Effective Communication

The Right Way To Prepare For Your Annual Review

performance review

The modern-day workplace has evolved dramatically over the last few decades but one practice that has remained fairly constant is the annual performance review.

In fact, performance ratings have been in place since the third century in China.

Today performance evaluations have an almost hallowed place in America’s corporate culture, even though many question their effectiveness. In July, for example, the consulting firm Accenture announced it was getting rid of annual evaluations for its 330,000 employees and replacing them with a system where managers give feedback on a more regular basis. And a 2013 study by psychologists at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M, which asked employees of a university to rate how they felt about a recent performance review, found that everyone disliked the reviews. Yep, everyone. Yet performance reviews are one of the few times during the year when employees can get a good idea of where they stand in the eyes of the company. If you really don’t care about your review, you’re probably not very invested in your career.

No matter what your opinion of them, it’s important to be prepared for your annual review. They are one of the main tools companies use to identify their rising stars—and identify those ripe for leadership development. Here are some ways to prep for your review. Keep in mind that if you ditch the defensive mindset and look at the outcome of your evaluation as an opportunity to learn and grow, your career will grow too.

  • Prep for your review throughout the year.

It may be too late for 2015, but start 2016 off right by keeping track—with diary and/or a portfolio of your work—so that you’ll be able to talk knowledgeably and in detail about what you’ve done during the year. In addition to this list of accomplishments, you should also keep mistakes you made and weaknesses you want to strengthen. Note what you learned from your mistakes and how you implemented changes to avoid making the same ones again. Save any notes or emails thanking you for good work or noting your accomplishments. Trying to sit down and write all this up a week before your review can be daunting and you’re likely to forget a lot of important details.

  • Identify your responsibilities and then evaluate yourself.

Make a list of all your responsibilities at work and write a performance review of yourself in each of those areas. Stepping back and thinking through what and how you’ve done will help prepare you for the review. You are far less likely to overreact to feedback because you know, for the most part, what to expect.

  • Ask your peers for feedback on your performance.

This may sound like an odd suggestion—after all, you are about to get feedback from your boss—but not all of us are good at self-promotion. Ask some of your most trusted and closest peers at work what they think you do well. And you might be surprised at what they say, versus what you would say, and you’ll see ways you’re contributing and excelling that you might not have acknowledged otherwise.

  • Summarize in writing your accomplishments over the previous year.

Create a list of your most significant accomplishments since the last performance review. In the same way you would concretely quantify these achievements on a resume, do that on this list. Whenever you can, write down specific results that use numbers to tell the story, for example, “streamlined the review process for small business loans, increasing time from application to approval by 30 percent.”

  • Take responsibility for performance that fell short.

One of the most important things you can do for your career is to take responsibility for the good and the bad when it comes to your performance. Think about places where you’re fallen short in the last year, and mistakes you made. Don’t make excuses or blame others–you’ll just lose credibility with your boss–and then write down what you learned from it and the changes you have made or plan to make, as a result.

  • Make a business case for your advancement.

The only way to advocate for your continued advancement and growth at the company is to make a business case for it. Your boss doesn’t really want to know how many hours you work each week, she wants to know if and how that work has positively impacted the business. Whenever you can, use numbers. For example, if your decision to switch to a different paper supplier has saved the company 12 percent on its paper purchases, that’s a positive, quantifiable impact.

  • Create an agenda for the meeting.

A great way to show how much you care about your review and your development is to be proactive about it. Make a detailed list of what you would like to cover during the review, independent of whatever you anticipate your manager will want to go over. This will allow you to discuss what is important to you, not just what is important to your boss.

As part of this planning, write down goals you envision for yourself in the coming year. These can be pretty specific, for instance, reaching a particular sales target or learning a new software program, but it can also be fairly general. A more general goal could be that you want to do more professional networking or step up your business development activities.

  • Reference your last review and connect that to this one.

Your manager wants to know that these reviews aren’t a waste of time and that you are actually listening and acting on the feedback you receive. If you can show what you’ve been working on in the last year that is directly related to feedback you received at your last review, your manager will know you take evaluations seriously and to heart.

About the Author

Elena Bajic is the founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, a selective online career network for top performers.