Too many people are not getting the best our of their performance review. Here’s how to make the process work better.
Many people are going to performance appraisals and not getting the best they can out of them. There are a number of different reasons for this:
- People go into “panic mode”, and feel anxious and uncomfortable at the idea of going and being appraised.
- People feel uncomfortable about getting feedback on their performance, because for many people it is the only time of year that they do get any feedback.
- Many schemes link salary with the feedback development process, and sadly this gets in the way.
People need to change the way they view appraisals, because they are an excellent opportunity to get quality feedback, support, clarification, direction, and a lot of things from their manager or supervisor, which they may not get for the rest of the year.
Coping with fear
In order to cope with the fear that is often associated with performance appraisals, there are a few simple ways in which you can prepare. First, however, you must empower yourself to make sure you get what you need out of the appraisal.
Don’t go passively into the appraisal, wondering how your manager has rated you. All research indicates that where a staff member does a self-appraisal first, they end up having a much more productive and useful interview with their manager.
Sit down and look at what you think you are doing well, and where you think you could improve, thereby going into the appraisal interview having done some of your own preliminary research first. You can do this by:
- Drawing two columns on a piece of paper – in the first column, list what you think you are doing well, and in the second column, list what you think you could do better.
- Alternatively, identify the main areas of your job – the goals and tasks, and then look at these and list what you are doing well and what you could be doing better.
Without this, people tend to react spontaneously and often inappropriately.
Appraisals should be a two-way process
The best way to allay anxiety associated with your performance appraisal is to view it as an opportunity where your manager, team leader or supervisor will be giving you feedback. It should be a two-way discussion, where you can also give them feedback on how things are going.
Make a list of questions you would like to raise in the interview. You may want to think about and ask things like:
- What are the areas you would like to get feedback on?
- What are the areas you would like to be told you are doing well in?
- What are the areas you’re not sure about?
- In what areas would you like clarification?
- What are the current goals for your job?
- What are you expected to do?
- What are the standards of performance you’re expected to reach?
- What are the future plans for the team and how will you fit into these?
Performance appraisals are the perfect opportunity to make requests to your manager – ask for more support, more training, or more resources. Maybe you would like to be left alone more, or given more direction in your job.
If these things are written down before your appraisal, it will be much more productive and you will be more likely to discuss all you think needs addressing.
What if you don’t like the job?
Whether to raise the fact that you don’t like your job really depends on what your manager is like. Ideally, you should be able to raise this with your manager, and say something like, “Can I talk with you about whether there are any new tasks I can take on, or is there any other job I can start being groomed towards? Look, I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a bit bored, I’m not really challenged in this job.” The manager should take it as an opportunity to “grow” their staff member.
Unfortunately, the reality is that if you tell some managers that you are bored with your job, they will turn around and say “Fine, there’s the door.” You must be careful about raising this issue.
Agree on how the interview will go
At the beginning of the interview, talk to your manager or supervisor and agree about how the performance appraisal is going to go. Don’t be passive – ask, “Before we begin, could we just make an agenda for the interview?”.
Some people may feel this is too pushy, but when you come from the point of view that you are an adult, and knowing you have the right to have an adult-to-adult discussion, it is quite reasonable. You are making sure that there will be time made in the discussion for you to raise your issues.
What if your manager is unreasonable?
If you feel your manager is being really unfair, or does not have his/her facts straight, or is blaming you for problems in the team, there are a number of things you can do:
When the feedback is vague, ask questions like, “Could you give me an example of that?”, or, “What did you mean by ‘I don’t deliver good customer service’?”. Make sure you ask these questions with an open expression – not like you are getting defensive – you genuinely want to inquire.
If you are sure you are right about something, it is quite reasonable to say something like, “Look, I have to be honest, I don’t agree with you. The way I see it is…”
It is a good idea to take notes during the performance appraisal. There is a lot of information, and later you may not remember specifics – so take notes or even ask for a summary of points in writing from your manager.
If the feedback you are getting is only negative, ask for some positive feedback; for example, “You’ve really given me some valuable feedback on my performance, but is there anything that you’ve noticed I’m doing well?”. Vice versa if you are only receiving positive feedback.
The problem with salary/rewards
Many organisational appraisal schemes combine a discussion that is about performance improvement, with what is going to be the basis for salary increases and rewards. If there is a reward hanging over the discussion, the employee will be “putting their best foot forward” and say they are doing really well.
Where this is the case, the employee needs to take the initiative to separate development feedback from performance review for salary. Saying something like, “I’d like to discuss with you how I’m doing and get feedback on my performance, but let’s do that at a different time than when we review my salary.” In other words, separate the two in time so that they are done on separate occasions.
This allows you to have a feedback and development discussion without the pressure of salary hanging over you.
No appraisal is complete without some discussion of career planning and the concrete steps which can be taken to achieve the goal.
Forward planning could be one of the items on your list to discuss – where does your manager see you going, where do you see yourself going? What are the steps to progress you along?
Research shows that seeking feedback, asking questions and seeking clarification improves the way you are perceived within the organisation. Don’t be afraid as an employee to be a full participant, because that way you will get the most out of your appraisal interview.
By Eve Ash, psychologist and Managing Director, Seven Dimensions, is the co-author of Rewrite Your Life! (Penguin) and co-producer with Peter Quarry of the Ash.Quarry production – Preparing for Your Appraisal from the TAKE AWAY TRAINING SERIES www.7dimensions.com.au
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