The words “performance review” can make even the most confident employee anxious. It’s understandable. These one-on-one encounters, which take place annually for 70% of companies, are occasions when your boss can throw anything at you. They can applaud you or hang you out to dry, make you feel competent or incompetent, promise you a salary increase, or not.
In a business environment where 75% of employees say dealing with their boss is the most stressful part of their job, these annual exchanges are front-end loaded with tension. So what can you do to create a more positive experience during your year-end review?
When we dread something, we often don’t prepare. But preparation is key if you want to ensure this conversation goes well. Don’t wait to find out what your boss thinks of you. Decide what you think of yourself in advance of this meeting, and write down your thoughts.
Create a script that will serve you well in the interview:
- Begin with a statement that shows appreciation for the opportunities you have been given this year. Gratitude is an excellent backdrop to any conversation.
- Write a single sentence statement about your year.
- Set forth three or four achievements and the detail to support each.
- Identify one area where you’d like to improve or develop.
- End with a “call to action” showing you’ll continue to deliver.
Performance reviews should include your views, so you’ll want to internalize the script you’ve prepared and pitch yourself. You’ll have many opportunities to do so.
Suppose your boss begins by asking you, “So what do you think of your year?” you’ll have a great answer. You’ll be able to share your single sentence statement—your message (“It was a very productive year for me.”) Then take her through your major accomplishments. End with a call to action showing you’ll continue to deliver. (“I’m looking forward to the new year and more opportunities to support the team.”)
Let’s say your boss doesn’t give you that opening invitation. You can lace your points into the conversation and reinforce the positive things your boss says. And if there is a project that didn’t go so well, or some area where you didn’t perform, you’ve thought about that, too.
Worst-case scenario, if your boss gives you a negative performance review, you’ve got your self-affirming script in your back pocket (actually in your mind), so you can counter the negative review with polite but positive statements about yourself.
Respond, don’t react
Throughout the dialogue, you’ll want to be courteous and collaborative, so remember that every time you pick up from where your boss has left off, you’ll want to respond, not react. The difference between these two is that responding is building upon something; reacting is acting against. The last thing you want to do is create an adversarial tone.
If your boss says something you agree with, it’s easy to respond. You might say, “thank you, I’m proud of that, too.” Responding also means that you accept compliments, rather than dismissing them. For example, if your manager says something positive, don’t say, “Really?” or “No way?”
If your boss says something you don’t agree with, you’re in a tougher spot. Don’t react (“That’s just not true!”), but respond with a comment that sounds supportive. You might say “I can see how you might feel that way,” or “Yes, we had our challenges with that project.” Then go on to show how you see the situation. For example, you might say, “I gave a lot to that project, and while it might not have been obvious, I believe that was one of my best learning experiences this year.”
Ask about the future
So your discussion is almost over, and you’re ready to leave. Don’t leave the conversation until you’ve asked what your boss has in store for you. If you feel ready for a promotion—you’ve had a terrific year and been in the same job for long enough—raise the question, “How do you see my future in this department?” (If she has not thought about it, or sees more of the same for you, then you’re likely in need of a new company or a new department.)
But don’t give up. Say, “I would like to progress and believe I’m ready to take on a new role or additional responsibilities. Can we discuss that?” If she says time is up, then ask for a second meeting to discuss your career. If your boss is unwilling to take that next step, you’ve learned something: It’s time to move on.
The same forthright attitude should apply to questions about salary. Your annual review is a good time to ask about salary increases. Suppose the discussion is almost over and nothing has been said about salary. Go for it. You might say something like, “Given that I’ve done, by your account, a great job this year, will there be a salary increase?”
Whew! You’ve put it out there. Now it’s your supervisor’s turn to reply. She might say, “Well, we don’t have an increase for you, given that our budgets are tight.” You might say, “I really believe I deserve an increase,” and explain why. Or you might ask for a separate meeting on this, by saying, “Can we sit down to discuss this, and explore what I can do to get to the next level?” You want to walk away with a promise of something.