Chris Lee, Chairman, Ventureblick.
Performance review – these two words are the bane of almost every employee, be it novice, middle or senior leaders. As long as you have a boss, you have to face it. Even CEOs are subject to board or shareholder reviews. Since we can’t avoid it, we have to get the most out of it.
In my decades-long business career, I’ve been subjected to and conducted countless assessments, and I’d like to share some of my own knowledge with you.
There are two questions on this topic:
1. What do you get the most out of a performance review?
2. How do you get the most out of it?
The answer to the first question is simple. You would probably say, “Of course I would like a higher score and as high a salary increase as possible. A promotion would be even better.” Well, I have a slightly different opinion on this. But let me go over the “how” part first, and I’ll come back to the “what” part at the end.
Let me tell you a little secret: most managers already have a pretty good idea of your performance even before they start the process. With or without a formal process, they know how you are and what assessments you should be getting. Your self-assessment and 360-degree feedback from others are just different ways to confirm their perceptions.
Another secret is that most managers don’t actually enjoy performance review phrases either, given all the expectations, weight, and tension that the exercise can bring. It’s a tough subject for them.
That said, there are three things I’d like you to pay more attention to to get the most out of it:
1. Identify your weaknesses and turn them into opportunities.
During reviews, I see that far too many people spend too much time bragging about their achievements and strengths. Instead, I would suggest identifying your weaknesses and coming up with a proactive proposal for developing areas.
The trick here is that you prepare yourself to demonstrate your self-awareness and readiness for further career advancement. For example, instead of claiming a leadership role, suggest additional responsibilities. For example: “I have developed strong project management skills over the past few years, but I have no experience in people management yet. I would like to develop this facet and lead a small team. Even if this could lead to a narrower scope, I’d be willing to try and build that capability. Do you support this action?”
Doing this accomplishes three objectives: you acknowledge your weakness, show initiative by wanting to work on it, and position yourself for success down the road.
2. Do not go into a defensive mode in any scenario.
A boss I highly respected once told me that performance reviews are psychologically stressful for him. He had to keep listing all his reasons for the assessment of each member of staff, many of whom were ready for a bloody battle. He told me I was his favorite because I always showed composure and agreed with the feedback and assessment he gave me.
This has a great psychological effect, because it immediately puts your manager in your corner. He or she may even feel obligated to give you more than you bargained for since you always contribute without asking for anything in return.
On the other hand, if your manager lists areas that don’t surprise you, don’t take it as an attack. Managers often ask opinions about you from peers and peers. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you should take feedback constructively. As people say, “Correct mistakes if you have committed them, and guard against them if you have not.” Some feedback is just people’s perceptions, and knowing those perceptions will help you identify the gaps and how to address them to build a better impression.
The moment you get defensive it ruins the whole point of the performance review and just makes both parties angry. And in most cases, it won’t get you anywhere.
3. Judge yourself with a little more humility.
As mentioned, your managers already know the ratings they’re going to give you before the rating season. Most employees give themselves better-than-average ratings, believing it will help their goals. However, this can also cause headaches for your managers.
By giving yourself a modest mark, you give your managers breathing space to properly assess your contribution. If you give yourself a higher rating, it immediately puts them on the defensive. They should figure out why they can’t give you the score you want.
But if you don’t put pressure on your managers and make them feel in control, it could lead them to give you a better or at least a fair review. Always give credit to your bosses for your achievements, because your success is their success.
Now back to the first question. The best thing you can get out of performance review isn’t a better review, salary increase, or promotion, which you’re likely to get regardless of the exercise.
The best you can get is trust between you and your manager. The way you handle the performance reviews will help them assess your level of maturity, self-awareness, and most importantly, your trust in them. I hope you now have a different perspective on performance reviews and see it more as an opportunity to build more trust with your managers. And what could be more valuable than trust?