Personal Finance

Dos and don'ts of performance review season

Key Points
  • Many companies require employees to review their performance over the past year. 
  • And many employees will get feedback from their boss, too.
  • Here's how to make sure the process is meaningful and productive. 

Performance review season is upon us.

Giving and receiving feedback can be daunting, particularly if you're hoping your assessment will score you a raise or promotion. And it can be hard to have faith that filling out an online form or scheduling a cursory meeting with your manager will actually bring about significant change.

Yet, handled well, performance reviews can be a meaningful and productive experience, experts say.

"This is an opportunity for you to highlight your value and also do a check-in to see if this is still a company worthy of your time and talents," said Kirk Snyder, associate professor of clinical business communication at the U.S.C. Marshall School of Business.

Talking about career path is the best way to use the performance review with an eye toward a promotion or raise.
Victoria Pynchon
co-founder of She Negotiates

Don't go in blind.

One of the biggest mistakes people make on their performance reviews is that they fail to first gather an understanding of how they can help their company – and themselves – grow, said Victoria Pynchon, the co-founder of She Negotiates, a consulting firm that helps employees get raises.

"Talking about career path is the best way to use the performance review with an eye toward a promotion or raise," Pynchon said.

Ahead of the review, explore these questions: What are your team's biggest challenges? What are its greatest opportunities? And what does your manager see as the best way for you to meet those challenges and seize those opportunities?

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Once you have a handle on your team's objectives, you can incorporate them into your performance review, Pynchon said. You might say, "I know the company is considering a merger ..," or "I know the company wants to start a new product line ..." and, "I can see myself playing a role in that effort by ..."

"It demonstrates the engagement of the employee in the company's goals and not simply in the employee's goals," Pynchon said.

Do brag a little.

Compile a list of your accomplishments throughout the year, Pynchon said. At the same time, be forward-looking. "What matters to the company is the future, not [the] past," she said.

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For example, if a manager of a team increased revenues by 20% in 2019, she should point out that fact while also saying something to the effect of, "I can see us achieving similar results in the coming year."

Self-review is harder for some than others. Recent research has found that, among women and men who performed equally as well, men rated their performance higher.

"Some people suffer from excess humility, and others are insufficiently humble," said Sean Lyons, professor of leadership and management at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

To get a more objective sense of your work, ask co-workers or clients for feedback on your performance. Don't let them tell you only what you want to hear. "Push them to give a few things that you could develop further," Lyons said.

The Oracles

If you're confused or upset by something in your formal review, ask your manager for clarification, Lyons said. "Sometimes we let our insecurities get the better of us and we infer meaning that's not intended by the boss," he said. You don't want problems to fester.

Even though these conversations can strike a nerve, you'll want to avoid getting defensive. "Creating tension in the discussion only creates barriers to genuine conversation," Lyons said.

Ask your manager how you might improve on any issues he or she raises, Snyder said. "If your boss tells you that you need to be more of a team player, ask what being a good player looks like in that environment," he said.

He also recommends that you take notes during a conversation about your performance review, so you can more easily put the points into action later on.

Far too often, employees accept less than they deserve.
Kirk Snyder
associate professor of clinical business communication at the U.S.C. Marshall School of Business

If you feel that an accomplishment of yours has been overlooked, don't be afraid to bring it up, Snyder said. Include as many facts and figures as you can to support your point. "It's hard for employers to dispute facts," he said.

You don't want to exit the process feeling you've failed to sufficiently advocate for yourself. "Far too often, employees accept less than they deserve," Snyder said.

At the same time, some companies have dumped the annual performance review. According to the Harvard Business Review, many employers have replaced the process with "frequent, informal check-ins."

Even if your company still uses them, experts say, the trend is a good reminder that the conversation about your performance and goals should stay alive throughout the year.