Estimated reading time: 6 mins
Your Performance Appraisal is here, and you want to give it your best shot: here is a tried and tested way of answering appraisal questions that will get you the BEST result.
You might be expecting me to say something predictable and a bit boring like “Honesty is the Best Policy.”
And you know what, you would be right. Your Performance Review must be honest if it is to achieve two things; 1) a critical look at your performance, both good and bad, to identify gaps in your skills, knowledge and capabilities; and 2) it must identify genuine areas for improvement, investments and specific interventions, allied with goals and objectives that could be set to close these gaps.
But how do you turn a good Performance Review into a great Performance Review?
One which you will and your manager will walk away with more confidence in your potential to add value to your organization?
The best way to answer Performance Review questions is to take what I call the ‘holistic approach’.
characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
What’s the Holistic Approach?
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that many times before I’ve written that your Performance Review/Appraisal is, and must only be, about YOU. This is a very true statement. But perhaps (in this context) a bit misleading, because YOU also work in an organizational context of other people.
If all you did, when answering questions from your reviewer, were to talk about how your work and performance impacts (and benefits) you only, you’re missing a trick.
Because, like most people, your reviewer is inherently (but not maliciously) selfish – they don’t really want to know about you – all they want to know is how to write your appraisal effectively according to operating procedures, and to be able to justify their assessment.
Might seem harsh, but I am talking about processing at the sub-conscious level. Their ‘listening’ filters are continuously scouring your answers for information that they can understand in their own terms… or even for information that benefits themself, or to confirm their own biases.
(Managers want to know how their department is running. Leaders want to learn about opportunities for change and success stories across their organization.)
So we must use this to our advantage, and of course, we must do it with integrity, too.
When I use the term ‘holistic’, I refer to viewing what you do, and the value you create through your work, in a wider context – a context that includes the people around you – upwards, downwards and across-ways in your organization. They’re your colleagues, direct reports and your bosses. It also considers the business context, such as management, financial and strategic, and an organisational context that includes Finance, IT, Operations, Customer Services, etc.
A holistic answer encompasses yourself, your team, how you collaborate, and what impact you have. Both positive and negative. It’s a honest view of your performance and how you have impacted your colleagues, your organization and its results. A holistic answer still centers on YOU, but is not entirely focused on you.
Here’s what I mean. I’ll use two examples, each with a ‘self-focused’ and ‘holistic’ answer.
Q: Julie, what has been your greatest achievement over the last 3 months?
Self-focused A: Bill (Julie’s boss) I thought I totally rocked the Acme Associates deal. I used an even better approach to structure the proposal and worked the finances to make it really appealing. I’ll bet the stockholders will be pleased with me!
Holistic A: Well Bill, we really made great progress when you and I went to see Acme Associates and landed that distribution deal. Our structured approach in our proposal really worked – without it I struggled last time. It was also great to work with Mary (Julie’s colleague) on the finances as we needed to offer a very competitive discount this time around before quarter-end. I’m sure you’re the same in thinking that our stockholders needed some good news.
See what I did in the holistic answer? Julie didn’t just answer the question by talking about herself, like before. Julie included her boss and a colleague in the answer. And she also included the benefits to stockholders, to boot. Her answer here also included a development point (about using the structured proposal) – something Julie has learned and applied during the review period.
You might also note that I used the word ‘I’ when referring to a past issue or failure in the holistic answer. This is important as Julie doesn’t want to imply a) that she is devolving a past mistake, and b) that only she wants to take the credit for the learning point.
My last point is also deliberate: “I’m sure you’re the same in thinking…” as she is opening up the point for confirmation, or challenge, without directly asking a question. This allows Bill to step in with his own thoughts which can enhance the conversation.
During each point made, Julie has answered honestly and considered not just the impact of my performance on herself, but instead she considered the wider impact.
Q: So Julie, the general feedback from across the team is that you’re not communicating issues quickly enough. Sometimes with painful consequences. How will you resolve this?
Self-focused A: Bill – don’t just blame me on that. John and Eva (Julie’s direct reports) were telling me way too late about the issues. I will sort it out. You don’t need to worry about it – leave it with me.
Holistic A: I know – sorry Bill. I’m working on it. Often I hear about the issues late myself, but I think that’s because I am not making it clear enough to John and Eva at what point they should give me an early warning. I am going to review the procedures with them so that we can build in this early warning system without it causing too much disruption to us. I’ll then come back to you with what I am going to do.
Julie has a problem! In her holistic answer, she starts out by saying she knows about the problem, and that she accepts responsibility for it. Sorry is a powerful word. The problem may be as a result of a combined failing with colleagues, but she doesn’t spread the blame or defend the indefensible – instead she takes it on the chin. In her holistic answer, Julie also discusses a joint solution with colleagues, and acknowledges that a solution must work for everyone involved – not just her. She then reaffirms her accountability for the solution by promising to personally discuss the plan with Bill.
Both examples demonstrate the difference between an individual approach and my holistic approach. The holistic approach tells your reviewer what is useful to complete your appraisal.
Before your next Performance Review, why not consider how you can answer questions with a holistic approach? Leave a comment when you do!
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.
Could this work in Your Appraisal?
Leave a comment below telling us why, or start a conversation in my Community Forums