By Pauline Millard, Ellevate Network Content Strategist
There is nothing normal or comfortable about a performance review. Your every day -- and year-long -- performance is assessed in a few pages, and sometimes with little room for extrapolation. Clicking boxes such as “Meets expectations” and “Does not meet expectations” doesn’t really capture the holistic work ethic of a human. Yet, they exist.
There are few people who haven’t had a less-than-stellar performance review. While they may sting your ego, they certainly aren’t job or career killers. They may even be opportunities for growth.
The State of the Performance Review
Ellevate member Nana Dooreck, said that a lot of companies, especially startups, are doing away with the traditional performance review process. Nana is the Founder of Rubicore, a firm that helps companies achieve employee satisfaction. Co-workers and even clients are often a more accurate reflection of someone’s work performance than a manager who has a roster of other duties and has to fill out some mandatory paperwork once a year.
This past July, Accenture, the multinational consulting firm, made headlines after they announced that they were getting rid of annual performance reviews and rankings. The company plans to implement a system where employees get feedback from their managers once assignments and projects are completed.
Ellyn Shook, the Chief Human Resource Officer at Accenture and Ellevate member said that performance reviews are backward-looking, and their new approach aligns people’s strengths and passions in order for them to perform better. “It gives them a chance to shape their roles to play to their strengths,” she said. “It's a way to get better results both for the company and themselves.”
They’re not the only company reassessing how employees are evaluated. In March, consulting and professional services firm Deloitte announced it was starting a new program where rankings would disappear and the evaluations would be an ongoing process throughout the year. Microsoft did away with rankings two years ago. Adobe, Gap and Medtronic have also changed their performance-review process.
Prepare Like You Would For A Job Interview
Annual reviews shouldn’t be total surprises, but in case a curveball comes your way, it’s good to have some questions and comments prepared. Questions along the lines of how you could improve or what your manager would like to see more of can be helpful in case you clam up.
Sometimes people feel uncomfortable talking about themselves when they’re on the spot -- good or bad -- so bring notes about your accomplishments in case you need them.
In The Moment
No one likes to be criticized, and it’s human nature to want to defend yourself when you hear negative reviews about your work. But that’s not the best way to go.
Ellevate member Dolores DeGiacomo, the Founder of Power Up! Consulting, a personal and professional development firm, said that when you’re listening to criticism, before you blurt anything out, pay attention to your body. Are you tensing up? Is your breath shorter? Don’t respond based on your physical response.
Instead, Dolores said to double down and listen to what your boss is telling you. Later on, you can digest it all and decide how you want to respond. She said that a good trick to calm down is to ask a throw away question, even if you don’t care what the answer is. For instance, if your boss said that your sales number were below expectations -- and you think that is unfair -- instead of getting defensive, ask, “What avenues do you think I should try in the future?”
Ellevate member Kate O’Sullivan, a career and leadership coach, said that it can be helpful to take notes. It’s easy to forget what’s actually being said in the heat of the moment if you are caught off guard, so taking notes will help you have a logical conversation about the feedback once everyone’s emotions have cooled off.
Above all, you want to maintain the relationship with your manager, so let them talk. You’ll have plenty of time later to think about the evaluation and respond professionally.
“Early in my career I had a temp job as an admin, and I got lots of feedback about my lack of attention to detail,” Kate said. “After beating myself up for a while, I realized that I don’t like dealing with details and I’m probably never going to be great at it. It was liberating to realize this, and I gave myself permission to move on and look for a job that actually aligned with my strengths.”
Look for Opportunities For Development
Kate said that a bad performance review can be a powerful tool for progress. Think about whether what’s being said is something you can change or whether it signifies that you are not a good fit for that role.
After you’ve had a few days to read and understand your review, ask for a meeting with your boss to talk about next steps. This will show that you care about your job and will clarify what you need to do to grow in your role.
If you feel that there were parts of your review that were unfair, bring your concerns to this meet and concrete reasons why. Try something like, “I don’t agree with your assessment of this situation, but I realize I might be wrong,” is a helpful way to frame it.
Should You Leave?
Both Nana and Dolores said that a bad performance review is rarely a reason to leave -- unless you want to.
Nana points out that when someone hires you, they genuinely care about your development. If your review is full of a lot of negatives and your boss doesn’t offer any resources or plans for improvement, it may be time to consider other companies. But that would really be a last resort.
Another knee-jerk reaction to a bad review is to complain to human resources, but Dolores said that’s not a great idea, either. Unless the review is openly unfair or discriminatory -- your boss complains that you don’t wear enough dresses, for example -- there is little that they can do.
The best course action is to be clear with your boss afterwards about a plan for you to develop and improve. Start keeping weekly logs of your achievements and asks for skills development resources. Reviews are an entry point for a larger conversation, and they could lead to great things in the long run.