Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How to Ace Your Performance Review

In many workplaces, the end of the year brings not just the holiday party but also the dreaded annual ritual of performance reviews. Experts say preparation is the key to making yours productive rather than painful.

* Gather your evidence. List your accomplishments for the year -- and have documentation to back them up. "Very often managers getting ready to do reviews can't remember everything that the employee has done," says Ann J. Willson, a human resources consultant and owner of Human Resource Directions in Raleigh, N.C.

At many companies, employees are given a form to fill out before the review, listing their accomplishments and goals. Take the time to prepare this document carefully, says Diane Foster, principal of executive coaching and consulting firm Diane Foster & Associates in Alameda, Calif. When listing career goals, Foster advises focusing on "what you see as your next career step within this next year."

* Know what you want. Performance reviews aren't just a time for you to listen to your boss. "In every performance review, you are directly or indirectly coaching your boss," Foster says.

If you have a particular skill -- public speaking, for example -- that you'd like to improve, ask your boss for help. Perhaps you could take a class, or maybe your boss could coach you. "It's up to the employee to really kind of push on the boss for commitment on that," Foster says. After outlining your request, you can say, "I'd love to have that be one of our goals for next year on the performance review," Foster says.

* Face problems in advance. Perhaps you were part of a team whose project wasn't exactly a glowing success. Glenn Shepard, a management consultant and owner of Glenn Shepard Seminars, says it's best to bring up the issue yourself. Some situations are complicated: Perhaps you weren't able to complete your part on time because someone else missed a deadline for getting you crucial information, for example. If you broach the topic, you can explain the part you played, what you could not have changed and what you would do differently next time.

"If the manager brings up that marginal performance first, then the employee looks defensive," he says.

* Expect to hear criticism. It's part of managers' jobs to point out areas where their employees could improve. "Even if they're happy with you, they strive to find something to make better," says Debra Benton, executive coach and author of "Executive Charisma."

If your boss says you lack leadership, for example, ask your boss to describe a time when you didn't demonstrate leadership. Then ask for examples of situations that will come up in the upcoming year when you can practice and demonstrate leadership.

Finally, as long as the criticism is balanced with praise, be glad your boss has taken the time to tell you how to improve. "If they have nothing negative, I think that's a bad sign, because they don't care," Benton says.