5 Keys to Acing a Performance Review
They key to acing a performance review is understanding your audience. What follows are some methods that will surely impress the reviewer. These should be done in all cases, but modify the level of detail your provide. To impress an immediate manager, give specifics. To impress an HR manager that you may not see often, you don’t want to drag them into your day-to-day details. Instead, you can impress them by indicating how your activities contribute to larger business goals. They don’t want to know exactly how you do things, they want to be assured you understand why you are doing things.
1. Show how your performance has impacted the bottom line. It is not enough to say that you’ve done a bunch of stuff. You have to connect these activities to important business objectives. Only then do they become accomplishments. If you want to arm yourself, bring hard data. You want to say things like, “before I started, we had X problems and since my X work we’ve reduced the number to X”. Then really seal the deal by saying that, in your opinion, your contributions have helped achieve some larger organizational goal. Make sure they know that you understand how your work is solving their problems. If are concerned about your performance, read our post on how to excel in your first management position.
2. Don’t complain. Hopefully your reviewer keeps up with important management and psychological trends and will understand the “door and the window” concept. This concept was introduced in Jim Collins’ blockbuster Good to Great. Basically, good leaders take responsibility (they look in the mirror) when things go bad and they give credit to others (look out the window) when things go well. You should do this in your review. It will signal that you are ready for the big time. It may also indicate that you are well read.
3. Drive the discussion. They may have a list of things that they must ask but, like any other interview, you will be more impressive if you can take and hold the stage. The worst thing you can do is sit there and say “yes” or “no”. They are going to ask open ended questions like “how are things going” or “how do you think your are performing”. They ask this type of question for a reason. They want to see if you have the wherewithal to manage a conversation.
4. Make recommendations. You want to send the signal that you are not only good at your job, but that you also have some ideas about how how the broader objectives (those beyond the scope of your tasks) can be achieved. Big companies have what are called 360 degree reviews. In these, the reviewer expects you to give them feedback. If you can’t speak intelligently about how they could do their job better, then you’ll be docked points. But it is not just about the reviewer’s performance, it is also about the organization’s performance. To succeed you’ll need a comprehensive view of what’s going on. People who have this perspective get fast tracked for leadership positions.
5. Relax. You aren’t going to get fired. You aren’t going to get grilled. It is going to be a loose format where demeanor and poise may count for more than substance. Being cool-under-fire may be the most important trait your reviewer is looking for. This is absolutely critical because it is a cornerstone of perception management. Well honed social skills can spawn the halo effect. The positive social impression they get from you will send a signal to them that you are also performing positively in your job. Why do you think the pretty and the smooth operators always seem to get the job? It’s a shame but it is true. The key to achieving this is practice. The more interviews and reviews you do, the more Conan-like you will become. The Conan O’Brien’s of the world always get the job.
Also remember that cultural norms play a big role in performance reviews. My advice is applicable for most American interviews, but probably doesn’t apply in many other parts of the world where self promotion is not so well received.
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