Getting the Most From Your Appraisal
Building Future Success on Past Achievement
Some people dread appraisal meetings. They go into them with a defensive mindset, expecting conflict. Others view appraisals as little more than a chance to air their grievances. Still others take a cavalier approach and just "wing it" on the day.
They all miss the point of appraisals. They are not an administrative chore, they're a chance to develop and grow in your career. Sure, review processes aren't always straightforward, but if you approach them in the right way you can reap real benefits.
This article looks at how to prepare for an appraisal, how to ace it on the day, and how to keep your career development at the front and center of your boss's mind.
What Are Appraisals For?
An appraisal is an opportunity for a constructive discussion about your career development, and a chance to reflect on, and celebrate, your successes. A good appraisal will provide clarity, purpose and optimism for your next review period.
It's also a chance to showcase your commitment to organizational and team goals, and to demonstrate your contributions toward achieving them.
In modern organizations, the days of one-sided, top-down, and judgmental appraisals are on the wane. Now, they tend to be positive, collaborative, open exchanges with the potential to strengthen your relationship with your manager.
Of course, you may need to discuss the things that didn't work out as you'd hoped. A project may not have gone to plan, for instance, or you may have complaints about your role that you want to air. But even these discussions should form the basis of a plan for positive action.
How to Prepare for Your Appraisal
Ideally, you'll have been receiving feedback on your performance throughout the appraisal period. If this is the case, nothing in the meeting should come as a surprise, either to you or to your manager. Nonetheless, preparation is essential for a great appraisal.
1. Research your organization's appraisal process
Each workplace does appraisals differently. Where you work now might have a very different process from your previous employer.
Find out which aspects of your performance the appraisal will measure, and how they'll be measured. You may find that you're required to fill out a self-assessment form or to prepare a short presentation.
At a minimum, make sure that you have a thorough knowledge of your job description and how it compares with what you actually do each day.
2. Make a list of your achievements
Your manager likely has a number of reports to do, so he or she may not remember every highlight of your last appraisal period. You can enlighten him!
Make a list of four or five of your successes. Try to highlight achievements that are measurable. For example, "boosted sales by 15 percent" will have more impact than "worked well with data analysts."
3. Acknowledge any failures
Your appraisal period might not have been all smooth sailing. A project may have floundered, or perhaps an unexpected deluge of work made you fall behind.
Don't duck these issues. Instead, take the lead in bringing them up. Your manager may have been uncertain about how to do so, and be impressed by your initiative.
4. Gather information
If your role is assessed on facts and figures, have them to hand. For example, if you're responsible for a project coming in on time and within budget, make sure that you have the relevant data prepared. If feedback is likely to be more qualitative, prepare evidence for any points that you want to make.
Be sure to review thoroughly the outcomes of your last appraisal, so that you can address any issues that may arise from them.
5. Have clear "appraisal goals" in mind
Go into the meeting with an idea of the outcome that you want. If you'd like to see changes to your role, say so, and be ready to defend your views. If you have particular ambitions for the future, be prepared to make the case for why they're important and how you'll pursue them.
6. Identify your learning needs
If you need new skills to improve your performance and enhance your career prospects, an appraisal is a great place to bring this up. This will also show initiative and commitment, so consider in advance where you'd like to make improvements. At the very least, your manager will be required to make a note of them.
If you're not a natural communicator, practice delivering your key points either alone or with someone else. Consider how you would respond to negative questions and how you could turn them into opportunities.
What to Do During Your Appraisal
There are a number of things that you can do during the meeting to make sure that it's a productive and enjoyable experience.
First and foremost, be proactive and engaged. Don't leave all the work to your manager. Smile and ask for her feedback. Show your enthusiasm for the process, and make it clear that you're not simply counting down the minutes until you can leave. If you're feeling nervous, remember that there's a good chance that she's feeling the same way.
Asking questions about your performance, and about how your role could develop, will demonstrate your commitment. Make sure that you've thought your questions through and that you're genuinely interested in the answers. Listen actively to your manager's responses, so that you have some practical takeaways to act upon.
Your review is also a good opportunity to tie your own goals to organizational and team goals. Show how your own development, over the appraisal period and in the future, will benefit your team and the wider organization. Ask your manager to set you SMART goals that align with your own long-term career plans as well as with the interests of your team and organization.
At some point, the conversation will turn from reviewing the previous appraisal period to setting goals for the next. This is a great opportunity to carve a path that will satisfy both you and management.
But avoid committing to anything that you don't think you'll be able to achieve. There will almost certainly be parts of your role that you have to carry out even if you don't enjoy them, but you don't want to leave the meeting dreading the next appraisal period.
And it's crucial that you keep calm, no matter what happens. Don't get angry or defensive if things take a turn for the worse. Instead, treat any subject that arises, positive or negative, as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you think that your boss is criticizing you unfairly, say so, but keep your cool and be assertive, not aggressive.
What to Do After Your Appraisal
Good appraisals aren't self-contained, one-off meetings. They are part of a longer process of personal development. So, to make the most of them, you need to follow up on what you've agreed with your manager.
1. Be willing to receive future feedback
The best appraisals are only one part of a process of continuous feedback. Even if your organization doesn't provide regular and structured feedback, show that you are open to it on an informal basis.
You could ask your boss for regular catch-up meetings between appraisals, if this fits in with your organization's overall development policy.
2. Implement the action points
The appraisal process isn't just a "box-ticking exercise" – it's the springboard into the next phase of your career!
3. Keep in touch with your manager
Use your manager's preferred communication style to keep her informed of your needs. For example, she may prefer an email summary to a face-to-face meeting. Don't make a nuisance of yourself, but if she's made commitments to you, it's reasonable for you to follow up.
4. Prepare for your next appraisal
Always try to keep your next appraisal in mind, and build preparation for it into a continuous process. Remember, in an ideal appraisal meeting, nothing should come as a surprise to anybody involved.
A performance appraisal shouldn't be a negative experience.
Appraisals offer you the opportunity to have collaborative and informative conversations with your boss. At their best, they will improve your performance, job satisfaction and career development.
Approach appraisals with a three-stage plan in mind.
- Before the appraisal: ensure that you prepare thoroughly, understand the formal requirements of the meeting, and have a list of your positive achievements and of areas where you could develop. Gather supporting information, develop "appraisal goals," and identify your learning needs.
- During the appraisal: be open and honest, collaborate with your boss, ask questions, keep your cool, and show how your success ties in with team goals.
- After the appraisal: keep the channels of communication open with your manager, invite further feedback, and make preparation for your next appraisal a continuous process.
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