernel of truth that might be hiding. 5) It’s always your choice whether to accept feedback as valid and act on it.

If you’re a people manager: PLEASE be courageous. If you’ve never heard the “no surprises” rule of reviewing performance, here it is: There’s a reason it’s called a performance review and not a performance surprise. Your employees should not be hearing any feedback for the first time in a review. It’s unfair for so many obvious reasons, I can’t bring myself to list them here. If you don’t have the courage to bring it up when it happens, shame on you. Turn in your office door and your pay increase because you probably aren’t courageous enough to manage other people.

Move on. Your performance review may very well suck. You may become a victim of the “meets expectations” bell curve because your manager is afraid to rock the boat. You might get hit with a piece of surprise feedback because your manager was too chicken to bring it up to you when it happened. You might get a tiny, tiny piece of the tiny, tiny merit increase pie. Decide how much control you will give your review and don’t let it overtake your self esteem.

So if we all hate the review process so much, how could it look different in the organization of the future… what are your thoughts? Stay tuned for mine…

  1. Great Article.

    A good way to make sure there are less surprises is to use a Performance Review Template that is given to the employee. THey then can refer to this over the year so they know exactly what is required.

    The review then would be a lot easier!



  2. You have done it again! Great article.

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