Ah… Your Performance Appraisal (or Review). A time for reflection on past performance and discussion about how to do better, with less. A time for exploring new avenues and ideas. It’s a time for creativity and construction the future with the art of the possible. Yes? No? Or is it a humdrum activity ‘done’ to you twice a year where you receive arbitrary scores for doing stuff?
For 90% of people I talk to, it’s the latter. This must be frustrating – I mean – a constructive performance appraisal can yield so many benefits for the employee and employer alike, but aren’t they squandered to become a box-ticking and naval-gazing activity. Yes, for those 90%. Is there a way to make your performance appraisal constructive and creative without breaking the process our employers have invested heavily in, and are so proud about.
You know, I think there is.
The key is in our preparation, and execution. The core purpose of a performance appraisal is to assess our achievements and behaviors in order to learn how to adjust and perform better in the future, and often to judge the ‘reward’ – that is – bonus, pay-rise or other benefits like promotion. It’s an important event!
Get this – most of us (me included) have looked at our review as an opportunity to be criticized and judged, which means we behave defensively and erect a wall of steel around us. We don’t use it to construct a possible future and identify the opportunities for us. When I thought like that, guess what, my reviews resulted in mediocre-to-poor outcomes.
When I experienced lacklustre result after lacklustre result, I consulted a career coach. After several consultations, I understood the problem. The cause wasn’t about the attitude of my boss, or that I was the victim of some malicious and well-orchestrated smear campaign. It was my own attitude that stunk. Ouch – it hurt.
My problem: I wasn’t using my performance appraisal as a learning exercise and a way of setting future direction that I could influence. My performance reviews were my opportunity to reach my potential.
It was only when I was shown the potential benefits of a review did things change for me. It took a leap of faith to make the change. When I did, though, I experienced an entirely different kind of review, and observed unprecedented outcomes. Here is what they were:
- When I begun to open up and not feel so defensive, my reviewer began to feel they weren’t on the attack
- When I talked about the future, we didn’t focus entirely on the past
- When I began to admit mistakes or discuss things I thought could be improved, my reviewer began to offer support
- When I showed my humanity, rapport developed with my reviewer
- Hey, when I began to enjoy my review, my results improved remarkably!
The turning point was when I realized that my performance appraisal was a golden opportunity to be constructive. You know what, though, this takes preparation and careful execution. Why? Because your boss might not be thinking the same way.
So here’s what I have learned since ‘seeing the light’ and understanding how to make the review process work for me:
- For an appraisal to be constructive, the goals and objectives that were set need to be understood in the same way as our boss. That is, what the desired outcome is, and how it is measured. If we disagree about what the objective is, and how we measure it, then we don’t have a hope of agreeing a fair result. Solution: before your appraisal, check with your boss way in advance that you have the same understanding of the objectives and how they are measured… and rectify any misunderstanding as early as possible
- Perform a self-assessment before our review – this means we have an internal benchmark to work from. Having no idea of your own means that you have no context to discuss your managers assessment against, or negotiate with if it comes to that. This includes gathering facts, examples, samples of work, and as much as possible, using 360-degree feedback (or another process) to get opinions of your performance from peers, subordinates or other superiors
- I find that a constructive and creative appraisal happens when there is a balance between review (of past performance) and objective-setting (of future performance). Sounds obvious, maybe, but I want to emphasize the importance of preparing objectives we would like to set ourselves. Don’t wait to be given them out of the blue
- I also like to make sure that there is enough time to complete the review. Once again, perhaps obvious, but it’s so easy to use up most of the allocated time reviewing the past, leaving little precious time for a constructive conversation on the future. Remember, this is your review, so if time isn’t being managed then manage it yourself
- Above all, your preparation should include the creation of a vision in which you see yourself performing a more responsible and valuable role, and a roadmap of how you’ll get there. Your vision is really your personal end-goal. You’ll imagine not just what you do or deliver, but the way you will behave (e.g. more confident, less hurried), the relationships you’ll develop, the reward you want to enjoy (cash, but also other recognition like awards), and the value you will create in your organization. Put like that, your boss will certainly buy into it (or offer an adapted version – just as good), providing it isn’t against the strategy of your organization. Talk about this during your review and point out the role of your boss in providing support
So in our performance appraisals, let’s remember to be human, open, honest and forward thinking – not defensive!
I also recommend…
If you are the reviewer or reviewee during a performance appraisal, then here is a very good book that shares phrases to use. It isn’t just a ‘say this, and then this…’ kind of book, it shows you what phrase-constructs to use in the right context to help make a performance appraisal as effective as it could be: 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews: Ready-to-Use Words and Phrases That Really Get Results