As uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing as they may be, performance reviews are a necessary part of every job. While you hope to hear positive and glowing remarks from your manager about your work performance, a bad review does not signal the end of your career.
Having a less-than-stellar review is an opportunity to make productive changes to help propel you forward and improve your work. Your strategy before, during and after a poor review will help you make the most of a bad situation.
Here are some steps you can take at every phase of the review process to turn around a less than ideal performance review.
If you do no preparation ahead of your review, you are more than likely not going to get the results you want. Not only is this going to be an unproductive conversation, but you also will not be prepared to discuss any of your accomplishments. Without preparation and communication with your manager before your review, you are going into it with no expectations on either side.
You should also be having conversations with your manager throughout the year about your goals and performance. If the only time you have a one on one conversation is during this review time, you are often hit with surprises (possibly negative ones) that you were not expecting to hear. If you had some conversations with your manager leading up to your review, you will have an idea of things you are going to be discussing. This also gives you a chance to improve on different skills before having your official review.
Having an open dialog with your boss will help to avoid any surprises during your review, said Julie Jansen, career coach and author of “I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This.” “It’s a surprise if you never get feedback. Throughout the year and as an employee, it’s your responsibility to ask for feedback [on your performance].”
Experts recommend being prepared before walking into a review. “Always keep a personal journal for what you’ve accomplished for the organization,” suggests Heather Huhman, career and workplace expert at jobs website Glassdoor, so you have something to reference to highlight your accomplishments.
How you react to your review depends on your personality. “You don’t want to get defensive,” says Nicole Williams, connection director at LinkedIn. “There’s a level of separation—‘what can I take from this experience that can be constructive.’” A negative review can only affect your confidence and motivation as you move forward with your career if you let it. Negative feedback is always difficult to hear, but view it as a learning and growing opportunity.
If you feel like you are being picked on or criticized unnecessarily, experts suggest bringing the conversation back to business. “The bottom line is you’re given a paycheck to produce results,” says Jansen. “Always bring it back to business results which hopefully you have.”
In the ideal situation, you knew the review was going to be bad before walking into it, and you can prepare yourself mentally with how to respond. “If it’s a surprise, the best thing to do is calm down and set up a time to talk in the next week,” says Marc Cenedella, CEO and founder of career website TheLadders. As you prepare for a follow-up meeting, think about your plan of action for how you are going to improve.
At the end of the day, when you get negative feedback, you may get defensive and also start to mentally distance yourself from the conversation. Negative feedback can be constructive if delivered in the right way. When you get constructive feedback, embrace it as an opportunity to grow and think of ways you can improve through the next year. If you have any questions about any of the feedback that is coming your way, be sure to inquire about it. This is a time to get all the answers that you need.
The review itself should not be the end of discussing your performance, it should be the start of many conversations.
Especially if the review did not go quite as you planned it, have an open conversation with your manager after the initial talk to make sure you are both on the same page and headed in the right direction.
When you schedule your follow-up meeting, experts suggest discussing your accomplishments, as well as your boss’s expectations and vision of success in this role.
Do not try and argue with your boss, warns Cenedella. Approach the meeting with 12 things that you have done really well. If it becomes apparent that you and your boss have different expectations of what it means to be successful in your job, then ask your boss to detail their idea of success in this role.
Do not be scared to tell your boss that you did not realize you were performing poorly. “Ask for an explanation and examples because that’s what you’re going to look for in your next review,” says Williams.
Sometimes bad reviews are the result of relationship issues with your boss. “If you have a problem with your boss, talk to your boss first on neutral ground—like out at lunch,” recommends Huhman. “Always come with suggestions as well. It’s not enough to complain.”
It is hard to shake a bad review, but take the criticism and work on fixing the problem areas. “Be accountable and demonstrate that you’re trying to fix the problem,” says Jansen. You can always ask your manager to change your review if you have proof, but your manager may not comply with your request.
“Find champions in your company to help you,” says Jansen. “You need as many people in your company to be a supporter. It helps to have people to watch over you.” Performance reviews can be tied to being politically savvy and having meaningful relationships in your organization.
Experts recommend meeting regularly with your boss to discuss your progress—monthly if you are more experienced and weekly if you are junior. “Your performance day in and day out is your preparation,” Cenedella says. Consider how you are helping to make your boss look good. One way is to ask six months before your next review, for three specific things your boss wants from you.
It is also important to recognize whether your job is a good fit for you. “If it’s two or three years in a row that you’re not on the same page [as your boss], it won’t work out,” says Cenedella. “Your path to advancement is your boss. It’s time to find another home.”
All in all, when it comes to performance reviews, every step of the way should be a two-way conversation between you and your boss. Be attentive during the review and be a good listener. Look at your negative performance review as an opportunity for growth and improvement through the next year.