Your reaction to your annual performance review can range from delight to disappointment to shock. But if you and your rater have prepared for the review, whether the evaluation is stellar or otherwise, you won’t be surprised, and you’ll know how to respond.
A young professional I’ve mentored for five years recently sought my advice on handling her upcoming year-end review. She told me two things that are important in preparing for a review. First, she had received informal feedback from her bosses: “Cannot be happier with your performance.” “Excellent client service.” She was also told she would receive a promotion from assistant vice president to vice president. Understandably, she expected good news at the review. Second, she had done homework. Because she is bonus-eligible, she had obtained information from peers and headhunters about the range of bonus she could expect.
Even with the favorable information, she sought advice on responding if the meeting didn’t go well. I’ll let you know later what I advised and how the session went, but first, I’ll share advice on how to give and receive a formal review.
Both the boss and the employee need to discuss performance during the year, perhaps three times for junior professionals and once or twice for seniors. This is usually informal, over coffee or lunch. If a slight course correction in performance is needed, that’s easy to address. If there are serious performance issues, best that these are aired early and candidly, with the goal of agreeing on a plan to improve performance metrics.
A good boss will also invite comments from the employee about his or her style in helping the junior develop. These conversations are critical in preparation for the annual evaluation. But this approach doesn’t always work especially as one goes higher in an organization. In my last corporate assignment, at AIG, where I worked for an executive vice president who was a peer in experience and years, his reply when I asked about my evaluation was, “If you don’t hear from me, I’m happy with your work.” Fortunately, I never did.
Because of one serious mistake I made as a new company president, I became scrupulous about giving informal reviews. At year’s end, I had to give one company officer a bad evaluation and his notice of termination, albeit with salary continuation and outplacement. He blew up at me and told me I had failed by not counseling him during the year. He was right, and I learned.
Here’s what I advised my mentee: “Listen hard. Then, if you are not happy with your bonus, give your reasons. But be understanding if the bonus pool is low but you got your share or more than your share. Also understand that the economy is bad, and everything has been cut back.” I also shared with her my experience in twice not receiving the bonus I thought I earned. I protested with an even temper but no change was made. As a boss I sometimes received complaints from managers who were not happy with their bonuses. But because bonuses are approved at the very top of the corporation, making a change was hard, and appeals usually failed.
I’m glad to report that my mentee’s review went well. She received an excellent bonus and confirmation of a promotion to vice president with a salary increase. She said that in the event the conversation had taken a negative turn, she had prepared talking points for different outcomes.
Hopefully your review will go just as well. Whatever happens, preparation is key. Each of us has to take charge of our careers. Mentors, HR, friends and bosses can be helpful, but the only one ultimately responsible is you.