For most employees, performance reviews are a time of anticipation and stress. You want feedback on how you are performing, but you fear bad news. You hope that the review will be glowing and will lead to a raise or promotion, but worry that there could be a reprimand, demotion, or even a firing.

Here is how to prepare for and perform in a performance review.

Be Prepared.

This is your opportunity to highlight and document your performance. Spend a good amount of time reviewing your performance during the past period. This will be easy if you…

Document Everything.

You should keep a running file of accomplishments and setbacks. I used to throw hard copies of every “thank you” letter or other accomplishment, and then put them in a binder just before my review time. Now I keep computer files. You particularly need documentation of any reprimand (including a written version of your side of the story), or problem.

Study and Review.

You need to review all of your documentation before you sit down with your supervisor, and you should spend a great deal of time on any written review of your self-performance (if your company uses those). You need to be self-critical and consider the areas where you might have been seen as falling short. The point here is that you don’t want any surprises in the performance review session. Be prepared. In fact, be over-prepared!

During the Actual Performance Review.

Be Professional.

Keep your emotions in check, but if you are well prepared, you will enter confident. If there is a disagreement, calmly present your side (and your written evidence). This is a debate, not an argument. Losing your temper or being obstinate will likely only work to your disadvantage. If you are unable to resolve any disagreement, you can later consider going to a higher authority or to Human Resources.

Take Notes.

You don’t want to rely on your memory. Also, note taking puts your supervisor “on notice” that this is a professional situation and that everything is “on the record.” 

Ask for Specifics and Clarification.

Just as you have documented your performance with facts and figures beforehand, request that your supervisor provide evidence of poor performance (or even ask for specific instances of exceptional performance – this will reinforce your positive performance in the supervisor’s mind). If anything is unclear, ask for clarification, and be specific (“What do I need to improve?”; “How can we better address this in the future?” etc.).

Leave With an Action Plan.

Even if your performance is stellar, ask your supervisor about how you can perform even better. If there are shortcomings, or a need for training, create a specific and detailed “action plan.” The action plan should include goals and ways of determining if you have reached your goals or improved (e.g., “You should improve your customer service ratings by 10%). The action plan and its outcomes then become part of your documentation file for your next performance review.

Performance reviews should never be taken lightly, even when they are routine, pro forma, and don’t carry much weight. It is an opportunity for a self-review, and a chance to find areas of strength (so that you can give yourself a pat on the back), and areas for development to make you an even better employee.

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