How to Nail Your Performance Review


The world's best teams use ProjectManager to collaborate and manage their work online. Try our award-winning software today and get 30 days free!

Get a Free 30-Day Trial of Our PM Software

Nearly everybody dreads a performance review, and for good reason. Those employees that still have to endure them find that they’re daunting to prepare for and difficult to execute. Due to the unpopularity, and sometimes inefficacy, of the performance review, many companies have abandoned that nervy review process in favor of always-on, real-time dashboards that show managers how team members are doing every minute of every day.

But, for those of you who still have performance reviews, they might come in the form of on-the-fly catchups like, “Hey Bill, let’s chat real quick about your performance.” Or worse, they might be done as part of a team evaluation process, where individual KPIs are shown right next to each other. For some teams, like sales teams, this is natural. They love the competition. For others, it amounts to sheer terror.

However you find yourself being reviewed these days for performance, you need to be prepared and do well because your livelihood is on the line. Here are some tips that will help you always nail your performance review, in whatever format you find.

Do Performance Reviews Deserve Their Bad Rep?

There are not many three-word phrases that make people respond with such distaste as “performance review season,” and research from psychologists at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M University has shown that people just don’t like criticism.

No big surprise there, but they also discovered review tools like rankings and ratings don’t really help employees improve either. This is because most people look at criticism as anything but constructive. It’s more of an insult, which leaves them bitter and even disoriented by the whole experience.

The research also found that employees are more motivated by the desire to prove themselves and receive positive feedback. This, however, can lead to the avoidance of work that they can’t do well in order to escape criticism. If that’s not enough, then there’s brain research that notes that when a person’s status is threatened, as often is the case in a performance review, they suffer a reduction in creativity, according to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work.

And guess what? The people who lead those performance reviews don’t like them either. CEB, a best practice insight and technology company, which is part of Gartner, found performance reviews get bad grades from those who administer them, too.

Why Have Performance Reviews?

All this makes one think that maybe the whole process of performance reviews should be put to rest. So why do companies keep mandating performance reviews? Well, for starters, they’re a legacy process in most businesses. They’ve always been done, so they will continue to be done. But that, of course, is not a good reason to keep them.

Then there’s a legal reason. Company lawyers like them in order to evaluate employees against a common metric. That helps with liability issues and gives the company a paper trail to support termination or promotion. Though even in the legal community, the usefulness of performance reviews is being debated.

Mostly, though, people believe in them as a useful measurement. Just as you measure the performance of a project to know if you’re on track or not, employers measure employee performance to make sure workers are staying productive. It ideally points to areas that need strengthening, so you can address these weaknesses.

Companies may still do performance reviews, but that doesn’t mean that their implementation is set in stone. A small percentage of companies are looking for better ways to motivate their employees than the typical annual performance review. Some are working on long-term goal setting and are giving managers more freedom in performance evaluations.

The yearly review has been broken up into smaller, less formal meetings throughout the year, too. No more forced rating on a bell curve or rating scales. Are employees happier? Well, maybe not.

The Washington Post and CEB surveyed manages and employees and the numbers still indicate dissatisfaction. Employees who excelled with traditional performance reviews feel slighted, and others feel there is no standard measure for evaluating pay and bonuses. I guess you just can’t please everyone.

Common Questions and How to Answer Them in Performance Reviews

Okay, it’s clear that performance reviews aren’t going away. So, what can you do to hit yours out of the park? First, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the process. To help, we’ve outlined some common performance review questions.

RELATED: For even more examples, check out our 10 Best Performance Review Questions

What work are you most proud of?

Here’s where you can toot your own horn and let your manager know about some of your accomplishments. Don’t neglect the obvious ones, of course, but also use this as an opportunity to show off work that your manager might not be aware of or that you were instrumental in.

Remember your successes. We tend to stress when we’re at work about what we’re not remembering to do. In that environment, it can be hard to realize our meaningful contributions. It might seem boastful to keep a log of your successes, but it’s important to document your successes so you can remember them and access them if you’re being asked to reflect on how you’ve added value.

Where can you improve?

This is always a tricky question. You don’t want to dig your own grave, but you also don’t want to make it look like you’re perfect with no room for improvement. What the manager wants to know is how you perceive yourself in the organization and if you’re aware of what your weaknesses are. The manager probably is, so it’s in your best interest, to be honest.

What could you have done better?

The translation: what output or deliverable wasn’t your best work? Again, it’s best to respond honestly. The manager is likely not ignorant of your track record.

But more than that, this type of question is ideal for getting feedback from your manager on how you can do a better job and whether or not you can recognize when you’ve only given minimal effort. A truthful answer will not only give you the guidance to do better, but you’ll also make a positive impression on the manager.

Do you have what you need to do your job well?

Here’s where the manager is not only evaluating you but your tools and resources. This is where you can advocate for yourself if you’ve felt that you were not being given everything you need to succeed. You can talk about things you might need to work more efficiently and productively, like project management software. Also, you can speak more broadly about all employees and even the organization itself. Don’t be negative, but constructive.

What are your short- and long-term goals?

The manager is looking for benchmarks from you. They want to see where you expect to be at the next performance review and then measure your actual progress against what you’ve planned. Therefore, be realistic, but also ambitious. Set yourself up for success. If you don’t get there, but you try hard, that is going to reflect well on your present and future evaluations.

In the future, where do you see yourself in the organization?

This is about your career goals. The question is a little vague, so counter that with a clear, specific answer that shows that you are motivated. Express your plans to advance and see how the manager responds. List specific ways you plan on advancing your career, and they might give you a roadmap to meet that goal.

What concerns do you have?

This is another tough one. Again, you want to answer honestly, but diplomatically. Bring up issues that the manager didn’t address during your performance review. There are likely areas that the manager is ignorant of and will be thankful for your candor.

How to Succeed in Your Performance Review

Being prepared is key. Think of things like, “Always know your performance targets – and whether you’re on track.” You might want to print out any data or stats on your performance and projects since the last review, so you don’t go in blind.

If you’re part of a team using a project management tool, your performance numbers are always visible to your manager – but that means you can see them, too. If you don’t have access, make sure to ask your manager for access. That way you can track your performance easily. Plus, it shows that you’re engaged with the work and invested in improving.

Remember to keep an open mind. Performance reviews are not strictly about numbers. They’re subjective. It’s how you present yourself as a contributor and the work you’ve done. Don’t fight with the manager but listen and learn – while being an advocate for yourself.

If you’re looking for a tool to track your performance and give you a set of metrics to determine if you’re meeting your goals, then check out ProjectManager. Our cloud-based project management software helps you plan, monitor and report on projects, even if that project is you. Give it a spin and see where it takes you with our free 30-day trial.