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October 23, 2017

My Last Appraisal Was a Disaster!

Simon Bell

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So you think you’ve had a bad appraisal lately? I can probably top it.

A few years back, in the bad old days of the annual performance review, I worked as an editor in a publishing company. I’d been in my post for around a year and, although there’d been a few challenges here and there, things were ticking along nicely.

In fact, I was cruising. Team results were OK, the company was doing well, and my manager, relatively new to her post, had taken a hands-off approach.

The meeting started so well. The coffee was good. I was prepared. I had a list of things that I thought had gone really well in the previous year, and a few bits and pieces in the other column of my review form that I thought it might be useful to own up to. You know, just for a bit of balance.

I had a few polite questions about goals and stuff like that. I’d even practiced a little bit of self-deprecation, like an Oscar winner. “Aw, that’s really nice of you, but I couldn’t have done it without…”

My manager smiled as she sat down.

And that was as good as it got.

Don’t Assume...

It turned out that she had a list of what she thought hadn’t gone so well. It matched my list of what had. It also included pretty much everything else I’d done over the past year. Out it all came: poor record keeping… edgy relations with other team members… failing to take the initiative on achieving deadlines… and so on.

The meeting disintegrated into a list of my failings, which I met with defensive, increasingly angry replies and awkward silences.

I left in a state of shock, clutching a handful of scribbled notes for my improvement. As I returned to my desk it felt like every eye in the office was on me. I sat for an age staring at the review form and the incoherent nonsense I’d scrawled on it.

No Oscar, then.

Crawling From the Wreckage

It took me a little time to get myself together after that. When I did, I realized that I had to do something proactive, to show that I was serious about addressing my problems and not just happy to wait for the appraisal write-up to hit my inbox.

First, I went back through the meeting, piecing it together. I saw that there were some things that my boss had said that I couldn’t argue with. I really did need to improve my record-keeping, for example, and monitor key deadlines more closely. But on some points I thought she had criticized me unfairly, and in a couple of cases I really believed that she was plain wrong.

Thankfully, I had enough composure left to understand that charging back in there and banging on her desk would have been the worst thing to do. So, instead, I put together a measured email thanking her for her frank feedback, and requesting a follow-up meeting to help me draw up a plan get back on track.

Turning a Bad Appraisal Around

She agreed. Over the next few weeks we met several times, in less adversarial, less charged circumstances. We eventually hammered out a plan of action, pinpointed some training needs, and – crucially – scheduled some more regular catch-ups. She even admitted that she might have got a couple of things wrong: she’d had a dozen appraisals to do in a fortnight, after all.

So, my advice? First, don’t react angrily. Take as long as you need to allow calm to descend. Second, put together your own proposals for how to put things right: it shows that you’re willing to take responsibility for your own career and for doing right by your co-workers. Third, if you really think that you’ve been treated unfairly, stand your ground. Be calm, be rational, but make sure your case is heard.

What’s Next?

So, did you ever have a nightmare appraisal? And if so, how did you get some positives from it? Let us know in the comments section below…

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2 comments on “My Last Appraisal Was a Disaster!”

  1. A well-written and thoughtful piece. All I would add is that your manager should take some lessons from that awkward meeting as well. She should have communicated earlier so that all of these things didn't have to wait for the appraisal. Feedback in an appraisal should never be a surprise but simply a summary of earlier clearly stated objectives and continuous feedback.

    1. Thanks Lene for sharing your thoughts and suggestions for the manager. I also agree that continuous feedback is important. That way, issues of concern do not prolong any longer than necessary.

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