The annual Performance Review is a critical influence situation, perhaps the most important of the year, and one that requires planning and influence flexibility.
The review season can be a nervous time for employees, and the best way to combat nerves is through preparation. Even if you’re not particularly apprehensive, even if you’re confident that the review will run smoothly, time allocated to preparation can help you deal with any unexpected hitches, and maximise what you get out of the process.
The goal of an appraisal is to give feedback – to communicate the expectations the organisation has for the employee. But it’s a two way street, a dialogue, and your chance to let your employers know what you want.
Many performance appraisals are about progress – employees asking about promotions, receiving feedback and ensuring they are set a challenging and inspiring set of targets for the year ahead. Your ultimate goal for the review might be:
- Pushing for a new set of challenges.
- Asking for investment in your personal development.
- Suggesting new ways to manage your work/life boundaries.
- Putting yourself forward for new projects, overseas secondments, etc.
On the Positive Power & Influence Programme, delegates learn how to influence upwards – to influence others through personal power when they don’t hold positional power. And influencing the opinion of your supervisor, manager or team leader, will take preparation. This means planning both content and approach – what you say and how you say it.
In short: when making the case for yourself, perhaps the most critical issue is to determine what is really important to the person with whom you are meeting. Whatever the situation, be explicit, specific, concise and confident about the value you bring to the organisation. Don’t waffle!
List your achievements
Make a list of all the achievements and accomplishments you have made since the last review. If you don’t have a system for keeping track of them, this will take time and thought. Most importantly, make note of how your employer has benefited from your hard work, i.e. increased profits, improved systems, completed projects, internal/external relationships, etc. Then highlight everything you want to discuss. Review this material the night before your meeting.
List your goals
Make a list of what you want to get out of the meeting. Performance appraisals are all about your progress. Think about the subjects you want to raise, such as promotions, targets for the year ahead, and projects you want to take on. Are there opportunities for personal development? Do you have ideas about how you can better manage your work/life boundaries?
Be aware of the recency effect
You may find that your manager is focussing on more recent events as the basis for analysing the entire past year’s performance. This is fine if you’ve had a recent win, but if you’ve suffered a badly-timed blip, you will need to remind your target of successes and achievements from earlier in the year.
Has your job changed?
Most of us are in a constant state of shift. Perhaps restructuring has meant you’re doing the work previously carried out by another colleague, or perhaps an ongoing project has been subject to mission creep. If this means other areas of your work have suffered, remind your boss of the reasons why.
Keep it short and sweet
If you have identified areas where you may come in for criticism, it’s time to prepare your defence. But when making a point, when seeking to persuade, do not dilute your position by giving lots of reasons – quantity is a poor substitute for quality. By giving numerous reasons you make yourself vulnerable to attack on your weaker points. Instead, present two or three strong reasons.
Be honest with yourself
If there are targets you failed to reach, think about why. This isn’t an exercise in looking for excuses, it’s thinking clearly about reasons. If you have a reason that feels uncomfortable, or worries you, think about it again. Perhaps the justification doesn’t stand up on closer inspection. Ask yourself if you have exhibited Avoiding behaviours.
If salary is going to be a topic for discussion, do some research. Make sure you are clear about average compensation in your field. Focus on what you believe you deserve, based on achievements and the value you bring to the business, not what you need to cover bills, mortgages, childcare, etc.
Think about your influence target
Whether you have a good or more challenging working relationship with the person carrying out the review, think about your approach. Think about meetings in the past:
- Which approach has worked and which hasn’t?
- Does your target rely on facts and logic to inform decisions?
- Do they respond to displays of enthusiasm?
Listen and repeat
Whether feedback is positive or negative, stay in the moment. Listen carefully and try not to react negatively. Check you’ve understood what’s been said by repeating it back. This will clarify the point in your mind, give you time to formulate answers, and demonstrate your willingness to understand.
If logic isn’t working, switch to attracting
If your arguments are falling on deaf ears, avoid facts and logic. Emphasise areas of agreement, using words like ‘us’ and ‘we’ to show you’re in it together. There may also be issues of lack of trust or ongoing disagreements that are causing conflict. Don’t dwell on these initially, instead focus on where there is common ground – previous work together or a common goal.
Be open to the feedback
It’s important, when receiving feedback, to understand that your impact is in the eye of the beholder. So when receiving feedback remember to:
- Invite it – encourage them to be specific and descriptive;
- Direct it – ask questions to gather more information about the other person’s point of view;
- Accept it – feedback is simply another person’s opinion or experience. Listen to what people have to say, and use what is helpful.
Try not to become defensive, and always keep in mind that the review is a two-way process. Listen carefully to how people are giving you feedback. If you feel they could have been more constructive, let them know in a positive way.
Write it down
Your memory may exaggerate both the good and the bad. You may have made some notes during the meeting, but afterwards find a quiet corner and write down as much as you can remember. There may be follow-up meetings to come, when having a clear recollection of what was discussed will be invaluable.
Good or bad, a review should be a positive
Whether your review has been a good or bad experience, think of it as an opportunity. This is a time when you can take away valuable information and formulate a plan for the future. If you receive criticism that you feel is unfair, think about where the feedback came from. Again, all feedback is valid, and it can inform your influence strategy when dealing with your manager in the future. Maybe it’s time to rethink how you approach meetings, or in more general terms, rethink your own time management or communications. Perhaps it’s also time to be more visible – to draw attention to your successes in a more robust way.