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Career Advice

What To Do When You Think Your Performance Review Is Wrong?

Posted by Amy Elisa Jackson

Last Updated Apr 5, 2017
|6 min read

It's performance review time and whether you're feeling anxious or confident about the process, there is always that chance that you'll disagree with your manager's assessment of your work. And this isn't unique to junior or mid-level employees. Performance reviews are held throughout the hierarchy of an organization, from the C-suite on down, and no matter what position an employee holds, there's still the chance that he or she could be rated as "underperforming" or "failed to meet expectations."

However, what happens if an employee disagrees with their review? Is there anything that someone could do to remedy an inaccurate or unfair evaluation? Or is an employee's fate sealed once a manager clicks "submit"?

We turned to career and executive coach Kate O'Sullivan to get expert advice on what steps employees can take if they disagree or dispute aspects of their review.

Step #1: Set Emotions Aside & Be Objective

"Ask yourself these 4 questions to move forward from a disappointing review," says O'Sullivan.

  1. Which aspects of this review are true and are things that I should really work on?
  2. How can I get other perspectives to help me understand the feedback I’ve received?
  3. Am I on the same page with my boss about my expectations going forward so that this doesn’t happen again?
  4. How will I be measured on my success and what is my process for checking in with my boss frequently so that by the next review there is not doubt we’re on the same page about my performance?

Step #2: Follow Up on the Review

"When you get a negative review — especially if it comes as a surprise — a very natural reaction is to fight against it either by arguing directly or by immediately making plans to leave your job or company," says O'Sullivan. "However, there are a few steps it is wise to take before making any major decisions."

Instead of conjuring up the reasons behind the review or dissecting every comment and rating, get more insight. "Set up a follow-up meeting with them, explaining that you were surprised by your review and you would like to discuss further. In the meeting, ask for examples of the weaknesses they brought up, and come prepared with your own examples and talking points. Try to keep an open mind in this discussion— shutting down or getting defensive will make it much more difficult to have an open and productive dialogue."

Step #3: Get Advice From Others

If you disagree with your manager's interpretation of your work product or performance, it's important to get advice from varying viewpoints and colleagues. "Don't just ask people who really like you or think similarly — they are likely to give you an answer that feels good but perhaps not one that helps you recognize your blind spots," warns O'Sullivan.

"Ask some others who were involved on the project or piece of work — what was their assessment of how you handled it? Would they be willing to get involved in the conversation? There is often a middle ground that can be reached by getting additional viewpoints at the table. You might find that in fact you do have some blind spots or things you could have approached differently, and your boss will likely find that they were missing some key information as well."

Step #4: Don't Rush to Action

Fight the urge to retaliate or react to your performance review the same day, or even the same week, as it was given. Allow yourself time to process both the review, your self-assessment, the follow-up conversation and the inputs of others.

"The information gather stage could take a few days or a few weeks depending on how easily it is for you to connect with several people," says O'Sullivan. "The most important point is to give yourself time to calm down emotionally so that you can see your options in the situation rationally, and to get a variety of viewpoints so you can step back and see the bigger picture."

Step #5: If Needed, Speak to HR

Once you've gone through the above steps, it's not out of the question to seek a professional opinion. "If [you] think a review is severely incorrect or based on false information, it would be wise to get either your boss’s superior and/or HR involved, depending on who your resources are within your company," says O'Sullivan. While large companies will undoubtedly have a human resources department, smaller companies may not. Nevertheless, do some digging to see who is the right person at your office. "If you have HR you can go to, they can often be a helpful resource to help you sort through things more objectively, and they can suggest process improvements to ensure that performance reviews are conducted fairly and accurately in the future."

Step #6: Consider Your Future

Use all the information you've gathered to feel empowered and to take steps to advocate for yourself. In some instances, that's evaluating how you communicate with your boss to ensure a better review and more aligned expectations. On the other hand, this could be the time you consider a new opportunity at another company.

Step #7: Plan For Your Next Review

Whether you decide to change companies or are motivated to continue in your current role, performance review time will come again and O'Sullivan advises that you be read. "By the time you get a review that you disagree with, you’re already behind the ball. Your focus should be on preparing for your next review to avoid this kind of miscommunication happening again."

The key to any manager-employee relationship is clear expectations. "Have explicit conversations with your boss about what is expected of you— what do those deliverables look like, how will you be able to measure when success is achieved? Then make sure that this conversation is documented somehow so you can reference it if need be. A simple email recap after a conversation with your boss can do wonders to make sure you understand each other. Then you have to make sure you connect with your boss regularly to check in on your progress. It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work and let check-ins slide off the calendar. But it’s in your best interest to make sure that these happen regularly. That said, make it as easy for your boss as possible by coming prepared. Print off your expectations email, come with a self-assessment, and have examples at the ready for discussion. By giving your boss information to react to, rather than walking in and asking a general, “How am I doing?” you’re much more likely to get a detailed and targeted response, and you're shifting the conversation to facts rather than relying on the memory of someone who likely has hundreds of things on their mind."

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