Amy, one of my coaching clients, felt deflated and disappointed after her performance review, but not for the reason you might expect.
"This was my first year as a supervisor," she explained, "so I was looking forward to discussing my group's accomplishments and learning how I might improve my management skills. I had marked off an hour on my calendar for this meeting, but it only lasted about five minutes. My boss showed me the review form, said I was doing a good job, and that was that."
Like many employees, Amy assumed that her manager had a well-thought-out plan for orchestrating her appraisal discussion. But like many bosses, he actually just wanted to get the darned thing over with as quickly as possible. In reality, performance reviews often make managers extremely uncomfortable.
If your boss falls into this category, the good news is that you don't have to be a passive participant in the conversation. By asking appropriate questions, you can encourage more discussion, expand your knowledge, and possibly even bond with your boss. So if you would like to make the most of your performance evaluation, here are a few strategic questions to consider:
1. What do you feel went well this year and what might have gone better?
If your manager fails to offer any useful feedback, you should take the initiative to ask. Regardless of whether you like what you hear, it's important to know what your boss is thinking. Otherwise, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises down the road. On the positive side, this question might even elicit a couple of compliments.
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2. What additional knowledge or skills would make me more effective in this role?
This is a good opener for talking about professional development and career growth. Once you hear your boss's views on the topic, you can share your own ideas. And if you're interested in company-sponsored education or training, this is the time to ask.
3. What are your most important goals for the coming year?
Surveys have found that while employees can articulate their own objectives, they frequently have no clue about their manager's goals. But if you understand your boss's key priorities, you may be able to provide useful information or assistance, which certainly won't hurt your next performance rating.
4. How could I be more helpful to other people on the team?
While you're concentrating on your own job, your manager is thinking about the entire group. Even if you have a great relationship with your colleagues, you may be overlooking some opportunities to be more collaborative. Also, simply asking this question sends the message that you're not just thinking about yourself.
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5. What changes or challenges do you see for our business this year?
Most managers enjoy discussing business trends, so your review can provide a great opportunity to get a heads-up about possible future happenings. In addition to gaining valuable information, you will be demonstrating that your interest in the business extends beyond your own daily tasks.
6. What could I do this year that would improve my rating in next year's appraisal?
If you're dissatisfied with your rating in any area, remember that focusing on the future is usually more productive than arguing about the past. Unless you have a really strong case, you're not likely to change your boss's mind about your current review. But if you understand what you need to do differently, you may be able to affect the next one.
Finally, if your manager has a good sense of humor, you could close the conversation by asking "What's the most difficult thing about doing performance reviews?" That might lead to an interesting conversation.
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— By Marie McIntyre