As the year draws to a close, you may be preparing for your full-year performance appraisal… Perhaps it’s in December if your manager has been able to find a free slot between the festive celebrations and last-minute rush to get everything finished this year still. Alternatively, your appraisal may be scheduled for January once you’re both back from the holiday season, refreshed and ready to tackle your next set of objectives.
Reviews of your performance can be immensely helpful where they provide feedback you can learn from, to make targeted improvements that lead to better future outcomes. Some managers will provide ongoing feedback throughout the year too, as you progress with tasks or deliver on projects.
In this post, we share are some tips on how to approach your performance appraisal. Some you’ll be able to implement immediately, but others will take more reflection and time to put into practice, so are more likely to most useful for your next appraisal.
1) Approach your appraisal with an open mind
Try to think of your review discussion with your manager as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than an intrusive examination of your failings. This will help you to ask questions during the appraisal, with a view to understanding what specific actions you can take in future. While it is by nature focused on the past, try as much as possible to have a forward-looking perspective on it.
2) Prepare for your appraisal, reflecting on your original objectives, what your business has needed you to work on in practice, and your performance in each area
Attend the meeting having read through and reflected on the objectives set at the beginning of the year, and having identified where these have changed over the course of the year. Many businesses will adapt what is required as priorities shift, and this is even more likely in highly fluid environments undergoing lots of change. One of our members this week told us how writing down each month what he and his team had delivered and were continuing to work on at the time helped tremendously in preparing for his appraisal – these high-level notes served as valuable reminders of what had been achieved, and how priorities changed in practice.
Consider whether you delivered on what you said you would, looking from an external perspective e.g. if you were your manager, what would your opinion be of how well your objectives have been met? Some items you are responsible for will be easier to measure, especially where they are numerical or similarly well-defined – achieving specific sales figures is one example, and meeting a net promoter score level is another.
For more qualitative objectives, more judgement is required, so emphasise your outputs (especially in terms of business results) and progress, rather than focusing on the inputs and effort you expended.
3) Gather supporting evidence to demonstrate your impact
Supporting evidence can include feedback from customers, specific awards you received, praise from colleagues, or more formal 360-degree feedback over the course of the year. Aspects raised by your manager earlier in the year can also be helpful, provided you remind your manager of them respectfully.
It can take time, but while delivering on your objectives, search for ways to let your work shine and get others talking about you positively, including your broader team, other areas you work with, and even senior executives. Wider recognition like this will make it much easier for your manager to convince others during the moderation process when your performance will be compared to that of others.
4) Show how you are making improvements based on past feedback
Provide your manager with concrete examples of situations where you’ve improved your performance to indicate how you have acted on previous feedback and have learnt and grown over the year. It serves two purposes: to give context to your deliveries, but also to signal your willingness to improve i.e. to learn from past mistakes. Some examples will relate to specific output, and others will reflect active steps you’ve taken to adjust your approach and hence improve your impact.
Part of this is not being distracted by background noise during the year, and staying focused on what really matters for the business.
5) Further evidence your approach to your role
Through the words you use, the examples you give, and your reaction to feedback and/or criticism, indicate how you perform your role maturely, including:
You could show your team orientation by describing examples where you supported the overall team or specific colleagues to achieve a business objective. Or, by mentioning situations requiring empathy, sensitivity to others’ needs, or the ability to imagine other people’s perspectives (particularly when very different to your own). Praising the performance of others or acknowledging someone’s contribution to your achievements also indicate a team mindset. Be wary of too much of a team mindset though – some managers may interpret that as not enough of a focus on your own job.
Examples where you’ve strengthened relationships, particularly outside of your immediate team, in order to achieve a bigger business impact would also help. In fact, as you become more senior, demonstrating external (industry) relationships is valuable too as they give you an opportunity to bring outside-in perspectives to your team.
Proactivity can be evidenced through situations where you took action even though you didn’t know exactly what to do. Doing what you thought was best, perhaps after taking steps to learn more and/or gathering others’ support for your proposals, and taking responsibility for your actions indicates how you handle environments of ambiguity. Related to this is where you offer concrete proposals on how to address an issue rather than merely highlighting that there is a problem. These proposals should be thought-through, including the overall scope of what a change would entail, and will allow decision-makers to build on them, rather than merely be alerted to an issue.
Volunteering for side projects is a great way to display your enthusiasm, and will give you examples of where you’ve done work outside of your day job i.e. over-and-above your objectives. Some projects will also give you the opportunity to strengthen relationships with different business areas. In addition, asking your manager to consider you for these opportunities signals your willingness to contribute, rather than simply take orders. Be wary though of taking too much on: over-enthusiasm and over-promising leads to missed expectations and disappointment so be honest about what is possible in the time you have available.
Self-awareness is crucial here: know yourself well enough that you can (i) focus your own activities on your areas of strength in order to achieve as much as possible for your business, and (ii) work with others who can bolster your gaps.
And, for those of our readers who are particularly ambitious, recognise that most managers will believe it is not possible to sustain phenomenal performance year after year, so they would expect your rating to fluctuate annually. One reason for this is that the expectations of the business may increase e.g. higher and higher sales targets. Another is the extra responsibility that high-performers may be given, which would by nature dampen their performance as they absorb their new duties. In these environments, it is advisable to play the long-game: forge ahead on the basis that rewards will come later in the form of promotions and/or opportunities to work with senior executives.