Beware the Performance Review

Half of employees now call the process useless, but smart workers still use reviews to career-build.


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Welcome to the age of disruption, rippling through nearly every facet of corporate America, including that difficult if annoying ritual: the performance review. Once widely accepted, there's a growing movement questioning its very existence. And no wonder. One recent survey found that nearly half of people who had performance reviews thought they had either no impact or a negative effect on their performance.

Still, even as companies begin to change the process with a series of innovations (like several mini reviews a year), there's a transition stage with many companies staying old school for now. "It is still critical that employees receive regular feedback," says Korn Ferry senior client partner Katie Lemaire. The question remains just how that should be done these days, with nearly every step along the way a landmine for some and a golden opportunity for others.

A performance review can be a chance to reset a working relationship.

Make a checklist of the obvious.

>Even though performance reviews are changing, some of the advance work isn't. Experts suggest gathering your job description-few even ever check it-and expectations and compare them against what you've been doing. Figure out what your major accomplishments were and what, in your opinion, you could have done better. Taking this step will cut down on the chance you'll be surprised with a bad review.

It isn't all about you, either. Career coaches suggest talking to your colleagues about out how reviews are going. Plus, keep tabs on how the company is doing generally. Though often unnoticed (have you read the quarterly report lately?) company performance definitely colors how managers view the performance of individual employees.

Don't be afraid to be straight.

A performance review is a chance to reset a working relationship. If you feel like your boss is micromanaging you, speak up, in your best positive tone. "Help your boss get clear on what their involvement is intended to achieve," says Ron Carucci, co-author of the book Rising to Power. "Your boss's unwanted involvement has further-reaching consequences than they likely realize. It makes you both look bad."

It's also a chance to talk about annoying habits. Do you have a boss who talks too loudly in a small office space? Does your boss call you five times in five minutes when one call would do the trick? Now is the chance to bring it all up-gently. And perhaps a few of your own nuisances will spill out.

Tell the boss what motivates you at work.

According to Korn Ferry's Global Opinion database, nearly a quarter of workers don't think their job makes the best use of their skills and abilities. In your own case, don't assume the manager is a mind reader and knows any of this. Talk about the work you find purpose in and suggest ways your work environment can improve your and your team's morale-with an eye toward the company's greater goals. If there's work that you aren't doing well but enjoy, the boss may be able to provide you additional tools or other support.

Get a plan of action in writing.

To avoid any surprises in future reviews, you need to know how your success will be measured. Ask your boss to work with you on a plan for the coming year so that you both know how your progress will be measured. Work with your boss to discuss your goals for the future and agree on ways to measure your achievements. Experts say it's critical to determine both a long-term objective and intermediate goals. "Have an idea of what you want to accomplish in a month and how you want to get there," advises Roy F. Baumeister, who directs the social psychology program at Florida State and is co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

Accept feedback diplomatically.

OK, it didn't go all perfect and you got some hard-nosed advice. It isn't always easy, but accepting suggestions in a graceful manner shows that you are a team player and easy to work with. The best way may require some emotional intelligence-reading into what the head honcho is probably thinking and feeling. But ending it well can translate to improving your company standing and compensation, says Douglas Stone, co-author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well with Sheila Heen. "Engaging well with feedback is one of the most important skills an employee can have."

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