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Set Yourself Up For Success At Your Performance Review

Set Yourself Up For Success At Your Performance Review

By Pauline Millard

There’s an old saying, “If you don’t ask you don’t get.” If we want raises and promotions at work, we have to ask for them, or at least make the best case for ourselves when it comes time for performance reviews.

Women tend to fall into a pitfall of assuming that people will your notice your good work and reward you for it, while men constantly remind people what they are adding. Since men are often the ones making decisions about us, we need to be smart about how we’re advocating for ourselves and not just assume that they are keeping tabs on us.

Making that case, though, can seem a little like self-promotion, and self-promotion can feel awkward. It’s important, though, since research shows that women are usually promoted based on accomplishments and men are promoted based on potential.

In her recent Jam SessionKate O’Sullivan, a career and leadership coach at KO Consulting, talks about how to advocate for yourself and how a little planning can set you up for raises based on your actual performance.

Kate was a manager for many years and spent a lot of time doing performance reviews. She was always surprised that people didn’t start the process of getting ready for their reviews in advance. Managers usually have to put in grades and compensation changes and discuss it with a lot of other people, and that process usually takes at least a month before the reviews are handed out.

Sometimes members of Kate's team would wait until the week of the review or even during the review to bring up what they were expecting. But at that point, there was little she could do, even if they made a good case for themselves.

Create a plan months in advance. Three to four months before your review will be delivered, work with your manager as a partner. Kate said that’s enough time to change your behavior or improve. It’s also enough time for your manager to notice changes you’ve made.

Be clear about your goals. People worry that they will come across as too aggressive if they ask for feedback. Managers, however, like to know that employees are ambitious and want to improve. They won’t telepathically know what you want. They have a lot of direct reports. You’re not the only one that they’re thinking about.

Clarify expectations and get them in writing. If you say to your boss, “I want to move from analyst to senior analyst in six months,” they can tell you exactly what you need to do to make that happen. This will avoid vague feedback if you don’t get a promotion. It will also give you a roadmap to get to where you want to be.

Set up an ongoing structure to monitor progress. You may think you’re on track but your manager may have a different perspective after a few months. Set up a consistent structure to get in sync. You can also address any issues that may come up in terms of support and resources.

Getting Feedback Beyond Your Manager

Think about five-point feedback: from yourself, a client, a superior, a peer and a subordinate.

This is important so that you can get a broad view of how you’re doing. Your peers spend more time with you than your boss does. Getting feedback is also a way of getting mentors and sponsors who will advocate for you.

It’s important to remember that even if people like you, you may not always be in the front of their minds. Asking for feedback is a great way to get strengths -- and yourself -- front of mind.

What To Do With All This Feedback?

Reflect if it is true. Whether you agree with it or not, it comes down to how you view yourself. Most of us have a really strong view of our own identity, what we think we’re good or bad at. In reality, the biggest breakthroughs happen when someone points something out that isn’t in line with our own identity.

If you disagree with something right off the bat, don’t dismiss it. Give yourself time to think about it and to see if maybe it could be a valuable piece of feedback.

Get multiple views. Don’t just go for quantity. Think about quality, someone you trust and someone who is really good at that attribute or skill. Not just someone who will tell you something nice. Who will give you a critical view or more perspective?

Get specifics. This isn’t about getting “proof.” That can seem defensive. Say something like, “I really want to understand your feedback, because I value it. Can you give me some examples?” You’re asking the question to understand, not to disprove. Be sure to also watch your tone.

From Plan To Promotion

Once you set yourself up for a great review, hopefully you’re in line for a raise or a promotion. There may still be a few challenges.

Implicit bias: This is rooted in how women tend to come across, which is different from how we perceive ourselves and may be far from the reality of what our track record is. For instance, there is an implicit bias that if you speak softly or seem really nice that you won’t be able to make tough decisions.

The way to combat this is to work with your manager to create a competency matrix, or a success profile of the skills or the level you need to be at in order to be promoted and get it written down. Once you do that, you can be cognizant of your behavior and adjust if it’s not in line with your goals.

Time constraints. Everyone is busy and a little scattered. The more senior the person, the more directions they are being pulled in.

The solution is to check in regularly and in a way that saves your manager time. Try something like, “I think I’m doing well in x and z, but need help with y. Do you agree?” It shows that you are proactive and thinking about your development. It also shows self awareness, and people like to work with others who know what they bring to the table.

Bad memory. Managers have a lot of direct reports. They don’t remember every detail of how hard you worked on something. Bad memory is a real challenge, so say something to your manager along the lines of, “Here is what I think I’m doing well. I want to check in with you regularly and remind you of my accomplishments.” It’s also a good time to ask for feedback, which, again, keeps you front of mind with people.

Competing priorities. You’re going to remember your accomplishments more than anyone. Since women tend to be promoted on accomplishments rather than potential, it’s important to keep detailed records of what you’re up to.

An easy way to keep track of accomplishments is to start a Google doc at the beginning of your review period and keep track of everything you do. That way you have a track record to bring to your manager when you initially start to plan for your review.


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