5 Truths about Performance Reviews. Are you ready for yours?

By Karen Adamedes
Performance Reviews can mean more
(or less) money in your pocket

January. Whether this means snow, cold and long winter nights or sun, beach and bbq's (depending on your part of the world), for most people who work for organizations January means... the performance review!

Different countries and companies work a variety of financial years...but January is the most common time for either an annual appraisal or half yearly review.

A meeting request appears in your inbox for the meeting with your manager. Do you groan and say "Oh no, not again" or clap your hands and yell "Yippee! What a great opportunity?"

I'd be prepared to guess that the first reaction is probably the most common?

The truth about performance reviews is that they are important.

They are the chance to get your achievements, accomplishments and aspirations 'on-the-record'. This then becomes part of your official career history.

What is recorded is often what is remembered. By your manager when they consider your salary review or bonus. By their manager when team performance and talent are being discussed. By Human Resources when they are reviewing candidates for roles, projects or high potential programs. And it is also a great record for you to have to refer to for selecting your key achievements and keeping your resume updated.

Often the performance review is the only opportunity you get to make a claim or even have a discussion about your salary review. Many companies have a small budgeted amount that is distributed, relatively evenly, across all staff. Sometimes there is a little bit less for underperformers and a little bit more for high achievers. If you have made a strong contribution over the year you want to make sure that it is remembered and that you (at the very least) come out on the side of a little bit more.

Although, if you have made a really significant contribution - it's valid to state your case for a bonus or increase that is above the norm. What's the worst that can happen?

You get told no? Are you really any worse off?

Not if you have stated your case logically and supported it with business benefits and outcomes. Most importantly, that you have quantified what you have contributed (know your numbers!).

I was talking to a couple of people who worked in HR for a major consulting firm and they said to me "There's no point asking for a salary increase over and above the annual amount...the increase is locked in". I asked them if, working in HR they ever saw exceptions to this coming through. "Yes", they laughed, "all the time". Mmmm could you be an exception too?

Even if your company separates the review from the salary increase process or January is a half yearly assessment; you need to make sure that all of your contributions are noted, quantified and discussed.

You could approach that invitation for the review that your manager sent hoping that they remember everything you have delivered....OR you could make sure that you go into the meeting with solid documentation that lists and quantifies your achievements and contributions.

Are you ready for your performance review?

Another truth about performance reviews is that many managers are not good at conducting them. Sad, given their potential importance for your career, but true.

No matter how well intentioned your organization, how robust the process or the amount of time devoted to the activity -  a lack of knowledge, focus or skill by a manager can turn this opportunity for career development into a tick-the-box exercise. Something that gets done for the sake of being reported that it's been done.

I have seen a significant disconnect in the perceived importance of reviews in companies. On one side are HR and senior management who value the process and want the activity to play a significant contribution in boosting productivity, developing talent and increasing employee engagement. On the opposing team are line managers who are often unskilled and inexperienced and may even be fearful of conducting the reviews.

Fearful? The managers. Yep.

They may be reluctant because they haven't had time to prepare properly or not know what you will have to say and unsure how they will handle the conversation. On the upper end of the terror scale is managers who have saved up negative feedback and have to raise a difficult issue.

The truth is that there should never be any surprises for anyone at a performance review. 

Managers should be coaching their people constantly and addressing issues as they arise...not 6 months later! As @JustinFitter said on twitter in response to my question about performance reviews - goal setting, milestone reviews and performance support should be constant not scheduled.

Equally I don't think employees should be 'saving up' issues that they want to raise at these reviews. Reinforcing and quantifying achievements, setting future goals, agreeing on actions for your role and next steps for your development plan...these are the topics that should be the formalization of discussions that have been held before. 

Raise issues with your manager on a regular basis. Just because they don't is no reason why you shouldn't!

The outcomes are likely to be much more positive when you give your manager a chance to think through a topic that has been raised, evaluate options or seek approval for the solutions they develop. Surprising a manager with some unexpected topic or issue at a performance review is unlikely to achieve a satisfactory result; especially in a fast time frame. And you are likely to derail the rest of the agenda.

Are there any issues you have been saving up for discussion at your review? 

Can you schedule a conversation prior to your formal meeting to make sure the topic has been flagged beforehand? 

You will have a much better chance of achieving an outcome and developing meaningful next steps when an issue is part of an ongoing discussion not a one-time subject.

The discussion may be a formal process that must be completed for it's own sake but the truth is that it's the 'so-what', the 'next steps' that are agreed as a result of a performance review that really matter.

Agreeing to unachievable targets for the next 6 or 12 months just to get the meeting over with is only setting yourself up for future failure.

Not quantifying or reinforcing the value of the achievements that you have contributed and having them noted is a lost opportunity for increasing your credibility and enhancing your professional reputation.

Failure to ask for the training, mentoring, coaching or whatever other assistance you need to improve your knowledge, skills and experience may cost you dearly in the future.

The next steps that are agreed at (or as a result of) your review are important to you and your career.

You have the most to gain from a review that produces tangible and actionable next steps.

Do you know what you want to achieve from your review?

The truth is that the your review has the greatest impact on you; not your manager, not HR, not your colleagues. 

The truth is your review is your responsibility.

Are you ready?


  1. Karen,

    Good Post.

    My view is that most performance are not that useful.

    Here is a simple things that could work!
    1) Make it monthly
    2) Make it two way; how an employee is doing and how a manager is doing
    3) Make it clear that the purpose is to improve both as an employee and as a manager

  2. Performance reviews are important for both the employees and for the managers. At the managerial level they provide filtration of good employees and on the other hand they are the best opportunity to employees for growth. This may be the problem for those who are just 'busy with nothing' at their work places.
    The importance of performance reviews can be understood by the reference http://www.cognitohrm.com/how-performance-reviews-can-help-managers/
    As you have said earlier, they are really important.