Go to Menu How to Perform in a Performance Review
By Nick Corcodilos

Like job interviews, performance reviews in most companies are so overwhelmed by protocol, forms, rules, questionnaires and rehearsed Q&A that an employee and a manager never get a chance to talk turkey. The truth about an employee's performance gets buried in a report that's produced by throwing darts at two-dollar words in The Human Resources Dictionary. Unless the outcome is extreme -- that is, you get put on probation or get promoted --, the results of your review will read pretty much like anyone else's. That gives us a nice performance curve that keeps most employees bunched in the middle, and we all go our merry way, operating exactly the way we did before the review.

Well, that's what happens when you participate in the review process. But, I've got another take on performance reviews. Rather than participate in the process, why not take the initiative and perform?

Kick it up a notch.

What does it mean to perform? It means show your stuff and take control to influence the outcome. Before we get into the details of this prescription, it's worth reviewing a few of the standard tactics people use to deal with an upcoming review. Most people try in some way to influence how their review will turn out. Some will step up their production in the days or weeks before review time. Others may adroitly lobby the boss through their friends and co-workers. Some believe their record should speak for itself, and they won't do anything to set the stage for a good review. (At the other extreme, I know people who prepare for reviews by interviewing at other companies.)

Sitting back and doing nothing isn't going to help you. It's important to remember that your boss has more on his mind than your record. So, to get the kind of review you want, it's up to you to tactfully influence him. By influence, I don't mean anything inappropriate. You can influence a person simply by reminding him of the facts of a situation.

Take time to influence effectively.

While you can step up your productivity and enlist the aid of co-workers to boost your boss's opinion, there's no way to know how your boss will weight those factors. It's certainly smart to have a fall-back position in the form of other job offers, and it's also smart to gauge your market value as you enter the salary review part of this process.

But, I believe the best way to influence the outcome of a review is to provide hard data your boss can use to draw conclusions about your performance and to decide what you are worth. It's important to do this outside the scheduled, scripted performance review meeting, where you are restricted to a format you don't control. You can take control by having an informal meeting with your boss before your actual review. Without doubt, the purpose of this meeting is to influence him. But, far from being underhanded about it, we're going to use the facts to support your case. We're going to use the future to help your boss review and judge your past year.

Take your boss back to the future.

Don't wait for the review meeting that was scheduled for you. At least a month before your review, suggest to your boss that you get together to discuss some ideas you've been working on. "I'd really appreciate your input and critique."Make no mention of your review. Present this as a discussion about the future. Keep your presentation casual, but make sure you've thought it through carefully. Here's a good way to structure your presentation in this informal discussion.

  • Outline what you think will be the three biggest challenges, problems, hurdles or objectives in your job next year. Then, list three things you will do to tackle them. This should include significant detail, but don't overdo it.
  • Finally, explain how your approach to doing the work will be profitable (or beneficial) to the company.

This is where you shift the presentation to provide data about your most recent performance. It's also how you start to influence the upcoming review. To motivate and justify your approach for the future, refer back to the past year. Show:

  • Three problems or challenges you faced last year. Three things you did (hopefully clever) to address them.
  • The outcome of your actions. That is, how did your actions reduce costs or boost revenues? In other words, how much money did you save or produce for the company?

To pull it all together, show how you will apply a new spin to the "tested methods" you used last year to tackle your work next year. This will take careful thought on your part, and it might help to run parts of your plan past trusted cohorts as you fine-tune it.

Control your review to control what happens next.

What does this approach accomplish for you?

  1. It demonstrates the value you produced in your job last year, It reveals the thoughtful planning you've done for next year's work,
  2. It establishes a basis for your performance review. Your boss now understands what you did in your job last year, and he has an analysis of the outcome.

We'll assume that as you embark on next year's work, you're bucking for a raise and/or a promotion. You might as well start justifying that now, and what better way to do that than to lay out your plan in advance, in this meeting? In one fell swoop, you have positioned yourself for a good review for the past, and set yourself up for bigger things next year. There's no better way to influence your boss's opinion of you than to show how you've produced value for the company and how you will produce more. You could use this approach in the review meeting itself, but by then it could be too late. Your boss might already have formulated his assessment of you -- and the raise he's planning to give you. Do your pre-emptive performance far enough in advance, and you give him time to actually reward you with a bigger raise, and possibly the promotion or re-assignment you want.

Ever wonder how asking for a promotion and a raise are similar to interviewing for a new job or a new career? The challenge is almost exactly the same -- it's about how to deliver more value to get more money and a better position.

To learn more about how to make yourself stand out in front of your manager -- or the boss you want to work for -- check out How Can I Change Careers?

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