For many in the business environment, it is that time of year again, where a majority of people go about rolling their eyes because of – annual performance reviews.

The majority of the year, no matter your role, you get to work fairly independently, aside from perhaps heading to your boss for collaboration, direction, etc. However, for those 30 minutes of a performance review, a majority of people become aware of the fact that someone is in charge of them and they are about to determine whether they see you in the same light that you see yourself. (In other words, have you been naughty or nice)

Personally, I am not a fan of annual performance reviews. I find them pointless. Feedback is something that needs to be done continuosly and it should be to the descretion of the manager/leader to dispel reward and recognition as needed, transparently and openly. There are actually a lot of big names in various industries that have ditched the annual performance review (Microsoft, Accenture, etc.)

Either way, many of you will still go through performance reviews – I read a study that 72% of companies still execute this old school thinking. But I want you to use it as an opportunity to have an open discussion with your boss.

The worst thing to do here is to walk into your performance review as a passive participant. Yes, the manager is running the show, however, I believe and I have always welcomed active participation. Dont just sit there and listen and shrug your shoulders, say a sentence or two and then move on.

Take advantage of having the time to sit down with your boss. There are some people that are really good with performance reviews – I have had one or two in my line of work – and I have learned along the way. However, most bosses dread them just as much as anyone else and hence they end up being poor, not really beneficial for you as an employee.

I cam across an interesting read about people in management that give poor performance reviews and they (bosses) were split into three categories:

  1. Coward – managers that hate performance reviews and just want to shuffle you out quickly, hoping they can just say great job and move on.
  2. Critics – those that focus only on the negatives, throwing a nice thing or two, but mainly trying to shoot you down.
  3. Peacekeepers – those bosses that try to make everyone happy, even when critizing by trying to make it sound positive.

Therefore do your own homework – assess how the year went. One thing I handed out to my employees was an excel as a guideline for them to assess themselves, and yes this may seem tedious to some, having to put in some time and work into assessing their own year, I wanted them to look back at their accomplishments, went well, where they grew and what they completely lacked and tell me. I wanted to see if we saw eye to eye and we would take that as a basis for discussion, me complementing from my side.

So take the time to look at what your goals were and how the year went and prepare questions. If you are prepared, then like and interview for a new role, you won’t dread “the talk.”

So I put together a list of questions you may want to harness during this years annual performance review – regardless of the type fo boss you may have, whether a coward, critic, peacekeeper or someone who is just and fair. Ask them.

What went well this year?

A relatively good boss will not only offer positive critiscm and areas to work on, but also praise you for things that went well – authentically. So do not sit there and just nod your head with your arms crossed – ask actively what your bsos thinks went well in your role this past year.

Now comes my big BUT – don’t just focus on the praise, utilize that to discuss what you are going to focus on next year. We all want to head that fluffy nice stuff, but just spend a few minutes on that. Appreciate that you are appreciated and move on. Take the good things and build on them for the coming year together with your boss. Find out how to get better.

What should I do differently next year?

The above leads to this. Think of it more of – what should you do differently this coming year versus digging into what did I screw up last year. Performance reviews are about the past, but it is what it is, good bosses will focus on the future (growing you) – that to me is more constructive than anything else.

How can I improve my rating for next year?

The above question ties into this one. But what I want to point out is that if you work for a company that uses a rating system, then I notice that most employees get hung up on the number or grade they receive. However, know that there are a lot of factors that go into those quota-based systems and how they go about with top ratings.

My tip here is not to argue how you deserve a better rating – this in most instances, regardless of what you may think of your boss or their competencies – just makes you look like a juvenile and results in passive-aggressive behavior on both ends. Rather then doing that, ask your boss how you can improve your rating for the coming year.

I’ve had discussions where people in management roles say you shouldn’t argue, just accept it and move on. But my thinking is a bit different here. Have an open, transparent discussion. If you feel that the rating is undervalued – then acknowledge that you got the message and then begin laying the blueprint for the next year by asking this question.

See, in most instances by the time you have your discussion your boss has already locked in your rating, and arguing won’t change it – unless in the rare rare case you can prove that your boss is completely incompetent and that rarely will happen within management lines.

What know-how or skills should I develop to meet my upcoming goals?

Performance reviews are about analyzing and rewarding the past, however part of that is looking at what you can upskill to make you even better, so a good boss will help you look at areas that you may want to dive into to support him/her, the team, the business, and your own growth.

Personally (and logically) this question is crucial to development. And asking your boss what he/she thinks those skills for the coming year may be to “upgrade” you and support you in your career are vital to advance. Even if its just moving on a job level scale from “junior” to “senior.”

I once had an employee who was a job level below everyone else despite being in her role for a few years. When I saw this and the overall performance it took (due to bureaucracy and budget issues) nearly half a year to get her through and upgrade her to the job level she needed to be at. But it was something that was important to me. I’m far from perfect, but I try hard to be just and fair. (Thoughts on that from former employees? 🙂 )

Either way, discuss this with your boss. What skills do they think you need to move on and why.

How can I help out the team?

There are not that many jobs where you are fully independent. What I mentioned in the intro about working independently is different, however working in a team is crucical and team dynamcis are simply dynamic. So rather then being part of this office based atmosphere of bitching around about how they and her and him and them don’t get it or do it, take the opportunity in your review and discuss how you can be a better team player. Perhaps there is something on the agenda you are not aware of in regards to helping out within the team and by asking you have stepped up to the plate and have vocally expressed your opinion to be considered for more then what you currently do.

What career opportunities do you think I have here?

This question sends your boss a good message that you are committed and want to build your career. Sometimes you may already know what you want to do, however you may not know all the paths that are available within the company to get there. By asking this question you open doors by throwing your hat in the ring and putting yourself on the radar for potential changes or promotions.

Good bosses will be open to this discussion. I’ve had conversations with people who noted that they were told they need to stay put or they were desperatly needed where they are today. That is just demotivating and shows the lack of competence of your boss.

A good boss will utilize your skill set, help guide you to upskill through whatever means possible, and plan accordingly to fill back or optimize the role your currently in.

While a performance review is about you – the above questions reflect that however Ive compiled a few questions to throw the bone back at your boss and show them your on their team…

What are your goals for next years?

Ask your boss what their goals are for next year. Don’t just utilize the performance review to pat yourself on the back or fume about how dumb everything is – rather counter ask and see what your boss has on his/her plate. Talk to them and know what their priorities are and bring yourself in to how you can potentially help in making things (processes, projects, KPIs, etc) better – or perhaps you’ll come across information that may support them in their work.

Discussing this question to me, gives insight of what your boss is thinking and what he/she wants to the team to do to achieve those goals and to be blunt one question I have actually had an employee ask me (along the lines) is

“What two to three things are on your list that is important to you that you want to achieve with our team over the next 6 months or so and what do we need to do?”

How can I make your role easier?

Many of us have no idea about all the things our bosses need to juggle, both big and small, (regardless of their competence) – and what they need to manage on a day to day basis – from why we potentially lost a VIP account to the lack of pens and staples in the office. See, we all are people, regardless of the role we are in and how competent we may or may not be – and this goes for your boss as well. Managers, hands down, think about their employees in one way or another – how useless they are, how inefficient, how great, etc. but logically they wont share that.

One of my best bosses, I really appreciated her bluntness. I moved into a new role and I needed to pick up quickly. I’m the type of person that soaks it all in the first couple of weeks and then sets down foot. After about 3-4 weeks being in the role, we sat down and she told me “I don’t see the forest from all the trees.” I asked what would make her role easier and a combination of what she thought would get me there. Shortly thereafter we steamed through the business and delivered. I needed to learn her working style, how she worked and what she expected and how I could support her in executing that.

We built a good business relationship and I learned quite a bit along the way. Thank you, BG for that!

How do you think the business will change this coming year?

This is a beneficial question because it will help you understand why your boss or other more senior executives make some of the decisions they make and it sends a message to your bsos that you are not only thinking of your job, but also looking at the big picture.

To me, if you understand the bigger picture then that can help you make smarter choices for the team and organization and ultimately also for your career.

What do you find is the most difficult part of a performance review?

Only go into this one at the end and if you have a good relationship with your boss to close off the session with a smile. Remember your boss needs to go through employees and hear all the complaining, bragging and questions. This one just takes a minute and indirectly asks how they feel. A little burst of relief if you may that will hopefully have your review end in a smile.

So all in all remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Performance reviews are not meant to torture anyone. Your boss may be completely imcompetent and you’ll be on far sides of the table, but ultimately, regardless of why, they are in the position to “judge” you.

Eitehr way, go over accomplishments, go over what happens next, keep not only yourself but the company in mind. Especially these days, where a lot of companies are struggeling financially – so make sure your a good reason to keep your salary.

Confirm your committment (that doesnt mean selling your soul), and make sure you set your foot in the ground to add value in your role, to your team and create greater efficiencies.

Use the performance review to dig into what you’ve contributed, what you can do better, how, and find that line of agreement – even if its an agreement to disagree. Then, depending on your boss, you just might need to move on. Life is to short and to beautiful to be angry.

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