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Performance review tips for employees: Making the next one count

This article is a follow on from our recent piece looking at top performance review tips for managers.

At Weekly10, we aren't big believers in the traditional approach to performance reviews. They need a facelift, a full makeover that makes them more fit for purpose in the 21st century. But improved or not, employees need to know how to get through performance reviews with their sanity intact.

If you're new here, you should check out some of our previous writing on how to improve performance reviews effectively.

If you are an employee of a company, then you should definitely read on. You will probably have to go through performance reviews at some stage of your year. So don't forget, these tips could come in handy!

These might be what we term 'tick box' reviews. These essentially only exist so that HR can simply tick off a job on their list. Or they may be highly effective, evidence-based and frequent reviews which help you become better at what you do.

Let's hope for the latter!

Either way, the truth is, you'll likely be undergoing some form of review in the not so distant future.

How do you feel about performance reviews?

Imagine waking up one morning and realising it's that time again; the day of the dreaded performance review. It might be tempting to hide under the duvet and pull a sickie. 

But the fact is that, at best, you're only delaying the inevitable. 

At worst, you're forgoing your chance to have your say about working life, and to get constructive, career development-oriented feedback. 

So throw off the covers and get in the shower! Today, we've got some tips to help employees prepare for their big performance review. These can help you transform the experience from something you dread into something you positively anticipate.

Being ready for your next performance review

The best way to quash anxiety and get the most out of your review is to take steps to prepare. So our first few performance review tips for employees are about what you should consider in advance.

1: Don't wait until your next performance review to ask for feedback or raise an issue:

It's understandable that employees might hesitate to do this. But a major element of what can make reviews so daunting is the sense of ambiguity. 

Ideally, your organisation should have a system in place for continuous performance management between reviews. That might be a formal check-in tool or platform like Weekly10. Or it might just be an accessible line of communication with your manager or a full employee check-in system. 

Consistently communicating between reviews ensures that responding feedback is given while still relevant. This is essential for tackling problems in a timely and effective manner.

But if your organisation doesn't have a clear system, you should still be raising points of concern or requesting feedback from your manager when you feel you need to. 

2: Try to document feedback and events as they occur:

We've previously highlighted how important it is to document feedback in our advice for managers, and organisations should generally have feedback documentation procedures in place. But sometimes they just don't. If they do, it might be unreliable or hard to access. So it can be really useful to actively document the feedback you receive (and the events the feedback relates to). 

Documentation provides evidence for long-running workplace issues that you can take into your next review. But just as importantly, it offers you a broad view of your own performance between review sessions. 

Together, our first and second performance review tips for employees can be vital. They help you to develop a shared understanding of performance versus company objectives. We'll get into more detail on that in a bit.

3: Consider your personal development goals:

Any reasonably in-depth performance review is probably going to address this topic. And the last thing you want to do is respond with an "uhhhh".

So one of the best performance review tips for employees would be to get a sense of what your personal work goals are. Perhaps you're totally career-minded, and want to seek out any opportunity for advancement. If that's true, it helps to be as pro-active as possible. 

But perhaps it's not necessarily a promotion you're after. If that's the case, it's worth thinking about the areas of your current role you want to improve in. Performance reviews are your chance for a detailed conversation. So it's essential to know what skills you want to develop so you can address them with your boss.

4: Understand your own strengths and weaknesses:

Again, one of the elements that can trigger performance review anxiety is often the level of ambiguity involved. This is, in large part, due to the build up. You're waiting six months to a year between reviews, and it just eats away at you. Unless you're blissfully ignorant, that is.

Employees can spend their time between reviews thinking they're on top of everything only to get raked over the coals. Or the dreaded imposter syndrome can have us thinking we are awful at our jobs, only to find out the opposite is true. 

It's important to take time to objectively consider your strengths and weaknesses. Look over previous feedback documentation, so you can go in with some idea of what to expect from your one-to-one. 

It can lessen the ambiguity out of the situation to discuss talk with your manager in an open and effective way. Being able to talk to them before/outside of the review gives you some idea of what you're walking into.

Taking part in performance reviews

Even with all the preparation in the world, actually sitting down for a performance review can still be pretty daunting. You should try to take a breath and keep a cool head. Bear in mind that the review is to help you improve your ongoing performance as opposed to just rake you over the coals - a good manager understands this fully. 

5: Remember the importance of active listening:

This is another of our performance review tips for employees that also featured in our article for managers because it's a major part of two-way feedback.

It's not enough just to let the other person talk. You have to actively engage with what they're saying beyond the occasional 'yeah' or 'uh huh'.

Your manager will be looking for signs that you're listening. Especially when it comes to negative feedback. Active listening is the best way to show attentiveness, because you'll be asking relevant questions and driving performance review discussion.

6: Don't focus too much on one aspect of feedback:

One criticism of the commonly used 'sandwich technique' of giving feedback is that employees tend to overly focus on one side of it. Of course, this can still be true even with clear separation between the positives and the negatives. So for employees, it's important not to hone in on one thing. 

Just because your boss started off by telling you they're satisfied with your overall performance doesn't mean you have nowhere to improve. And just because they pointed out one or two areas for improvement doesn't mean all the praise they've given you is meaningless either.

7: Try not to get defensive:

One of the most vital performance review tips for employees also deals with negative feedback and the often instinctive reaction to it - lashing out. It's easy to fall into defensiveness, especially when the criticism is completely unexpected.

Rather than immediately trying to make justifications, rely on active listening and ask questions to get further context. 

This conversation can naturally lead into advice on how to improve. It also as gives you a chance to highlight specific circumstances that might have impacted your work in a less reactionary way. 

Which actually leads into our next point quite well.

8: Be honest about problems affecting performance:

Even if you're working remotely, employee performance doesn't exist in a vacuum. The idea that you should magically shed your problems at the door is just downright toxic.

It doesn't matter if it's a workplace issue or something personal like a medical condition or poor mental health. If something is negatively impacting your work, it's important to feel like you can honestly communicate that to your manager.

9: Work with your manager to create an aligned understanding:

In our article for managers, this was the tip we chose to end on. An aligned understanding requires mutual effort and good communication. It's also one of the main things we've been building towards throughout this list of performance review tips for employees.

By the end of the review, both you and your boss should be on the same page. You should have a shared understanding regarding your performance and the organisation's objectives as a whole. As an employee, this is your chance to get to grips with how your work directly impacts the company. This is why things like active listening and proper documentation matter.

10: Find practical ways to apply feedback:

Ideally, you should leave your one-to-one with a renewed understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. 

What's important is to make sure you don't forget it all as soon as you're out the door. Or else you'll be right back at square one next year.

Law firm DLA Piper has implemented strengths-based feedback with their employees. This helps employees identify their skill-set. That, in turn, heavily promotes the application of new processes, techniques and ways of working to suit their needs. The result was that the firm's employees became up to six times more engaged. 

So there's definitely something to the idea of working with your boss to find new applications for your skills. 

Creating a list of aims, targets and brainstorming some immediate actions (with follow-ups where possible to analyse impact) are simple steps you can take. These ensure your performance review achieves more than just the thought of "phew, that's that for another year". Those are all the performance review tips for employees that we've got for you today.

Want to see how easy and effective peroformance reviews should be? Check out Weekly10.