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How to Prepare for Performance Reviews

Prepare for performance reviews with tips from career experts

As the year ends, it’s time to prepare for performance reviews. Whether you love them or dread them, performance reviews provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on your accomplishments, set goals for the future, and gain insights into your professional growth. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, employees who engaged in self-reflection and preparation before performance reviews showed improved self-awareness and self-regulation. This heightened self-awareness allowed them to understand their strengths and weaknesses better, leading to targeted development efforts and subsequent career growth. I polled my followers on LinkedIn about how much time they spend preparing for performance reviews. Over half of those who responded spent less than an hour in preparation, if any time at all.

As a result, we talked to some of the leading experts in the career space. We asked them to share their best advice for preparing for year-end reviews and successfully use the review meeting to position themselves for future growth and advocate for more (money, growth opportunities, leadership responsibilities, etc.) With focused preparation and a proactive mindset, you can make the most out of your year-end review.

Reflect on your performance ahead of your review

As a first step, before your review, take some time to reflect on your achievements and challenges throughout the year. Think about your goals, projects you’ve completed, and the impact you’ve made. Consider any areas where you may have struggled or could have done better. This self-assessment will help you have a clear understanding of your performance and enable you to engage in a constructive conversation with your manager. 

Incorporating self-awareness and a proactive approach into year-end review preparation allows individuals to have meaningful and constructive conversations with their managers. It enables a balanced discussion of achievements and challenges, leading to a better understanding of performance and setting a clear path for future success.

steps to performing a self-assessment ahead of a performance review

Emphasis on self-awareness adds more depth to the year-end review preparation process. Before the review, taking the time to reflect on achievements and challenges allows for a holistic assessment of one’s performance throughout the year. This self-assessment helps clarify strengths, areas of improvement, and overall growth.

As a leadership strategist and coach, Mike Harbour of Harbour Resources helps clients prepare for performance reviews. He shared with us his believe that the best way to prepare for performance reviews is to have a monthly meeting – with yourself! In this meeting, Harbour suggests asking the following questions:

  • What was accomplished?
  • How did I move the KPI’s needle?
  • How did I improve team engagement?
  • How did I impact revenue?
  • How did I help positively improve the metrics of my area of responsibility?

Harbour teaches people the term Sapere Vedere, which means “knowing how to see.”

“I teach them to use Hindsight, Foresight, and Insight to look back on the good and not-so-good, the future vision, and create a GPS coordinate for the next twelve months and then the insight or awareness to create the change they wish to see to close the gap of the past and the future. “

By reflecting on goals and projects completed, individuals can track their progress and evaluate the impact they have made. This exercise helps in understanding the value brought to the organization and identifying areas where their contributions have been significant. It also allows individuals to recognize their accomplishments and gain confidence in discussing them during the review.

Furthermore, acknowledging areas of struggle or where improvement could have been made demonstrates self-awareness and accountability. Taking responsibility for shortcomings, even in challenging circumstances, shows maturity and a willingness to learn and grow. It is important to approach these discussions proactively, using evidence of what did go well to balance the conversation. This demonstrates a well-rounded understanding of one’s performance and the ability to learn from successes and setbacks.

What if you didn’t have a great year

How do you prepare for a performance review when you had a less-than-stellar year? It is important to be self-aware and take responsibility. Reflect on your performance and acknowledge areas where you didn’t meet expectations. Take ownership of any mistakes or shortcomings without making excuses. Be honest with yourself and your manager. Self-awareness and accountability will demonstrate maturity and a willingness to learn and improve.

Leadership and Executive Coach Nicole Case says trying to hide mistakes and pretend things didn’t happen will not help anyone. “Your boss will appreciate you being self-aware of the situation versus trying to shove it under the rug. Talk about what happened this year, what you learned from it, what you will do differently, and what support you need. It is their job to help you be successful.”

Creating an action plan for the future showcases commitment and dedication to personal and professional growth. As you review your performance, identify areas where you can grow and develop. Think about skills you would like to improve or new responsibilities you would like to take on. 

steps to creating an action plan to present during performance review for professional improvement

Andrew LaCivita, one of the country’s top leadership coaches, stresses the importance of self-awareness. “If you find yourself in a situation where you didn’t perform well, it’s best to own it. Show self-awareness and take responsibility regardless of the circumstances.” When discussing this in your review, be sure to have evidence of what did go well and highlight that. Be proactive and create an action plan. During the review, share how you used the year’s events as a learning experience and your path toward continued success in the new year.

LaCivita encourages those who had a less-than-ideal year to focus on progress and the benefit of learning from mistakes. “Stay positive and upbeat, and be excited about what’s to come in the new year. Ultimately, it’s about progress. If you’ve had an entire year’s worth of experience, you did learn a lot!”

Discussing the learning experiences gained throughout the year and the path toward continued success in the new year shows a proactive and forward-thinking mindset. It indicates a readiness to apply lessons learned and make necessary adjustments to improve performance and achieve new goals.

Gather evidence for performance review

To support your self-assessment, gather evidence of your accomplishments. Collect performance metrics, positive feedback from clients or colleagues, and examples of successful projects. This tangible evidence will demonstrate your value and provide a basis for discussion during your review. 

Case challenges her clients to take it further. “The most important thing you can do to prepare for your year-end review is not just to gather your receipts on the things you accomplished this year but to translate those into the impact you created.”

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who effectively prepared for performance reviews were more successful in negotiating their career development plans with their managers. By identifying their professional aspirations and aligning them with the organization’s goals, these individuals were able to secure opportunities for growth and advancement within the company.

Case’s advice highlights the importance of not only gathering evidence of accomplishments but also translating them into the impact created. This step is crucial because it goes beyond simply listing tasks completed or projects delivered. It requires a deeper analysis of how these accomplishments have made a positive difference within the organization.

For example, if the goal was to increase sales revenue, the impact could be quantified by calculating the percentage increase achieved or analyzing the contribution to overall company growth. This approach helps to highlight the significance of the accomplishment and showcase its value to the organization.

Another way to demonstrate impact is by showcasing how accomplishments have positively affected clients or colleagues. Client feedback or testimonials can be powerful evidence of the impact created. It shows that the work done has met or exceeded client expectations and has contributed to their satisfaction or success. Similarly, positive feedback from colleagues can speak to the collaboration and teamwork involved in achieving successful outcomes.

Examples of tangible evidence to present during a performance review.

Tangible evidence of successful projects can also be used to demonstrate impact. This can include before-and-after data, case studies, or reports showcasing the positive outcomes resulting from these projects. By presenting concrete evidence of the impact, it becomes easier for both the employee and the manager to have a meaningful discussion during the review.

Translating accomplishments into impact is not only beneficial for the year-end review but also for overall career growth. It allows individuals to reflect on their value to the organization and identify areas to enhance their contributions further. It also helps in setting future goals and aligning them with the desired impact.

Review your goals ahead of performance review

Look back at the goals you set at the beginning of the year. Evaluate your progress and determine if you have achieved them or made significant strides towards them. If you haven’t met some goals, it’s essential to understand why and be prepared to discuss any obstacles you face.

Research has shown that writing down goals increases the chance of achieving them by 42%. If it is not already your practice, I recommend sitting down at least once a year and mapping out career goals. This will serve as a roadmap throughout the year when faced with career decisions and a place to reflect back at year-end when preparing for performance reviews.

Briefcase Coach’s Career Branding Strategist Lisa Southorn recommends taking time to evaluate throughout the year. “Create a monthly highlights document where you can reflect on a shorter period of time.” She recommends reflecting on the following: 

  • What successes did you achieve? 
  • What obstacles did you overcome? 
  • What recognition did you receive? 

Southorn suggests noting the metrics available to you to back up and support your achievements. When the details are fresh, you can uncover stronger results you might otherwise overlook. Plus, doing the leg work earlier will save you time come year-end.

Prepare to ask for more during your performance review

Your year-end review is not just an opportunity for your manager to evaluate you; it’s also a chance for you to gain clarity about your role, expectations, and future opportunities. Prepare questions to ensure you receive the information you need to grow professionally. 

This is a great time to strategize how to advocate for yourself and ask for more … more money, growth opportunities, leadership responsibilities, etc. 

Executive Communication & Leadership Coach Rachel Beohm suggests approaching the situation with generous confidence. The first step, demonstrate confidence. “Show that you think highly of yourself – high enough to know you are worth what you ask for.” She offers the following advice for conveying self-confidence nonverbally:

  • Stand or sit up to your full height with your head held high
  • Use open body language: shoulders back with arms and hands ready to move, not clenched tightly to your body or shoved into pockets
  • Look others in the eye
  • Keep your body calm, grounded, and still
  • Breathe deeply

Secondly, Beohm says to demonstrate generosity. “Show that you think equally highly of the other person. ‘Confidence’ that sets itself above others isn’t confidence at all—it’s arrogance, and it’s gross. Demonstrate high expectations of the person you’re negotiating with and give them the benefit of the doubt.” To convey a generous spirit nonverbally, Boehm recommends:

  • Give your undivided attention to whoever is speaking.
  • Defer to the other person’s communication style.
  • Listen, and give nonverbal signs that you’re listening such as a nod of the head.
  • When appropriate, smile or use humor.
  • Keep your hands visible and open.

Approaching the conversation with a combination of confidence and generosity helps to alleviate tension and foster a positive connection. By being confident, you can comfortably express your needs and desires, knowing that your self-worth is not dependent on the outcome. On the other hand, demonstrating generosity makes it more likely that your perspective will be acknowledged and understood. While each of these qualities individually can be beneficial, when combined, they create a powerful and positive presence.

Ask for more as a question vs a demand

Nicole Case recommends posing the request for more as a question rather than a demand: ask WHAT you need to do to be considered for what you want. 

“I had a great year this year, and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow and learn here. What do I need to be doing or working on to be considered for a raise/promotion/or bigger scope during the next cycle/6 months from now?”

“By positioning this as a question versus a demand”, Case says, “you are inviting a conversation with your manager about what is needed to be eligible for that next step. It also creates the opportunity for a partnership between you and your manager to work together towards that goal.”

She also says not to accept “keep doing what you are doing” as an answer and to ask for specific examples. If your boss needs more time to consider, ask for a follow-up meeting to continue the conversation. 

During your review, keep an open mind and remain receptive to feedback. Constructive criticism is an opportunity for improvement, and acknowledging it with a positive attitude shows your willingness to learn and grow.

Follow-up post-review

After your year-end review, remember to follow up with any action items or goals discussed. Keep track of your progress throughout the year and regularly check in with your manager to ensure you’re on track. 

Performance reviews can be nerve-wracking, but with proper preparation and the right mindset, they can be a valuable tool for personal and professional growth. By reflecting on your performance, gathering evidence, seeking feedback, and setting realistic goals, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most out of your performance review and propel your career forward.

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