Having a performance appraisal can feel a little like waiting for your report card to come home, or being called to the principal’s office. But it doesn’t have to be so nerve-wrecking. With a little bit of planning, you can make it a positive experience.
Start planning for your appraisal the day you’re hired - or the day after your last appraisal. Here are some steps:
- Make sure you clearly understand your boss’s expectations
- Track your accomplishments. We all have those days when we just take care of minutia, but keep a log of completed projects, accomplishments, etc. When possible, include numbers: “Implemented a system that reduced data input errors by 50 percent.” Do this even for major projects you’re sure your boss remembers – she may have a lot of major projects to oversee
- Track your failures, again including numbers and other facts whenever possible. This is important, because your boss is likely to bring them up in your appraisal. Having your own list shows your boss that you’re objective enough to recognize when something doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to. It also gives you a chance to document any contributing factors. Don’t make excuses – that’s a career killer – but be ready to mention them from the perspective of what you would do differently next time: “A big reason my profit margin is down, due to the cost of materials rising significantly due to new governmental regulations. Next time I’ll work to get something in the contract that requires my vendor to share the cost with us.”
If you’re asked to complete a self-appraisal, make sure it’s objective. Yes, you do want to make sure your boss knows what you’ve accomplished, but nobody is perfect. Every employee in the company has something they could do better, including your boss. If your self-appraisal suggests you have no weaknesses, it makes you look clueless and/or arrogant.
Setting goals is an important part of the appraisal process, and, while your boss will undoubtedly have some for you, you don’t want to show up without any of your own. Split them between goals for your own personal development and goals that pertain to the company’s business.
When it’s time for the actual appraisal, it’s important to actively listen. It’s tempting to sit there coming up with responses to your boss’s comments, especially if they’re negative. But you can miss out on some important insights that way. Even if you’re convinced your boss is wrong, listening closely will give you some clues as to why she perceives things the way she does.
Asking questions demonstrates that you’re engaged with your job and the company. Good questions include things about:
- Your performance
- What you need to do to get to the next level
- What your boss sees as a timeline for promotion
- The company’s performance
- What the company’s goals are for the next year – or the next five years
- What challenges the company is facing or is expecting to face
Your questions should be evenly split between questions about your development and questions about the direction of the company.
It’s easy to be respectful when the news is good; it’s a lot harder – but even more important – when the news is bad. You should certainly speak up if you disagree with your boss’s assessment, there are both a right and a wrong way to go about it. The wrong way is to get defensive or angry. The right way is to explain that you see it differently and to back your opinion with facts.
If your boss won’t budge, you have to decide whether it’s important enough to appeal. If so, calmly let your boss know that’s what you plan to do, but not in a “change it, or I’m appealing” way. You’re goal isn’t to pressure them into changing her mind; it’s to do them the courtesy of not blindsiding them. Instead, say something like, “I’m afraid I still see it differently. I appreciate your viewpoint, but I’m going to pursue it through the company’s appeal process.”
Regardless of the outcome of your appraisal, sincerely thank your boss. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to prepare a well-thought out appraisal, and delivering it takes another big chunk of time.
Few people look forward to their performance appraisals, but they don’t have to be something you dread. Prepare in advance by tracking your wins and losses, and go in there with the attitude that you’re there to learn something about your performance and your opportunities with the company. Any feedback you get – even negative feedback – helps you reach your goals.