Do you expect a bad performance review? How to prepare.
By taking action in advance if you expect to receive a poor performance rating, you may be able to manage another course for yourself and avoid an assumption – or at least feel better about the outcome. The author offers six steps to take before and after your review if you know your performance has been substandard. First, reflect on your own assumptions about your performance to understand what you need to work on. Second, get the teammates’ perspective. Third, proactively invite your manager to have a conversation with you – and be direct with them. Fourth, address your mistakes and put together a plan to improve yourself. Fifth, follow that plan with your manager. Finally, show your manager that you care about doing better. If you still receive a negative review despite your best efforts to be proactive, it may help you realize that your skills, strengths and interests do not match the needs of your current role.
Dan, a client I coached through a career transition, started working with me after being laid off. Before he was released, Dan’s company had put him on a performance improvement plan, or “PIP”, as it is euphemistically called in HR. Although he was aware that he had areas to work on, Dan believed that his job was safe and that he would have a longer time frame to improve performance. He thus became totally blind when he was fired.
Although Dan’s situation is disappointing, it is unfortunately not unusual. Organizations often use a PIP for the purpose of gathering enough evidence of an employee’s underperformance to justify firing them, rather than really helping them improve. Since employees often remain in the dark about this motive and believe that the tool has been put in place by their employer to help them grow, many like Dan may realize too late that they are on the cutting edge. But by taking action in advance if you expect to receive a poor performance rating, you may be able to manage a different course for yourself and avoid an assumption – or at least feel better about the outcome.
Here are some steps you should take before and after your review if you know your performance has been poor.
Reflect on your assumptions.
Before drawing conclusions about how your manager can assess you, take the time to check your assumptions in the weeks before your review, when there is still time to turn things around. One of my coaching clients, a VP of product development, was unsure of how the CEO and CFO perceived her performance. Instead of worrying about it or making assumptions, she set up a time with each of them and simply asked:
- What have I done in the last six months that has contributed the most to the company?
- What could I have done more of?
- What should I have done less of?
In addition to asking for feedback, you can also ask yourself the following questions, recommended by executive coach and workplace culture consultant Chris Littlefield:
- Why do I think I will get a bad review, and why now?
- What specific results did I commit to that I did not deliver?
- How is my current performance compared to the past?
- Did I have an interaction with a client or colleague that did not go as I had planned? What happened? Why?
These questions and your answers will enable you to focus on the specific work you need to do to improve rather than on an amorphous goal. For example, did you commit to meet the X goal by the Y date and failed to do so? If so, is it possible to address this shortcoming now and correct it, and show your boss that you are capable of correcting a mistake in good time? By asking yourself Littlefield’s questions, you may also discover that you have mistakenly assumed it was a problem, when in fact there is no tangible rationale for your fears. If you found that your assumptions were off base, it may be that your self-awareness needs a tune-up.
If you feel that your teammates are frustrated with you, do not avoid the problem or guess – ask them before it is too late! Addressing the situation before your review can remove this red flag from your record. This situation happened to one of my coaching clients, who was often late with deliveries and was unable to notify her team. Even worse, she tended to blame delays on external circumstances, such as not receiving the information she needed on time instead of searching for it.
If you are not sure how your team perceives your contributions, leader and team coach Jennifer Porter suggests asking your teammates:
- What do I do as part of the team that is helpful?
- What do I do that does not help?
- If you could change part of how I interact with the team, what would it be?
Once you have received their answers, take steps to correct any areas that your team has flagged. Better to take on yourself to do better than to hear about it from your boss in a PIP.
Invite your manager for a chat.
Instead of waiting for a formal performance review, Fortune 50 executive coach Nihar Chhaya suggests that you contact your manager to discuss your progress before your review, and ask for 20 to 30 minutes so that no one feels stressed. This is especially important if you have made a big mistake, adds C-suite trainer Amii Barnard-Bahn, who advises acting quickly. “Being direct and willing to discuss your accident serves some purpose,” says Chhaya. “It gives you the chance to show that you care about your career and performance and are not just complacent or exposing ownership and responsibility to others.”
If you have a leader who is not ready to give difficult feedback, your invitation to talk about it prevents them from postponing or being unclear with you about the assessment. Sometimes, as much as you do not want to invite criticism, making it easier for managers to deliver it can ultimately put you in a higher status with them, letting them see that you are proactive and care about your career. Capture your most important achievements and pass them on to your boss to jog their memory and avoid recent bias, suggests coach Rebecca Zucker.
Owns your mistakes.
As opposed to being blinded by negative feedback, it will likely result in respect from the leader and the team to take control of your situation by admitting mistakes and planning how you will improve your risk areas. Accepting and owning any mistakes or weaknesses can help you and your leader shift from looking back to looking forward. Barnard-Bahn suggests using the following language with your manager when you own a bug, and tailoring it to your situation: “If you are not aware of it, I had a negative encounter with one of our major customers and I want to own up to it and tell you what I plan to do with it. “
Once you have talked to your boss about the ball that was thrown, make a detailed action plan that may involve creating a timeline, re-prioritizing your tasks, learning new skills and / or exploring how to get to colleagues. Share your development plan with your manager and ask for the support you need to improve, such as removing organizational constraints, advises Zucker.
Once you have committed to your action plan and been approved for it, set a date with your manager for a follow-up meeting in three months to make sure you make the necessary improvements. Chhaya emphasizes that the clearer you are on what went wrong, your responsibilities in the case, and what you will do to improve in the future, the easier it will be to take the feedback with grace and ease. It will also help you potentially turn a pending negative review into a positive one along the way.
Show that you care about doing better
According to Barnard-Bahn, “showing that you care” is a major reason for separating employees is retained after messing around. “Backbone combined with humility are the qualities leaders look for in their direct reports,” she says – you need the backbone to withstand the criticism you are likely to endure after a failure and the humility to admit that you have made a mistake.
. . .
At the end of the day, it is important to look at the big picture. Sometimes delayed performance is not a result of a blind spot, but an indication that you are in the wrong position. If you still receive a negative review despite your best efforts to be proactive, it may help you realize that your skills, strengths and interests do not match the needs of your current role. Use the setback as a springboard for change – and take the opportunity to reconsider your career.