Performance Appraisals: how to get what you want

By: Darren Wrigley

Are you dreading the prospect of your next performance appraisal? Do you feel that it’s just an opportunity for your manager or boss to criticise and run you down? Well don’t! Because the whole purpose of a performance appraisal is to help you develop and feel more motivated. And if you have the right mindset, you can help ensure that it’s a positive experience for yourself, one that may even also be rewarding in terms of a pay increase or promotion.

Be prepared

Start preparing as soon as you know the date of your appraisal, it’s important to use the available time constructively. Generally speaking, performance appraisals are held annually so you need to think carefully about your performance and achievements for the last year. It’s really useful to keep records of what you’ve achieved and anything relating to your individual performance – that hard won sale nine months ago that no one believed you’d ever get was big news then, but will you remember the details when it counts? Or that massive project you delivered on time despite the issues, may have slipped off your manager's radar! Depending on the size of your company, it’s distinctly possible that major achievements can be overlooked by the powers that be, so make sure you are armed with facts and figures.

It’s always worth going right back to basics at this stage, too. No matter how long you’ve been in position, refer to your formal job description and assess the ways in which you’ve fulfilled your specific responsibilities. From there you can then identify what you’ve done to exceed the requirements of your job role. Think about any particular challenges that you faced and how you overcame them. Working through your job description is also a good way to check whether you are being given the opportunity to actually carry out all your responsibilities – is there any aspect of your role that needs to be developed more? These are all good talking points to raise.

How did your last review go?

Always read through the report from your previous performance appraisal. Specific targets and objectives will have been set for you, and you will need to assess whether you have achieved them over the year. Your manager will undoubtedly use them as the benchmark for your next appraisal, so you need to talk in context of those particular targets and objectives – how you’ve performed and what you’ve achieved. Be prepared to demonstrate how you met any particular goals or targets, and be clear about it; if you were given a specific target to fulfil, how did you achieve this? Did you exceed it?

On the basis of this there will be a discussion about your future expectations and objectives for the year ahead – this is your opportunity to get what you want, so if you’re hungry for greater success you need to have a clear idea of how you’re going to achieve it. But be realistic about this, set impossible targets and you’ll end up demotivated and your performance will suffer.

Share your plans

Don’t be afraid to share your long-term career plans. If you’re aiming to become a regional sales director or marketing director in the next three years, make sure your manager understands that – it’s within their power to help make it happen. Career development is, after all, not just down to the individual, it’s about being given the opportunities to develop as well, and that’s down to your superiors. So you should be able to discuss the best action to take that will help you achieve your career goals, whether it’s specific training courses or being given different or additional responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. Any action plan that is formulated at this stage is very valuable and should be used to monitor your future performance and ongoing development.

Nobody’s perfect

Just as important as it is to identify your strengths, your weaknesses should also be identified. Be prepared to take constructive criticism from your manager and don’t be afraid to be critical of yourself. Receive any negative comments professionally and accept that you can learn from them – being defensive doesn’t work. Criticism can, in fact, make a very positive contribution to your career development. Identify the weaker aspects of your performance and you can focus on how to overcome them and improve. In time, this will reap benefits, making you more well rounded as a professional person and letting your superiors see how committed you are.

If you missed certain targets – and, naturally, it does and will happen – try and focus on what you did achieve. It doesn’t necessarily have to make for a complete failure, so see what strengths you can draw from any negative experiences.

Think about how you present yourself

Make sure that anything you say is as positive as possible. Successfully supervising a team of ten people is impressive, but if you explain that during this time sales improved by X% and the team exceeded their target by Y% you immediately present yourself as an effective manager, a strategic thinker and a great motivator – qualities that your manager needs to be aware of. Or perhaps you’ve recently landed a new customer who has agreed to a contract that will mean significant revenue over the next three years – make sure you explain your role in this deal. It’s not about lying or exaggerating, it’s all about presenting a compelling case that will ensure you get recognition for what you’ve done and improve your chances to progress your career.

Are you getting what you deserve?

Targets set during performance appraisals often go hand in hand with a promise of reward – ‘if you can grow our sales by X% we’ll upgrade your car or give you a bonus at year end’ etc. Just as your manager has certain expectations of you, you will undoubtedly anticipate things of your employers. Your appraisal is the ideal opportunity to voice your own expectations. If you feel that your achievements deserve some kind of reward or recognition, you should say so. Left unsaid, you could be seen as complacent, someone who is content with their situation and not concerned about career progression. There is also the risk that, by not asking or even discussing what you feel you deserve, you’ll end up harbouring negative feelings and your future performance will suffer. Now is the time to talk!

And don’t forget…

Your performance appraisal is not the only time to concentrate on how you can develop your career. It has to be an ongoing mission. So take every opportunity that comes your way, take part in training, attend workshops and seminars, anything that will help you hone and develop your skills and knowledge. Any employer worth their salt will take an interest in staff that are committed to personal career development and will recognise the positive impact on, and contribution to, the business.

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