Here’s how to ace your next annual performance review.
Moments before the curtain rose, legendary choreographer George Balanchine announced to his prima ballerina, Suzanne Farrell, “Before is over. The performance is now.”
And so it is with your annual review, the yearly meeting with your supervisor to determine how the past year has been and what the next year holds. While it may seem like it’s just a meeting, it’s more. It’s part review, part performance.
The review is your supervisor’s role, the time when she recalls what was, relates what is, and reassures you as to what might be. The performance is your opportunity to shine and to ensure that you end the meeting with more than you had when you began. Scores of handbooks focus more on review than performance. But how you perform during your annual review determines the relationship you will have with your company, possibly for years to come.
Nothing written in your file will rival your carefully crafted, passionately poised performance exuding substance and style.
One Year of Rehearsals
The perfect performance demands practice. And rehearsals began the day you were hired.
Over the past year, your company probably gave you measurable goals with expectations that you would reach or exceed them. In turn, the company grades your presentation on those tasks from unacceptable to outstanding. Your performance depends on knowing the parameters and being prepared.
“A woman will tell me she’s done work she’s really proud of but that her boss doesn’t think is a priority,” says Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Pitch Like a Girl (Rodale, 2005). “Agree with your boss ahead of time about what she values most.”
Your grade will be tallied by the amount of work you did and how well you did it. Leadership, communication skills, and personal qualities also play supporting roles in your assessment. The more they praise, the higher your raise.
While your annual review is not a Broadway show, choreographing your actions, dialogue, dress, and delivery can actually bring down the house and make you a star.
What’s Your Motivation?
An excellent annual review can yield three key awards to bolster your success: pay, position, and power.
While your supervisor’s job is to conduct the appraisal, your goal is to increase your perceived value to the organization. Lichtenberg agrees: “You need to know the key points you want to make, the three or four things you want to get across.” She suggests avoiding the assumption that your supervisor has been making notes of your progress all year. Keep your own list. The list lasts.
Act 1: Stage Presence
Perfect your personal style. Any good performer has the ability to get to the core of the character. So know your own—who you are and what you want to say. Being genuine in today’s homogeneous world is an enormous asset. Unless you are an automaton on an assembly line, you were hired for your thoughts and your talents. Be direct, straightforward, and honest.
Look the part. Any good performer knows clothes can make the (wo)man. Would you believe in Eartha Kitt without her whiskers and cat suit? That goes for business as well. As superficial as it may seem, studies have shown it works to dress for the role you’d like to have.
Body language speaks louder than words. It’s not just what you say, but how you look when you say it. Does your voice and direct eye contact say, “I deserve the raise,” while your body is knotted up? Fidgeting with hair and earrings and crossing arms and legs sends the opposite message. They detract rather than attract.
Stay on point. If you get nervous and find yourself getting lost or missing your own message, follow Lichtenberg’s advice. “If you feel you’re going down the wrong path, you don’t like the tone of the room or you feel you’re getting emotional, just say, ‘Excuse me, I need a moment,’” Lichtenberg says. “Regroup. It’s OK. It’s better to do that than to lose it.” And, most of all, work the crowd. If you like them, they’ll like you.
Act 2: Substance Matters
Substance is style’s wiser sister. Andrea Jung’s performance at Avon as chairman and CEO is not purely cosmetic. And Meg Whitman did not become president and CEO of eBay by winning an auction. Jung and Whitman, like successful women at the top of their fields everywhere, used their abilities and also played to their audiences. They communicated their goals, missions, and ideals by proving themselves on their company and industry stage.
Though you are center stage, don’t forget the supporting cast. Company leadership, mentors, co-workers, and support staff fulfill key roles. Be sure they figure prominently in your dialogue. They have helped and can continue to help you advance in your career. “We” is much more powerful than “I.” The best performance of your life, no matter the stage, comes from wowing the audience. Convince them of your unyielding talent, attention-getting style, and infectious energy. The critics will love you.
Biggest Mistakes Employees Make:
- Letting the reviewer control the review.
- Not forcing the person giving the review to focus on results.
- Focusing on style rather than results.
- Not asking for time to come back with answers.
- Forgetting to add written comments to the formal review document.
- Getting defensive instead of remembering the first response to any feedback is, “Thank you. This is important for me to understand.”
Giving a Review: Some Pointers
No sneak attacks: There should be nothing in the review the employee has not heard before at least once.
Stagger feedback: If you care about retaining the employee, don’t hit her with all negative or all positive at once. All negative will force her out or, worse, demotivate her. All positive will leave no room for growth. Sandwich your comments (i.e., positive/challenge/positive).
Be specific: Use concrete examples to illustrate both what you have seen and what you need to see in the future.
Request feedback: Though you will put it in writing, ask for acknowledgement and responses to ensure the employee understands what you are saying.
Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Pitch Like a Girl (Rodale, 2005)
By Joey Reiman