Business person on a graph, representing success and growth

performance appraisalIn this post I share the advice I have given to several clients about how to get exactly what they want and need from their annual performance appraisal or as it is sometimes called performance review. 

How to prepare for a performance appraisal

I’ve got a confession to make. I never really liked having my performance appraisal. I thought it was a waste of time and a box ticking exercise just for HR. Given what I know now, it turns out that I had completely the wrong attitude about my performance appraisal, and I was missing a vital opportunity to shape my future career AND get what I wanted and needed from my appraisal.

Tip 1: Shift your mindset about your performance appraisal

Don’t be like me and see your performance appraisal as just something which needs to be done for HR. Or a ritual form of torture from your counselling or appraising manager. (Although there was one appraisal which reduced me to tears and I stopped the appraisal. In my defence I was pregnant at the time and my hormones were not helping…)  So what do you need to shift your mindset to? See your performance appraisal as an opportunity to engage your partners and counselling managers in a conversation about you and your future career.

Tip 2: Prepare for your performance appraisal

I’m not talking here about filling in the requisite form. I talking about spending some time thinking about the following:

  1. What is the outcome I want from my appraisal?
  2. What do I want my partners to agree to? And how can I prepare my case to help them reach this decision?

Then when you have answered these questions, how do I need to plan the performance appraisal so I achieve these objectives? For example, one of my clients wanted his partners to put him on partner track. So he used his appraisal to pitch and get feedback on a mini business case for what he wanted to focus his business development efforts on in the future. His partners, who had historically refused to spend time talking about how he could get onto partner track, then organised a meeting 2 weeks after his appraisal to discuss his business case with him. I have another client who set out with the objective to get her partners to realise she wasn’t just a safe pair of hands and she had what they were looking for from their future partner population. We spent about 30 mins preparing for her appraisal and in effect, preparing a case for why they should support her business development plans and ideas. Unsurprisingly just the act of taking the initiative and talking her partners’ language, meant that she started to turn around her reputation as a ‘safe pair of hands’ into ‘likely future partner’.

Tip 3: Aim to separate the feedback on your performance from your future career discussion

Most performance appraisals in my view spend far too long focusing on what went wrong and what do you need to improve. This isn’t helpful. (It also used to make me very defensive and uncooperative in performance appraisals. But, that was just me.) Therefore, do the thinking ahead of your performance appraisal:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What were the main root causes for both your successes and your not-so-great moments?
  • What plan can you implement to decrease the likelihood of your not-so-great moments happening again?

If you can demonstrate you’ve really thought about how to improve your performance (and potentially get promoted to the next level) and sent this analysis to your counselling partner in advance (whether this is on the proper form or not), I suspect you will have a better quality conversation and can focus more on the future career discussion and a plan to progress your career at your firm.

Tip 4: Have a regular dialogue with your counselling manager about your performance at work

The worst kind of performance appraisals are the ones where your counselling manager stores up 6-months of negative feedback and then springs this on you. If you are wondering, I’ve had one of those… The best kind of performance appraisals are one where you have no surprises and your appraising manager and you are not digging over the dirt of the last 6 months, but focusing on what you need to do or be to be at your best at work. Therefore, aim to have a quarterly or even monthly conversation with your appraising manager outside of the formal appraisal time to talk about your performance at work and discuss the feedback you have been given.

In summary:

Your performance appraisal is your time to engage your partners with what you WANT to happen with your career at your firm. The more you can prepare for a performance appraisal, the stronger the likelihood that the discussion will be rewarding and helpful for you and your future career.

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