Millennials are often derided, wholesale, as lazy, entitled, and unwilling to learn what it takes to work hard. At the same time, another pervasive stereotype declares that the up-and-coming generation constantly demands feedback to the point of requesting micromanagement.
If you don't fit into the bucket and hate talking about yourself, performance review season might be a tough time. And, even if you do enjoy conversing with your managers about your work, there are still things to learn — namely how to listen and act on any feedback.
Some companies have
given up on end-of-year performance reviews all together, but if your company hasn't, keep the following topics, phrases, and considerations in mind. Being an active participant in the process will make it go much more smoothly.
Come Prepared Your performance review likely won't be sprung on you. Before that appointment, make time to prepare your thoughts, outline your accomplishments, and jot down any thoughts you want to discuss. In other words, "do your own self-assessment," says Brendan Browne, the VP of global talent acquisition at LinkedIn. "Preparation is important. Everyone is busy but sometimes you have to slow down, give yourself quiet time, and look at what you’ve done over the past year," he explains. "Look back at the goals you’ve set and how have you performed against them." Your manager may bring them up during the conversation, but if you go over these areas in your mind first, you won't feel as uncomfortable with or blindsided by the discussion.
Get Context Browne says that some performance review processes factor in feedback from people other than your direct boss — that may include team members in your department, colleagues in other departments that you work closely with, even one-time supervisors on past projects. Even if you aren't told to do so, ask them for a moment of their time and get feedback. They can help "contribute to the story and the path you’ve had for the past year," Browne says.
Do Your Research Many people use performance review periods to ask for a raise or promotion. If you think one (or both) of those things are on the table, come prepared. You might have worked hard in ways that seem obvious, but you still need proof — just as you would for any negotiation. Companies don't only tie raises to performance; they also look at their budgets. Even if you don't have that data, you should still research compensation for your current and hoped-for position in the market, says Browne. "You want to build your story and build your case."
Get It In Writing It is in your best interest to get any standards and expectations in writing, whether that is a matter of going through documents you receive leading up to your review, or asking your manager what you will be discussing in advance, and seeing if they'll conduct the conversation according to those guidelines, and give you time to prepare. "Performance management is a two-player sport," says Bettina Deynes, the interim chief human resource officer at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). "An agreement must be reached between the employee and supervisor at the beginning of the evaluation period, regarding all standards that must be met by the employee during the evaluation period." In the best circumstances, these standards will be in writing and can be measured in terms of quality, quantity, time, and expected performance level, whatever that means for your company or industry.
Use Your Words Browne advises that everyone get a good night’s sleep before the day of their review. How you feel can help the way the conversation goes. (Get all the coffee you need beforehand.) Then, take a deep breath and remember that part of this conversation is about getting constructive feedback, and working through that. If you've done your preparation, you likely have some idea what those critiques will touch on. Think about how you want to discuss those weak spots without getting defensive. "Self-awareness is important, so you should go into the review thinking about areas you want to focus on, or areas that can be challenging for you," Browne says. "Sometimes it’s hard for people to get constructive feedback [but] if you step back to look at the big picture, your manager surely wants you to succeed. Consider what can you do to turn [criticism] into a positive learning opportunity." You can use even use that language — finding opportunities — to work through the discussion. For example, he says, you might say something like: "I appreciate the feedback, and I’m going to take this as an opportunity to get better at that. What suggestions do you have?" You might ask if there are other people at your company who are great at a similar job, whom you can get mentorship, or tips from. Whatever you do, finding a moment to ask what they think is the problem behind those areas, articulating your point of view, and coming up with ideas to solve it (so that it's not all on them), will make it easier to focus on moving forward.
Make Sure You Understand — And Create A Plan Even as you try to show you can listen to criticism without crumbling, you also want to engage with it. If you really think the feedback you are getting is unclear or inaccurate, ask clarifying questions, Browne suggests. You don't want to go through all of this only to end up frustrated in a week's time. Deynes warns that feedback in an evaluation can't be ignored. (So don't nod eagerly throughout your meeting and throw the eval in the trash as soon as you leave.) "The employee and supervisor must agree on a plan to move forward toward optimal performance together, and then make sure that plan is executed during ensuing evaluation periods." One way to make sure that all sides understand any issues at hand is to, once again, get it in writing.
Make It A Habit Holding yourself and your manager accountable to solutions will be easier if you don't have to wait a whole year for another check in. Incessant meetings can be overwhelming, but even if you can build in mini-reviews throughout the year in advance, get those dates on both of your calendars ASAP. That may be monthly for some people, or quarterly for others. Consider their schedule — and don't back out after you commit. "Keep those conferences short and focus on outcomes," Deynes advises. "[Try] not to get sidetracked into general conversation; and if there is disagreement regarding the performance or standards being used, resolve it immediately. Don’t kick the can down the road." For instance, as you put feedback you received from your major review into practice, you may find that there are a few hurdles or practicalities you both overlooked. That's natural! (Theorizing about a solution isn't the same as seeing how it works in the real world.) If you give it your best effort and want to find another route to the same goal, discuss it and keep moving forward.
Weather The Bad Let's be realistic: Not all evaluations lead to opportunities and optimism. If you get constructive criticism that is delivered harshly, criticism that truly isn't aligned with your work or feedback that "seems abusive or sarcastic in nature," as Deynes puts it, it is unfortunately on you to find a fix. She says your best recourse is to attempt to find out why it is being delivered that way, and then try to discuss the feedback calmly. "If an employee is convinced that the feedback is unfair, and it is impossible to deal effectively with the immediate supervisor because of an attitude problem, then the employee must decide whether to seek higher level supervisory assistance — or seek other employment." The latter option seems like a nuclear one, but it may simply be a lightbulb moment. You don't have to immediately quit your job, but you can think about what is lacking in your current position (in this case, a relationship that doesn't feel antagonistic), and use your review to brainstorm new options. If you go to someone else for assistance, your current manager may feel like you're going above their head. Consider talking to HR about your difficulties, or at the very least, asking how a negative evaluation might impact your work in any way.
Learn About Yourself A lot of uncomfortable feelings come up with evaluations. Some are optimistic, and others are like cold doses of reality. Browne says an additional realization some people have after this process is realizing it is time to move on in some way. That isn't the same as saying you can't be wrong. It's more that you've developed a clearer understanding of your strengths through this process, and a bigger change may be needed to take advantage of them. "It could shine a light on you thinking, I’m not actually good at that, or, This is not an area of competence for me — and I don’t enjoy that work," he says. "This might be a professional opportunity to realize you’re looking for a different type of position, or that you should be in a different role."
Measure Yourself Scheduling mini-reviews with your manager if you can is a good idea, but you also want to check in with yourself. When it comes time for performance reviews next year, you want to be able to measure how proactive you've been, and get an understanding of the perception and reality of what you have been doing with your manager so there aren't any surprises. "That’s the worst," Browne says. "When you’re on totally different pages." Away from your manager and on your own time, pull out the list of goals you came up with together and see how you're measuring up as time goes along. You don't always need to talk to someone else to know if you're going in the right direction.