Career Management: Leveraging the Performance Appraisal

What Is a Performance Appraisal?

In short, your performance appraisal will evaluate how you've done your job with the company, if you've filled the job description, met the objectives for your job, and are excelling (or failing) with the job and the company. It's a nerve-wracking experience that nobody likes; however, it can go a little easier if you're prepared ahead of time.

How to Prepare for a Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisals can be terrifying, especially if you have no idea what to expect. If your boss doesn't give you regular feedback, the appraisal can be a total shock. You may find out you're not doing as well as you thought – or that you're doing even better. However, it's always helpful to prepare for the appraisal, both physically and mentally.

Prepare ahead of time by performing a self-assessment. Look at how you're performing in your job, both, the good and the bad. You can even look at prior appraisals you've received and include those details in your self-assessment. Then, answer these questions:

  • Have you overcome any challenges? If so, what challenges? How did you do it?

  • What improvements have you made since the last appraisal?

  • In what areas do you still need to improve? Include a plan for improvement.

  • In what ways have you contributed to the company's bottom line?

  • What ways have you increased your value to the company during the past year?

  • What areas do you excel in?

  • How are you continuing to build on your strengths?

In what ways can you continue to utilize your skills to increase the value of the team and the company?

Your performance appraisal is your chance to get feedback about your performance and get insight into your future with the company. It should be insightful for you, and it also gives you a chance to ask questions. You can ask for some coaching or additional training. Perhaps you'd like recognition for your work on a big project. It may be time to ask for a raise or promotion, or even start a discussion about your career track and opportunities within the company. Write down your questions before the appraisal. Chances are, you'll be so nervous during it that you'll forget to ask.

This is also where your skills and knowledge portfolio should come in handy, because you'll want to bring evidence of your accomplishments over the past year. If you have a positive impact on the team, cite how. Write down actions you've taken and the results you've achieved. If you've exceeded expectations or goals, write that down too. You should have evidence of everything positive you've accomplished in your role, including voluntary training, education, etc.

Handling a Less Than Stellar Appraisal

It's best if you face it beforehand. Even the best performers can improve. Don't go into the appraisal expecting to be told you're perfect. Instead, expect to be told ways that you need to improve. That way, a bad review (or a less than stellar one) isn't such a shock to your system.

If you get a bad appraisal, first consider that your boss has the power to affect your life. You may think the guy (or girl) is a complete idiot, and his appraisal of you was unfair and wrong. But that doesn't really matter if you want to keep your job.This means it's not a good idea to become defensive, emotional, or argumentative. Instead, listen to the reasons why you received a negative appraisal. If you listen, you put yourself in a position to take action and change your boss's opinion in the future.

Ask questions and clarify anything your boss said in the appraisal that's not clear to you. However, phrase the questions so they're positive. Avoid questions like, "Why the heck did you say that? You know that's not true."

Instead, understand what was meant so you can correct and improve. You want to focus on the future, because you can't change the past (or your boss's mind). A good question to ask is, "What can I do differently this year to get a better appraisal next year?"

That's not to say you have to take criticism like a slap in the face – and do or say nothing. It's okay to express your views. Use the evidence you gathered beforehand.Talk about ways you're improving your strengths, while also working on your weaknesses. Just don't be emotional. Stay matter-of-fact and present yourself as a problem-solver. Find out your boss's expectations of you for a better appraisal next time.

Asking for Feedback

There are some bosses out there who are great at giving criticism, but not so much as showing appreciation. Don't be afraid to ask for positive feedback if you don't feel like any, or enough, was given in the appraisal. It only makes sense. You want to know what you need to improve upon at work, but you also need to know what your boss feels like you're doing right, so that you can continue those actions.

If you want to ask for positive feedback, wait until the discussions on how you need to approve are finished. Then, you can say something like this: "Now that we've come up with a plan for my development, could you tell me what aspects went well for me this past year?"

However, don't think of the positive feedback as simply a pat on the back. Instead, look at it as ways you need to maintain, or even improve, over the next year. If your boss tells you your strength is solving problems within the team, then you'll know your boss is also telling you that you need to continue to have this as a strength.

If your boss tells you you're one of the most dedicated employees he has, because you stay late to get things done, then that doesn't mean you can slack off in the year ahead and start leaving on time or early because you've earned "brownie points." You'll want to play up on what your boss sees as your strengths and positive traits, while improving the areas that hurt your performance appraisal.

Discussing Progress

It also doesn't hurt to set a time to discuss progress, especially if your appraisal is exceptionally negative. Unless you want to go job hunting, you want your boss to see improvement – and you want him to notice the improvement, as well. That way, you both know you're on the right track. In addition to the follow-up meetings, you can request a formal mid-year review, as well. Since it's a formal review, it will go into your file, and your improvement will be on the record. Your human resources department will be able to tell you if a formal mid-year review is possible.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Managing Your Career course?

Do's and Don'ts of Performance Appraisals

  • Do prepare ahead of time.

  • Do a self-assessment before your appraisal. Be honest.

  • Do bring evidence of your accomplishments.

  • Do ask questions that are phrased in a positive manner.

  • Do ask for additional coaching or training if you feel like you need it.

  • Do ask about opportunities.

  • Do ask for ways that you can improve.

  • Do ask for feedback regarding your strengths and accomplishments.

  • Don't expect a perfect appraisal. Prepare to hear ways you need to improve.

  • Don't show anger if you think the appraisal is wrong or unfair.

  • Don't show emotion at all if you think the appraisal is wrong or unfair.

  • Don't argue about the performance appraisal.
    Escaping Career Stagnation

    Career stagnation is feeling like you're in a job that isn't right for you – or that is going nowhere. It's a common problem. It's a common feeling. In this section, we're going to discuss career stagnation and the things you can do to escape it.

    Taking a Self-Evaluation

    You might be tired of hearing it by now. However, it's only through self-assessments and self-evaluations that you can successfully manage your career and keep it on track.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • How did you get where you are now?

    • How did you fall into stagnation? Did you take a job that was simply a means to an end, instead of a step in your career path?

    • Is your job what you envisioned for your career?

    • If not, what job did you envision?

    • What makes you happy?

    • What gives you a momentary break from feeling like your career is stagnant?

    • What attitude and/or behaviors are holding you down?

    It's important to determine where you're at with your career and how you feel about it. Maybe your career is right on track, but it's no longer the direction you want to take. Perhaps it's time to find a different job, or to take up a new hobby and focus a little more on your personal life.

    Write down your strengths and your positives. Pick out what makes you feel good about yourself. Look up and look around for other opportunities, too. Find something in your work that intrigues you. You can also talk to a mentor or career coach to help you find ways to fix what's wrong and come up with some fresh ideas. Figure out who you are and what you want. Pinpoint the problem and acquire a solution. Next, create a strategy to get you there.

    Create a Plan

    Now that you've figured out what's wrong – and what you need to do to fix it – it's time to create a new plan. Maybe you need to modify your career track, or just plan for a new job with a new company. Either way, you need to create a plan.

    Ask yourself:

    • Where are you right now?

    • Where do you want to go?

    • Where do you want to be?

    • What areas do you need to refine or polish to get there?

    • What do you need to do to exit where you are now?

    • What do you need to do to get you where you want to go?

    Your plan can look something like this (the notes in red are to guide you to why it's important):

    As you can see, all we did was simply answer the questions given earlier in this section. From this plan, we can see what needs to be done in order to escape career stagnation and start moving forward again.

    Using the above example, we need to:

    • Find a mentor to refine and polish industry knowledge.

    • Get six sigma training before searching for another job.

    • Enroll in college to work on a degree so we can advance to our goal of sales manager.

    Once you have a plan in place, you'll find that you're already feeling better about your career.

    Take Action

    Once you've created your plan to get yourself out of your slump, it's time to take action and make it happen. Create a list of objectives that you must complete to achieve your goals, and reward yourself when you meet your objectives and achieve those goals. Working your way out of a slump doesn't happen overnight, but keep your eyes looking up and focused on the prize. It will happen.

    Strategies to Get Out of a Slump

    Maybe you don't want to change jobs or take a different career path. Maybe you're just in a slump and need to find ways to get yourself out. First, find out what's causing your slump.

    Find Out What's Wrong

    Is something going on in your personal life? Are you eating right? Exercising regularly? Are you working too much and not spending enough time doing things you enjoy in your personal life? Once you know what's causing your slump, you can start to pull yourself out of it.

    Do Something New

    Routines can get boring because they're not very interesting or exciting. Changing your focus at work even just a little bit can make you feel better. See if you can't take on a different kind of project at work, or assume a new responsibility. You can also help someone else out with a part of their job they can't handle. If none of that helps, you can try moving to a different department to get a change.

    Find a Buddy at Work

    People often find friends to keep them motivated in different areas of their lives, whether it be diet, exercise, or other personal issues. Having a friend at work to cheer you on when you need it – and to commiserate, too – can be a great help. Ask for criticism and praise. Use the feedback to make improvements. You'll start to feel better about your job and pull yourself out your slump.