Learning from performance reviews

Most people think of a performance review as an uncomfortable meeting with their boss; a chance to hear how great (or not so great) a job they’ve been doing or what sort of salary increase to expect this year. But a good performance review should be much more than this — it should be an engaged, two-way conversation between employer and employee.

While this is your manager's time to share his or her overall evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, it is also your time to ask insightful questions, receive constructive feedback, and — if you're smart — establish a clear plan for improvement or future professional development.

Your performance review, whether overwhelmingly positive or somewhat disappointing, is always a great opportunity to learn, grow, and move forward in your career. Here are some useful pointers on getting as much out of this important encounter that you can:

Insist upon reviews
First of all, if your company does not already offer them, insist that your supervisor begin providing you with an annual performance appraisal. Such a regular assessment is essential to both your career growth as well as your personal and professional well-being.

Understand the agenda
Even if you have received glowing reviews in the past, realize that if there has been a management change in your company, there has most likely been an agenda change as well. This means that the standards of performance have also changed. If you don’t commit to learning what these new standards and expectations are, you cannot hope to meet them.

Embrace challenges
A rewarding career is built by recognizing and accepting challenges, not avoiding them. A constructive performance review includes suggestions for ways to improve your performance. Work with your supervisor to develop a plan to address your shortcomings, such as supplemental training or career counseling.

Set clear goals
Work with your supervisor to establish key goals that can be examined on a regular basis. These should match your personal development goals and the overall goals of the company. They should be precise, measurable, and time specific. Goals should be within your control to achieve but also allow you to “stretch” beyond your current abilities.

Draw up an action plan
Develop a plan with your supervisor for some kind of training or action steps to help you achieve your goals. Determine what knowledge, skills, and competencies you will need to become a more valuable employee, now and in the future.

Update your job description
Your performance review is also a good occasion to discuss any necessary changes to your job description. Updating your job description from time to time ensures that you are evaluated fairly and that your performance can be measured accordingly.

Question yourself
After the review, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do your responsibilities support the company's strategic plan?
  • What do you consider your most important contributions and accomplishments during the review period?
  • What competencies (skills, knowledge, or perspective) have been most important in achieving those accomplishments?
  • What feedback have you received from coworkers and/or constituents?
  • What do you need to do to enhance your performance further?
  • How satisfied are you with your accomplishments during the review period?
  • What have you learned that can be applied in the future?

Don't overreact to negative feedback
Should you receive a negative review (however unexpected), consider it a helpful wake-up call. Unless you have a fantastic job offer waiting in the wings, don’t overreact and walk out the door in a huff. Instead, take a careful, open-minded look at what you can do to improve.

Explore other options
Keep in mind that the best time to look for a new job is while you are still at your existing one. If you walk away from your review feeling discouraged about the lack of opportunities for advancement, the smartest thing that you can do is to explore new paths and to pursue them proactively. Take your future into your own hands, and go get the job that is right for you.


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