3 Strategies to Ace Your Annual Performance Review

November 18, 2019, 7:03 PM UTC
Photograph by J.A. Bracchi via Getty Images

Everyone hates annual employee evaluations, and there’s lots of evidence they don’t alter anyone’s job performance much, if at all, anyway. Happily, these yearly sessions are rapidly going away, replaced —thanks to artificial intelligence— by continual feedback in real time. The best part is that AI-assisted performance-review systems are designed to be more accurate, because they’re based on hard data rather than on anyone’s subjective perceptions, not to mention fuzzy memories.

But let’s say your employer still relies entirely on (usually) well-meaning but fallible humans to tell you how you’ve been doing. Now that year-end review season is looming, Ali Fazal, a senior director at HR software company Hibob, notes that “self-awareness is key. Your first performance review is with yourself.” Before you go into the meeting with your boss, look over what you did well over the past twelve months, and what you think you could have done better.

If this sounds a little like a job interview, it is. Fazal has 33 people reporting to him and, before sitting down with each of them, “I ask them to bring a list of the three things they did best in the past year, and the three things they want to improve,” he says. “I also ask people to tell me their goals for the year ahead,” he adds, which could be anything from getting a new title to launching a new product. “If you send your boss all this information in advance, it gives him or her a chance to think about it before talking with you, so there are fewer surprises.”

Fazal offers 3 more tips on making your annual review as painless as possible:

1. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes

Boiling your year down to three successes and three flaws “makes it easier for her to focus on you as an individual distinct from your peers,” Fazal notes. “Bear in mind that you have one boss, but she probably has 15, or 50, or 100 people reporting to her, plus her own job to do.” It would take a superhuman memory to recall everything you’ve been up to since January. Not only that, but your fearless leader “probably also has a list from HR of what to cover in the conversation,” Fazal adds. “You can help your review go much more smoothly” —and even conquer your own jitters, if you’re nervous— “simply by recognizing that this discussion is tough for your boss, too.” Noted.

2. Consider how you fit in with the company’s strategy

If you’re like most people, you may have been way too busy lately to take a big-picture look at things like how your employer fits into its industry, how its markets are shifting, and how its strategy is evolving. But your review is far more likely to get you what you want —including a raise— if you study up on exactly what your employer hopes to accomplish in the next year (or even the next several years). Then, be ready to point out how you can contribute.

“Often, people think only about their own career goals for the future, without really analyzing whether what they want is going to help get the company where it’s trying to go,” Fazal observes. “You’re more likely to hear ‘yes’ if you can spell out, as specifically as possible, why your next goal serves your employer’s interest.”

3. Follow up in an email

“It’s easy to miss something, or to misunderstand something, in an in-person meeting,” Fazal notes. “So send an email afterwards, briefly recapping what was said, just to make sure you and your boss are on the same page.”

Let’s suppose the worst happens and you feel your review was inaccurate or unfair or both. You can use this follow-up email to request a second meeting, and use the time until then to gather facts and figures that support your point of view.

Above all, you need time to cool off. “Once you’re not in emotional-reaction mode anymore, you can go in and calmly state your case,” says Fazal. Good luck.

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