Performance reviews can be downright nerve-wracking. Most people get anxious because they go all year without speaking to their manager about their performance or progress. Or worse, they never had a goal-setting conversation in the first place.
But you can change that. Don’t let an assessment of your performance rest on one conversation. It’s not fair to anyone and will only impede your growth. Try to establish an open-door policy with your manager and have conversations about your development throughout the year. When everyone is on the same page in terms of goals, it enhances both the work product and relationship. The key to a stellar review is ample preparation long before the meeting itself. Here are my tips for success:
1. Schedule semi-annual performance reviews with your boss.
You make time to keep your manager up to date on your projects; likewise, you should take the initiative to ask if you can put time on their calendar to have professional development check-ins once a quarter. These can serve as informal touch points throughout the year to ensure you’re on track. You don’t want to wait for a once-a-year discussion, only to be surprised that you’re not on the same page.
If your manager is resistant, scale back the frequency to two times a year or ask if you can submit a memo and get their feedback in writing. Either way, at least you’ve established that you’re serious about your growth and contributions. And, if an opportunity for promotion or recognition comes up, you’ll have the receipts to show why you’re ready.
2. Come prepared.
You should always prepare an agenda to send at least two days in advance of the meeting to see if your manager wants to add anything. You’ll also want to know your talking points… big wins, quantitative figures, anecdotal support, etc. I keep a folder in my inbox of any praise I receive from colleagues and external partners, from which I draw quotes (and inspiration).
If you’re having a formal review that involves feedback from other colleagues, you should send your manager a list of names you’d like to be tapped for input and what projects they worked on with you. You should also prepare a self-evaluation and send it in advance to give your manager time to react to it and prepare their response. You can attach those “praise reports” from your saved folder and any official recap documents of successful projects to round-out the materials.
3. Set goals you know you can meet.
Firstly, your goals should always align with the immediate goals of your boss and the department as a whole. Then, think about dividing your goals into a few buckets: team-wide contributions, individual contributions (projects you own), and professional development (improving your leadership).
For me, the most important characteristic of a S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goal is that it’s actually achievable. I’ve been put in numerous situations where I’ve had to question if a plan is set up for failure. You want to avoid these at all costs. Although a big lofty goal will be impressive once it’s done, you don’t want to sign on for a project that will realistically take six months if you only have three. Be honest about limitations so that your manager/team can plan accordingly.
Set no more than three to five goals that are time bound with specific outcomes. For example: “Relaunch e-store with new vendor and five new products by June 1.” Avoid goals that aren’t specific or measurable, like “manage e-store.” That’s harder to track and report.
4. Feel out the right time to ask for a raise.
Look for cues from your manager and/or department head to determine whether or not salary increase discussions or bonuses will be part of the formal evaluation. Some companies have ratings systems that are already baked into performance reviews that will automatically trigger salary discussions. If that’s not the case for you or if this is your first review cycle, it’s okay to ask trusted colleagues how those talks have been approached in the past. First ask someone in HR if a raise structure exists and do your own research within the written policies of your company to gain a primary understanding of the tone and timing for these conversations.
If you’ve done the steps above and have had ongoing talks about performance with your manager, a request for greater compensation should not be alarming. You will have already made it clear that you are building towards advancement, inclusive of earning more money and more responsibility. If it’s still an uncomfortable subject, put your request in a memo. In a former role, I asked for a raise twice. I was told “not now” the first time, so I set a mutually agreed upon date for it to be revisited. I addressed the memo to my manager (who knew it was coming) and copied the CFO. As I was given more and more responsibility, I added the justifications to the document and, because my request was in writing, it couldn’t be ignored. I successfully negotiated a substantial raise during my review (even when it was announced that all salaries would remain flat), because I had already put the wheels in motion.
5. Look beyond just the money.
Even if a salary adjustment is not in the cards, identify meaningful professional development opportunities that align with your work. Your review is the time to get feedback on the types of trainings your manager thinks will enhance your skills and add to the department, along with the approval and funding to pursue them.
6. Learn from negative feedback.
If you get any negative feedback, make sure you’re respectful in receiving it and ask your manager for their recommendations on how you can best address areas for improvement. If you disagree with your manager’s assessment, that’s not really the point, so don’t get hung up trying to defend yourself.
For whatever reason, they’re not seeing you and your work in the best possible light, so it’s up to you to improve the work product and/or perception. It could just be a matter of communication, but either way, as a professional, you are responsible for figuring it out. Coming out of the review, work with your manager on a written development plan and start letting him or her know the gains you’re making and where you could use their help at future check-ins. The trick is not to wait till the next review to get feedback.