Experts set out tips on how to cope with performance reviews and make a case for dismissal of the box-ticking practice altogether
by Brian Gorman
Year-end is a common period for annual appraisals, meaning that many teams and leaders are now feeling the associated stress.
Feedback, no matter how constructively given, can be hard to take, according to a Forbes article by Luciana Paulise. “Only 14% of employees are inspired by their performance reviews”, she adds, citing Gallup research.
Paulise draws on research by Harvard academics Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone to provide six key steps for employees to help cope with appraisals.
1. Know your tendencies
This requires some introspection and includes asking yourself whether you tend to blame other people for things that have gone wrong, whether you take comments personally or find fault with the person doing the evaluation, rather than accepting that they may have a point. Think about how you’ve handled feedback from previous evaluations and what you can learn from what happened after.
2. Disentangle the ‘what’ from the ‘who’
To avoid ‘blaming the messenger’, ask yourself if different people reviewing your performance are making the same observations. If they are, there is more likely to be something in what they say.
3. Evaluation and coaching
The ratings you receive in your review may not be enough to help you improve. Try to take an objective look at the averages, not the extremes, and seek coaching to improve in areas.
4. Unpack the feedback
Ask for examples and clarification on feedback. Generalisations are not helpful.
5. Ask for just one thing
This may sound scary but asking others (not just your manager) for input on how you can improve shows respect and a passion for excellence, amongst others. You could also ask your manager what is the one thing that is holding you back, or the one thing you could do better.
6. Engage in small experiments
Consider focusing on small specific areas of the feedback and change your behaviour in relation to them to see if it brings about an improvement. This may give an indication of whether the overall feedback has real value.
Good preparation is essential to ensure a productive meeting, according to a blog post on the site of workforce firm Talent Solutions by Sarah Hernon.
Go into the review meeting open-minded, she writes, and be “clear on what you want to share – it's for your development”.
Point to all your achievements, even if they don’t seem relevant to your key performance indicators. “Your manager would still love to know,” she writes. Remind yourself of your highlights by going through your diary and emails. “There's likely to be much more than you thought.”
At the appraisal, when looking back at your set goals and targets for the year to weigh up the year’s achievements, “is a perfect time for you to talk candidly with your manager about where you succeeded or struggled,” she writes.
“While broaching the subject of what you found challenging might feel awkward, it’s crucial to your development. Try and get to the bottom of why you didn’t meet a target and see if there’s anything that can be done to help you improve this year.”
Are formal appraisals the wrong approach?
Many companies, including Adobe and Accenture, “have jettisoned formal annual reviews in recent years”, according to an article in The Business Standard by Matthew Boyle.
Boyle says that the pandemic has served to accelerate the trend. Citing WorldatWork, a non-profit for human resources professionals and business leaders, he says 15% of organisations suspended performance ratings as the number of Covid-19 cases rose.
He describes appraisals as “a time-consuming, backwards-looking, box-ticking process” that “often reveal more about the rater than the person being rated”.
Alternative ways of assessing performance could be more regular and timely discussions between managers and workers. These should happen “right after a project is completed, or at least every quarter”. His article cites Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute, who believes the optimum frequency for check-ins is every 11 days.
“Discussions should centre more on how people work – their skills, behaviours, and competencies – rather than what they worked on, which inevitably turns into a rote recital of tasks and goals,” writes Boyle. Citing consultancy Gartner, he writes that just 4% of HR leaders say performance reviews accurately assess employee performance.
Replacing stuffy conference-room chats with quarterly self-reflections by employees can help reduce the amount of time spent writing up traditional evaluations, he says, giving the example of findings by Deloitte that performance ratings ate up nearly 2 million hours of its employees' time annually.