Effective Communication

3 Ways to Handle a Performance Review with an Incompetent Boss | Promotion and Performance Series

performance review with an incompetent boss | incompetent boss

Few employees (or managers) look forward to the annual performance review. But, when employees face the prospect of a performance review with an incompetent boss, their feelings are more likely to turn to dread.

The performance review is an annual milestone for most employees. Not only is it an opportunity to formally learn how the boss thinks you’re doing, it’s also inextricably tied to another annual event—the annual pay raise! Because of the tight connection between performance review and pay, it’s understandable that employees are keenly concerned about the extent to which their bosses understand what they’re doing and recognize the value of their efforts. But, what if your boss doesn’t fully grasp the details or importance of what you do? What if he or she undervalues or doesn’t appreciate your contributions? What if—gasp!—your boss is simply incompetent? Are there ways to overcome the potential negative impact of a performance review with an incompetent boss on your paycheck? Yes!

Navigating a Performance Review with an Incompetent Boss

Performance Reviews: What’s the Point

There’s plenty of data and lots of articles bemoaning the annual review. The angst around annual reviews exists on both sides of the boss/employee relationship. Bosses don’t like them and neither do employees. But, performance reviews do have their place. Recognizing the potential value of performance reviews, even when saddled with an incompetent boss, can put you in a good position to leverage your review to position you for rewards ranging from pay increases to promotions.

The purpose of performance reviews is to formally document how an employee has performed over a period of time, generally a year. While their primary purpose form an organizational standpoint is to provide a paper trail to support pay, promotion, discipline and termination decisions, they do present additional value for employees that learn to move beyond the negatives to focus on opportunities.


Also read: Promotion Problems at Work: 13 Things That May Be Holding You Back | Promotion and Performance Series


1. Take the Lead

Julie Winkle Giulioni is a leadership/learning authority and the coauthor of ‘Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go’.  Expecting that your boss will be able to come to your performance review with a thorough understanding of your work is likely to lead to disappointment, says Guilioni. That doesn’t mean, though, that your performance review, and pay raise, are doomed. You can, and should, assume the onus of ensuring that your boss has the information needed to adequately, and accurately, assess your work.

“Connect the dots between your contributions and strategic or organizational priorities,” Giulioni recommends. “And don’t forget to highlight how you achieved your results, focusing on specific examples where you put corporate values or guiding principles into practice.” Giulioni recommends preparing this information in advance and sending it to your boss prior to your formal meeting.

Further, Giulioni recommends, don’t be afraid to take the lead during the performance review. In fact, she recommends that you do. “Unless the boss offers another agenda, begin the review with the question: ‘What was your reaction to my self-assessment?’ This anchors the dialogue within the context of your preparation, offering you a conversational advantage.” But, she adds, also be open and receptive to feedback. Ask questions like: “What did I miss?,” or “What else have you seen or heard?”

2. Take the “Bad” With the Good

While most of us, no doubt, want to hear all about the good things we did over the course of the year when we meet with our boss for a performance review, there is certainly a chance that there are areas of opportunity for improvement in your performance. In fact, continuous improvement, but employees and organizations, is a good thing.

Giulioni suggests that employees don’t try to hide their shortcomings. Instead, she says, address mistakes head on. “Own them. Take responsibility for them. And share the product of your reflection and self-assessment, letting the boss know what you learned from the experience and how you’ll use this learning in the future.”

It may seem counterintuitive, but you may actually convey a more positive impression by noting areas where you have opportunity for improvement and committing to work on them, then if you attempt to paint an entirely stellar picture of your performance.


Also read: How to Prepare for an Annual Performance Review | Promotion and Performance Series


3. Maybe It’s You

Finally, maybe the issue isn’t your boss. Maybe it’s you. If you believe your boss is incompetent because he or she doesn’t fully understand the work that you do, or have the skills or competencies to do that work, you’re laboring under the false assumption that bosses should know how to do the work of their subordinates. Guess what? That’s why you were hired!

Bosses need to know how to be bosses. That means, generally, setting clear expectations, providing the resources and support employees need to get their work done, giving positive and constructive feedback on an ongoing basis, and helping to remove barriers that get in the way of getting the work done.

How to deal with an incompetent boss when performance review time rolls around? Take the lead! Don’t assume anything. Do your homework, build a business case to support the value you bring and commit to being (a big) part of the solution. Along the way, you may just discover that your need to step forward and take the lead, puts you in a better position to become a boss. Sometimes a bad boss can be a bonus in disguise!


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About the Author

Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.