By Brian O'Connell
When it comes to knocking a job performance review out of the park, it pays to be aggressive and to be your own public relations director.
It's an uphill climb for U.S. workers, who increasingly see job performance reviews as a useless exercise, and one that doesn't necessarily translate into a higher salary if the review goes well.
According to the 2011 Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker (PDF), 59% of survey respondents said that workers at their companies are not rewarded for job performance. Another 52% said that reviews aren't an accurate barometer of their overall job performance, and 74% said they had left a job because they didn't feel appreciated or validated at work.
Employers know reviews are a dicey proposition. Historically, employers are just as dissatisfied with job performance reviews as their employees.
A 2010 survey from WorldatWork and Sibson Consulting says that 63% of human resources executives say managers lack the "courage" to conduct a "difficult" review, and another 47% see the performance review as a human resources process rather than an employee performance review.
Obviously there's plenty of work to do to ensure that companies give useful and fair performance reviews, but that doesn't change the fact that they're going to give them. The WorldatWork survey says that only 1% of U.S. firms have abandoned job reviews, so chances are, sooner or later you're going to be sitting across from your boss discussing your job performance.
Before that day arrives, prepare for that review with these simple but effective tips:
Create a message.
Your manager will try to keep the discussion centered on your contributions to the company, and to its bottom line. That's fine, but you'll want to leave your boss with a firm message about how you see your role at the company, and how you see that role developing. A common misperception of job reviews is that they're backward looking, but they're not just that if you do your job right. Your message should be how your performance sets you up for future promotional opportunities at your firm.
Bring the facts.
Managers are busy at best and indifferent at worst, which is why you have to remind them of the positive attributes you bring to the firm. Start a journal well before your review, and list all the projects and processes that were enhanced by your participation. The more concrete the information, the better. For instance: "My legwork helped bring in a $1 million client to the firm."
Prepare to be prepared.
Whatever you do, don't blow off the "preparation" part of your review. A good manager will note that your inability to state your case as a valued employee as a potentially big red flag and remember that unpreparedness when promotion opportunities pop up.
Don't get defensive.
The dirty little secret behind performance reviews is that their outcome, at least in a salary sense, is predetermined. Most companies already have budgets for salary increases, but not everyone may get one, as revenues are limited. So the manager's job is to downplay your effectiveness so he or she doesn't have to give you a raise. A ton of "average" performance review ratings come because of pre-set budgets. If the review starts to get negative, keep your cool, smile, and calmly remind your manager of why your job performance deserves an "excellent" rating (even use the term "excellent"). Your objective is to put your employer on the defensive, and make him or her justify not giving a great employee a good raise.
Discuss your growth arc.
Managers will bring up weaknesses (see previous tip), but you can use that part of the discussion to show how you've addressed those perceived weaknesses and turned them into strengths. If your manager says you lack motivational skills, you'll need a rebuttal – and a good one. So in your preparation phase, consider any potential job performance shortfalls, and have an answer for it if it comes up.
You'll also want to schedule a specific time for your review – don't wait for your employer to bring it up, and strive to not just lead and drive the discussion, but hammer home your "excellent" value to the company time and time again.Like them or not, performance reviews are an opportunity to make your case as a great employee. In that regard, reviews aren't for wallflowers – it's up to you to take charge.
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