How to influence the outcome of your performance review

Reviews can suck away your soul. Here’s how to keep that from happening.

I want to tell you the truth about the performance review.


It’s not the measure of your talent and self-worth.

Your pay hike, promotion, your immediate future might depend on what the review says about your work. But it shouldn’t take your power and self-confidence away.

Here’s another one.

The outcome of your review is and always will be within your control.

With the right information, perspective and attitude, the review process can be an empowering experience for you. It could even guide the direction of your career.

But you cant sit idly by and wait for someone else to tell you how you have performed. Your review, your say. You might not be able to control all the events surrounding your work life, but performance ratings should not be a surprise for you.

You see, performance management is a big deal for me. I spent a few years of my career in HR and I’ve seen how a piece of paper and a 30-minute conversation can set the tone for someone’s entire year.

Some of us feel helpless and anxious in the face of an impending review. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our work life is one long journey punctuated by the occasional performance appraisal. It will never go away. We might as well learn how to deal with it graciously.

So, I’m going to share with you three actions to take now so you can kill it in your next performance review.

Preparing for the review

A review cycle could be 3 months, 6 months or a year.

If you’re going to influence the outcome of your review, you’ll have to prepare for it long before it happens. You don’t just stumble into the conference room, clueless about what to expect (which is what usually happens, sadly).

Before anything else, ask for a copy of the review template and ask questions. Unless you are crystal clear about the expectations, you won’t know where to focus your energy.

Action 1: Gather Data. Measure what truly matters.

Ask your boss this question:

What are the quantitative measures of my success?

When we are hired to do a job, we’re making a promise to deliver a result and we hold ourselves to account during the formal review meeting. We prove our promise through measurement.

The review process will go so much smoother if you have a full grasp of what’s expected of you, which you can prove with hard facts using key performance indicators (KPIs).

A KPI is a meaningful quantitative measure of success. It should be something you have direct control over as an individual contributor and as part of a team. Ideally, each item in your job description should be linked to a measurable outcome.

If you haven’t had this conversation yet, you and your boss need to agree on what constitutes success. Is it going to be a sales target? Is it customer satisfaction surveys?

Action 2: Gather stories and feedback.

Some standards of performance are intangible so using a rating scale won’t tell us much about the person’s ability.

Traits like strategic and critical thinking are not easy for a manager to measure. If you’re going to be evaluated based on an intangible skill, you have to cite past events to demonstrate that you have it.

That’s where stories can help. We make sense of data using stories and we understand separate events in the context of themes and narratives.

Some of us don’t realize this but success is a result of what stories we pay attention to and the stories we tell ourselves and each other. It’s like the difference between “a problem-focused” and a “solutions-focused” team.

Are you paying attention to– and telling stories about — how terrible work has been? Or are you sharing the lessons you’ve learned?

Oftentimes we allow other people to make observations about our own work performance. We don’t participate in crafting a narrative that helps us understand where we succeeded or where we could do better. But no one else knows the struggles you went through just to meet an impossible deadline, or the new skills you had to learn just to create one report.

So we have to gather stories about the things that matter and then share them with the people invested in our success.

Many small and big events can happen within a review cycle and your manager won’t remember everything. So you shouldn’t leave them to keep track of what’s happening.

To start writing stories for work, you can do the following:

  • Agree with your boss about sending weekly reports. You can catch up with them personally. But always follow up with an email. Emails will help your manager easily piece together the events of the last review cycle.
  • Always keep feedback, thank you notes etc from clients and colleagues. Testimonials will look great in your mojo file.
  • Keep a journal for your eyes only to help fill in the gaps for your performance review.

Action 3: Keep an attitude of gratitude.

A performance review feels daunting and scary when you imagine yourself being “judged” or “evaluated”. And for good reason. Some people would hide behind the legitimacy of the review process to amplify the things they find lacking in each other.

Consider for a moment what it would feel like to step into a meeting knowing you will be appreciated for your work. Anyone can get behind the idea of thanking and appreciating your team for their hard work.

The moment we run out of things to be grateful for, when we stop appreciating ourselves and others, ill feelings of resentment and insecurities will start to set in.

Let’s not forget — we’re all working together to achieve a grand vision for humanity. We all contribute in ways big and small. Even if other people don’t appreciate your work, remember to appreciate yourself.

In what ways has your job made life better, more enjoyable? Think of the reasons why you wanted to work in this place out of all the other places you could possibly be.

An attitude of gratitude every day at work opens you up to possibilities. Feedback, good and bad, are signposts guiding you to become better at what you do– which is the reason why reviews exist in the first place.

Your next steps…

Speak to your manager about previewing the performance review template. Ask for feedback on your work halfway through the review cycle. If you’re not meeting expectations, you still have time to turn things around.

Next, start keeping tabs on feedback and gather stories. Start influencing your own narrative at work. Imagine how a successful person in your role might act or make decisions. What sort of projects would you take on? What challenges would you face?

Finally, keep an attitude of gratitude for the work you’re doing. Remember that you’re helping other people achieve their dreams, just as they are helping you achieve yours.

Writer-in-Progress. Language-curious, pro-creative, positive-culturist. Freelance-writer. Art-aspirant.

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