For most workers, performance reviews are stressful. You may worry, get frustrated, and even feel excited, all at the same time.
But here’s the secret to performance reviews: Don’t wait until the last minute! If you document your work in advance, you can overachieve in your next performance review, and get all the benefits that come with it: More opportunities, bonuses, wage increases, job security, and even promotion opportunities.
Do you have performance reviews on your mind? We’re here to help!
Businesses are data-driven. At the end of the day, the core metrics for any business are “money in” and “money out”. So even small businesses that don’t think about a sophisticated dataset are still data-driven.
Data comes in all shapes and sizes. While you might not have access to core financial data, every day you generate new experiences and anecdotes that add up to your own personal performance data. And no one controls it except for you!
As an employee, the trick is to make the data work for you, and not against you. To do so, you need to prepare.
- You’ll need to break the data down into easily understandable information
- You’ll want to curate the data to highlight things that make you look good
- You should track all of your accomplishments during the year, and how they compared to your goals
Most employees don’t enjoy performance reviews, and don’t feel prepared for their performance review. So even if you don’t love the process, if you prepare, you’re already well on your way to being a top performer:
- 89% of employees think it’s critical that their employer gives regular feedback and offers learning and development opportunities
- 71% of employees feel empowered when their manager can list their strengths
- Only 50% of the U.S workforce even understands what’s expected of them at work
It’s time to conquer your performance review process. Here’s how to get started:
1 – Log your accomplishments
It doesn’t matter what your job is: Most workers complete tasks and accept praise, then forget about it. But this is a mistake.
Everything you do at work is valuable. The primary purpose of a performance review is for a business to evaluate how much value their employees generate. When you document how you added value throughout the year, you can bring forward this data in your next review.
Statistics are useful. It’s better to say, “I did better this year because I was able to convert 12% more sales pitches” than “I sold far more products this year.”
But statistics aren’t the only type of data. You can also give examples: “On January 14th, my manager said I was doing a good job because I prepared a presentation to the team about strategy. On February 7th, our district Vice President visited and said I have a great attitude. On March 3rd, my coworker Susan thanked me for helping her with the Epsilon project.”
So what are some of the accomplishments you can track? This will look different depending on your job role, but some common metrics include:
- Performance against annual goals
- Resolution of unexpected problems
- Feedback from customers, coworkers, and supervisors
- Any exceptional situation in your regular job tasks
- Times when you went above and beyond regular expectations
- Feedback and ideas you generated for the business
2 – Preparation is key
Preparation is crucial. Even in team-oriented jobs, you are fundamentally an independent worker. So document what you do.
- Do you stock shelves? Get permission to take photos of work that you’re particularly proud of.
- Do you meet with customers? Take notes during meetings and use them as a reference for your performance review.
- Do you work from home? Keep a log of your performance data in a notepad on your computer or beside your desk.
When you get feedback—especially negative feedback—your natural instinct might be to resist. But avoid being defensive. Instead, consider where the feedback is coming from, and how you can mitigate the complaint in the future. Then, bring it up at your next performance review!
“On May 17th, you told me that I should improve the way I organize documents. After that, I turned Mo’s great documents into a standard template that I use for every file. On June 4th, you told me that you noticed and appreciate the change. This was six months ago but is a great example of how I’m a capable and adaptive worker who is receptive to feedback.”
While performance reviews are often simply a compliance and process obligation for businesses, you can turn this into an advantage! When it’s all said and done, performance reviews are the primary document that executives will use to consider your impact, that HR will consider in reference calls, and that hiring teams will use when they look at promotions.
If you’re prepared for a review at any time, every review will be easy.
3 – Data to collect
You can collect your own data. But do you have access to business data? It’s a straightforward question with a complicated answer.
Often, the simplest way to tell is to look for a “reports” section in your company files or software. Whether you work out of a binder, a software program, or a website, ultimately all that information goes somewhere.
If you don’t have access to business data, consider asking for opportunities to better understand it. Here are questions that forward-thinking decision-makers love to hear:
- Can you help me understand how my performance compares to company benchmarks?
- How can I see what impact my work has on the overall business?
- Would it be possible to meet with [your boss’ boss] for an hour to talk about their vision for this team?
- I’m interested in learning how to advance at this company. Is there someone senior who can mentor me?
- What metrics is our team evaluated against? Is it possible to learn about the last report around this?
- Does our HR team have a plan for handling internal advancement? I’d like to work towards opportunities for a more senior role.
Remember that sometimes the people you interact with day-to-day also don’t have access to this data, don’t have permission to share it, or don’t feel motivated to help. Don’t get frustrated!
You should look for a few numbers that will help you understand your own performance. Once you have them, work to improve them! Check again every few months, if possible. Any improvements should be a major point of conversation in your performance review.
You don’t need lots of data to have an excellent performance review. But the data you do have does need to be compelling. Focusing on core metrics, or great anecdotes, is a perfect way to tell a story about your performance.
But what happens when your work doesn’t provide you with much helpful performance data? Let’s look at that next!
If you have inadequate data
Unfortunately it’s often true that the companies with the best data are the most reluctant to share it. If you work in a warehouse that meticulously tracks performance data, it’s possible that 100% of that data is managed off-site, by an analyst who you will likely never have a chance to meet.
Meanwhile, the companies that are most willing to share performance data often don’t collect very much of it. This is an opportunity to add value!
Running a business is hard. When the focus is on winning customers and keeping them happy (as it should be!), it’s easy to let back-end office processes get neglected. So many modern work environments feel disorganized and chaotic. That’s okay!
Sometimes it’s your job to find the data you need!
If you can’t find the data you need for your next performance review, guess what? You don’t need “big data” to tell the story you want. In fact, you can start collecting data for your performance review with merely a pen and paper.
As a result, you shouldn’t feel limited by your company’s limited technology, lack of access, or overall disorganization. Because you shouldn’t need it to tell your personal story.
What if no one cares about my performance?
Here’s your red flag. Maybe when you ask for performance data, you’re told “not to worry.” Or maybe you’re told “there are no opportunities for advancement here”, or “you’re a cog in a machine, don’t try to be more than that.” These are career-limiting problems.
At the end of the day, there are only two ways to move forward professionally: Internal advancement (like getting a raise or a promotion), or job changes (like transferring to a different team, a new company, or a new industry).
If you want to advance—if you want to feel more motivated, feel more supported, earn more money, or be prouder of your career—you need to take a serious look at what’s holding you back.
Is your manager holding you back? Who you report to matters. Having a great manager is the number one thing that will impact your career satisfaction.
Is it the company? Not all employers are made equally. Often a smart career move is to jump to your employer’s biggest competitor.
Or is it your professional industry itself? Some industries are employee-focused and care about your success and satisfaction. Others don’t.
Questions to ask before you jump ship
Before you accept a new role, you ask discovery questions to make sure you understand what you’re getting into. It doesn’t make sense to jump from one bad job straight into another one!
A key thing to understand before you accept a job is “How will my performance be assessed?” A few example questions include:
- How do you collect metrics from your team?
- What does your team measure to assess their growth?
- What problems is the team looking to solve?
- What processes seem to work well, and where are you looking to make improvements?
These questions should help you discover how the team operates, and how you can start preparing for your next performance review from your first day in the new job.