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Ace Your Performance Review: A Guide for Reviewees and Reviewers

The end of the year can bring with it specific work-related stressors. Some of them, like taking part in the office Secret Santa, are easy to handle everyone loves a novelty coffee mug! Others require a little more finesse. Take your end of year performance review. If you’re being reviewed, the prospect of having your performance critiqued can be nerve-wracking. If you’re reviewing someone else, you might find it challenging to give feedback that’s pertinent, motivating, and actionable. It’s challenging to pull off a positive, productive review, and that applies just as much to the person giving the review as the person receiving it. That’s why we’ve put together some tips outlining performance review best-practices for employees and for managers. Performance reviews don’t need to be stressful: in fact, with the right strategy, you can turn your review into a Great Meeting!

If you’re being reviewed…

Do a self-evaluation

Get a head-start on your review by performing a self-assessment. In some workplaces, a self-assessment is part of the formal review process; in others, it’s not. Whether or not you have to complete one, a self-evaluation will give you a clear picture of what you’re doing well and where you can improve. Be honest about setbacks and failures you’ve experienced, but don’t be shy about claiming credit for your successes. Taking the time to perform a thorough self-evaluation will set you up to provide clear, articulate responses to your manager’s talking points during the review.

Gather evidence

As part of your self-assessment, list some concrete examples of things you’ve done well throughout the year. Handled a tricky customer with aplomb last week? Write it down. Brought a new client on board back in February? Add it to the list. Your manager might not be able to remember everything you’ve accomplished in the year, especially if you’re part of a large team. Armed with your list, you’ll be able to remind them specifically of how you’ve proven your value over the last 12 months.

Don’t settle for vague praise

Be honest with yourself: what does a good performance review look like to you? Is it a review where your manager tells you what a great job you’re doing? Or is it a review where you leave with a clear idea of what your next steps are for advancement in your workplace? If it’s the latter, don’t let your manager wave you away with complementary yet vague feedback. Be proactive in seeking constructive criticism. It’s nice to hear that you’re an excellent performer. But it’s a lot more constructive to hear that you’ll have to skill up in a specific area if you want that promotion. Push for constructive feedback and actionable goals, not just praise.

Deal with bad feedback

Of course, most performance reviews aren’t just complimentary. If your manager is doing their job well, they’ll use your review as a time to give you constructive criticism. Maybe you’re one of those rare people that can accept negative feedback calmly and graciously. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll know that criticism, however, warranted, can sting. Make sure you don’t overreact and miss the point of the critique. Listen without interrupting as your manager delivers their criticism. Once they’ve delivered their feedback, try to clarify it without analyzing it – for now, your focus should be on understanding where your manager is coming from. Try rephrasing the feedback ‘So, you’re saying I don’t always deliver tasks within the timeframe?’ and asking for concrete examples ‘Can you tell me about a time where I was late in completing an important task?’ If you still don’t understand your manager’s critique, or you disagree with it, try asking for some time to respond.

If you’re doing the reviewing…

Check-in regularly

If you’re managing your team well, none of the feedback positive or negative that you deliver during performance reviews should come as a surprise to your direct reports. It should echo feedback that you’ve given, formally or informally, over the year. Make sure you’re briefly yet consistently checking in with your reports, acknowledging hard work and successes and identifying areas that need work. Try Doodle’s new one-on-one feature for easily setting up these feedback sessions: because regular, honest feedback throughout the year provides the best possible foundation for a painless performance review.

Start with a summary

Start your review with a big-picture summary of your report’s performance, including stating whether or not they’re meeting, or exceeding, your expectations. It can be tempting to go through your review point-by-point, but without this summary, your report will likely spend the session searching anxiously for signs that point to an overall positive or negative review, instead of absorbing your feedback. This is especially true if a bonus, raise, or promotion is on the table. The Harvard Business Review advises against parcelling discussions of salary or promotion into a performance review, but if you have no other option, make it clear what your report can expect upfront.

Give a range of feedback

Everyone’s feedback style is different. Maybe you like giving positive feedback that motivates your team. Maybe you’ve found that negative feedback, delivered constructively, spurs better performance. The truth is, both positive and negative feedback can be effective and motivating. That’s why it’s best to deliver a range of feedback. If you need some extra help with this, try the Stop, Start, Continue framework. Ask your report to Stop doing something that negatively affects their performance (like failing to manage their time well), Start doing something that will extend their performance (like taking ownership of a new project), and Continue doing something they’re excelling at (like devising and executing great social media strategy). Not only does this framework ensure you’re giving a range of feedback, but delivering your critique in ‘action’ form automatically sets goals that your report can easily grasp and work towards.

Switch it up

Build in some time to ask your report to give some feedback on your performance. What do they like about your management style? What could you do better? How can you support them in meeting their performance goals? Inviting this kind of feedback fosters a culture of healthy, constructive criticism between you and the rest of your team.

If you’re being reviewed or you’re doing the reviewing…

Remember, no-one should dread giving or receiving a performance review. Approach your upcoming review as an opportunity to build your relationship with your manager or your report, improve your performance, and establish a path for reaching your workplace objectives, both individual and shared. With this in mind, you’ll find you spend less time stressing about your review leaving you with more time to ponder what you should get Karen for Secret Santa (cough *novelty coffee mug* cough).

By Jessica Miller

Jessica Miller is an Australian writer currently based in Berlin.

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