Preparing For Performance Reviews, Part 2: Handling Feedback

Last week, I wrote about giving feedback during performance reviews. This week, I offer tips on handling the feedback you receive in the most productive and graceful manner.

With 2017 wrapping up, shortly, we will all sit down to discuss with our manager how we performed on our goals for the year. Since it’s October, we already know what level of success we are likely to achieve by December 31. Some of us approach that conversation looking forward to the praise and adulations. The rest of us have the experience to know life doesn’t grade on a curve. Nevertheless, we can all approach that conversation with the hope that we’ll learn something that will set us up for even greater success in 2018. Here are some thoughts on how to participate in your annual performance review to achieve the greatest benefit for yourself and your organization.

Some basics to keep in mind:

First, your company, firm, or organization wants you to succeed. There is ABSOLUTELY NO BENEFIT to your employer if you fail to achieve your goals. If you get a review that you haven’t done well, your manager is about to hear in her review that she didn’t do well this year because she didn’t get you to where you needed to be. Your manager is rooting for you to hit the high marks.

Second, everyone has room for improvement. If there’s only praise in your review, you accomplished this job and it’s time to move on. If you have completely mastered the job you’re in, the review should be about how to position you for the next step in your career.

Third, many managers consider some of those who they manage to be their friends and want to maintain those relationships. These conversations are hard for some managers. In addition, very few organizations teach managers how to give effective feedback. Therefore, go into the meeting realizing that your manager may not be as facile at this conversation as you might hope. If he doesn’t hit the right ton, or spends too much time in one area, take it with a grain of salt. Think about your entire relationship with your manager and give him the benefit of the doubt if he struggles a bit with this conversation.

Here are some approaches that may help you in the actual meeting.

Keep an open mind.

You’ll likely hear about what you did well, and where the organization feels you have room for improvement. “Room for improvement,” isn’t a euphemism for how you “failed.” Performance reviews aren’t supposed to be spankings. Performance reviews are supposed to help you grow professionally, setting you up for even greater success next year. What you hear about your areas for improvement may not be what you expect. If the feedback is surprising, rather than get defensive or argumentative, ask questions to understand the nature of the feedback.

Depending on the feedback, some good questions might be:

  • “Can you share specific instances of what you mean by that?”
  • “Is that assessment something you think was typical of my performance or a one-off kind of thing?”
  • “How do you think I could have approached that better?”

Questions that aren’t so helpful are:

  • “Who said that about me?”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Well, you want to know what I think of you?”

Remember, assume good intentions on the part of the person sharing the feedback. She wants to help you grow.

Come in prepared.

Reflect on your own successes and challenges over the last year. A year is a long time. You accomplished things back in January that you have forgotten. If you barely remember your own achievement, chances are your manager, who manages lots of people, doesn’t remember it either. Think about the ways in which you have grown. Write them down so that you come into the meeting looking like you take this discussion seriously. Don’t minimize your successes by trying to share every little accomplishment; think instead of the few big things that happened this year and how you helped the organization or developed a new skill set.

Also reflect on the elements of your performance that have been a challenge for you. If you sound as if you think everything has been perfect this year, you sound unrealistic and myopic. If you can’t identify how you can improve, you are leaving it to your manager to set the course for you, and frankly, making her job more difficult instead of taking on that burden yourself. Identify two or three things you think you could be doing better. This sets the stage for the more important part of the conversation – setting goals for next year.

Focus on the future.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, we should all think of “performance reviews” as “performance reviews and goal-setting meetings.” The point of looking at how you did this past year is to plan for improved performance for next year. If we keep doing the same things, we should expect the same results. Managers want to know what you plan to do differently in 2018 to get different results. If you tell your manager, “I’m going to work that much harder doing the same thing,” you’re conveying that you don’t understand how improvement happens. I’m routinely asking people, “So what are you going to do differently next year?” Come in with a plan. It shows you care about your future and care about adding value to the organization. It’s even OK if your plan is to say you’ve thought about it, you don’t know what to do, and you need guidance. It’s not OK to shrug and mumble that you simply don’t know. That conveys you don’t care.

Maintain engaged body language.

Sit forward in your chair. Keep your hands and forearms above the table. Look “in the game.” If you sit back with your hands in your lap, you look like you are there to take instruction instead of participating in the conversation.

Hear everything in context.

There will likely be some good news and some bad news. Hear both in perspective. If the majority of the feedback is positive, don’t get all in a snit over the fact that there were some improvement points. We all need to grow. If the majority of the discussion is what you need to do to improve or your job is in jeopardy, don’t walk out the door thinking the one positive comment is going to save your job.

Make it a dialogue.

The meeting should be a conversation. Ask questions about both the feedback and the growth possibilities you see for next year. If you’re engaged in the conversation, it reflects that you’re engaged in the relationship. Remember, both you and your manager want this relationship to work. There’s no upside to either of you if it doesn’t. Asking what you think you can do to perform better makes the other person even more committed to helping you achieve those goals.

Congrats on a successful 2017. Plan well for an even better 2018.

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