Traditional performance reviews don’t work. They’re biased, subjective, and often use out-of-date objectives to measure success. But if you’re an employee whose got a performance review coming up, we’ve got some top tips to help you make the most of it.

What type of performance review are you preparing for?

A performance conversation is any 1:1 meeting between you and your manager that’s focused on your performance. That can be a classic performance review, a 1:1 catch-up, a quarterly review, or an ad-hoc sit down. When run well, performance reviews tell managers how they can support you to succeed. And they encourage employees to drive their own progress and ask for help when they need it.

There are 9 types of performance conversations, but we’ll focus on the most 5 common:

Monthly 1:1 conversations are a time to reflect on high level feedback themes, rather than the detail. Goals can be aligned or re-aligned. And personal and professional development is discussed.

Quarterly goal-setting conversations are big-picture focused. They may be a team meeting with individual actions to set OKRs afterwards. Either way, these meetings are to agree how you will align your contribution to team and business success.

Annual retrospectives or reviews are for reflection and forward planning, rather than information gathering and evaluating past performance.

Underperformance can be tricky, but it needs addressing quickly. Your productivity might fluctuate a little from week to week. But if there’s an underlying issue, it’s better to bring it to your manager’s attention before it escalates.

Overperformance can be a sign of struggling to maintain healthy boundaries. And ongoing overperformance can be bad for business, bad for managers, and most importantly bad for you.

Preparing for performance review success

It’s time to sit down with the boss and show off all your hard work. This is your chance to highlight your successes, get support on challenges, and plan your next steps. Maybe even discuss a salary increase or promotion opportunity?

So why then, are you filled with anxiety? Well, quite honestly, a lot hinges on your own preparation. The likelihood is you won’t get over that anxiety, or feel satisfied post-review unless you put the effort in before your review.

The best way to prepare is with a weekly check-in. Employee check-ins give you the tools and framework to regular reflect on your progress and ask for feedback and support from your manager. Every time you check-in, you’re recording your successes and challenges towards your goals. So there’s no mad scramble the week before your next review. It’s all there for you to review, and find.

But if you haven’t been doing check-ins, here’s how to tip the scale in your favor for your next performance review.

5 tips for preparing for a performance review as an employee

An effective review follows a few basic rules. They are a small part of a larger strategy around performance and feedback. Your discussion should be primarily future-focused. And it needs to be a conversation, not a one-way affair with your manager talking at you.

The most effective performance reviews are about one thing and one thing only: your development. And as you have a vested interest in yourself, take some time to prepare properly your next performance review.

1. Know what you want to get out of the conversation

Think about your next performance review and what you’d like to achieve. Here’s some questions to start:

  1. What do I want to get out of the review?
  2. What have I enjoyed lately?
  3. What support do I need?
  4. Am I happy with my current role and responsibilities?
  5. What do I want to be doing in 3, 6 and 12 months’ time?

Armed with this simple plan, you can start to prepare in earnest. And with that in mind, here’s what you need to do before your review to put you in a great position for a productive conversation:

2. Don’t wait until your next performance review to ask for feedback or raise an issue

It’s understandable that employees might hesitate to do this. But a major element of what can make reviews so daunting is the sense of ambiguity.

Ideally, your organisation should have a system in place for continuous performance management between reviews. That might be a formal check-in tool or platform like Zensai. Or it might just be an accessible line of communication with your manager.

One of the best tips for employees when preparing for a performance review is it talk with your manager often. Consistently communicating between reviews ensures that responding feedback is given while still relevant. This is essential for tackling problems in a timely and effective manner.

But what happens if your organisation doesn’t have a clear system? Take the lead and raise concerns and request feedback from your manager when you feel you need to.

3. Document feedback and events as they occur

Documentation provides evidence for long-running workplace issues that you can take into your next review. But just as importantly, it offers you a broad view of your own performance between review sessions. Recording events and feedback as they happen reduces bias and subjectivity. Both of which make traditional performance reviews completely ineffective.

Think about how the conversation is likely to go and anticipate what your manager might focus on. Be honest with yourself. And remember that whether positive or not, feedback is there to help you grow and become even better.

4. Consider your goals

Goal-setting and performance reviews go hand-in-hand. When we set goals for ourselves, we’re more likely to be successful. No surprise then that goals will almost always come up in your performance review.

One of the best performance review tips for employees is to know and understand your goals. Add them to your success column if they’ve been met. Reflect on why you were successful, whether you enjoyed the work, and what you learnt from the work. Conversely, if progress has stalled, add these to your challenges. Think about what caused the lack of success, how it made you feel, and what support you need moving forward.

But perhaps it’s not necessarily a promotion you’re after. If that’s the case, it’s worth thinking about the areas of your current role you want to improve in. Performance reviews are your chance for a detailed conversation. So it’s essential to know what skills you want to develop so you can address them with your boss.

5. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses

Ambiguity can trigger performance review anxiety. This is because the time between performance reviews is far too long in traditional processes. You’re waiting six months to a year between reviews, and it just eats away at you. Unless you’re blissfully ignorant, that is.

Employees can spend their time between reviews thinking they’re on top of everything only to get raked over the coals. Or the dreaded impostor syndrome can have us thinking we are awful at our jobs, only to find out the opposite is true.

It’s important to take time to objectively consider your strengths and weaknesses. Look over previous feedback, so you can go in with some idea of what to expect from your one-to-one.

5 things to remember during your next performance review

1. Remember the importance of active listening

Remember, your performance review is all about you and your development. It should be a conversation you look forward to.

Your manager will be looking for signs that you’re listening. Especially when it comes to negative feedback. Active listening is the best way to show attentiveness, because you’ll be asking relevant questions and driving performance review discussion.

2. Focus on feedback themes, not details

The sh*t sandwich technique of giving feedback doesn’t work, especially in face-to-face meetings because we tend to focus on the negatives. This is where 360 feedback can help. You get a holistic picture of your performance. Rather than getting bogged down in details.

If your performance has been a bit suppressed lately, obviously the conversation may be a little tougher and loaded with more of the constructive type of feedback.

Your boss may have told you they’re satisfied with your overall performance. But it doesn’t mean you’re perfect. There’s always room to improve. And just because they pointed out one or two areas for improvement doesn’t mean all the praise they’ve given you is meaningless either

3. Try not to get defensive

One of the most vital performance review tips for employees also deals with negative feedback, and the often instinctive reaction to lash out. It’s easy to be defensive. Especially when criticism is unexpected. Rather than immediately trying to make justifications, rely on active listening and ask questions to get further context.

This conversation can naturally lead into advice on how to improve. It also as gives you a chance to highlight specific circumstances that might have impacted your work in a less reactionary way.

4. Be honest about problems affecting your performance

Employee performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t matter if it’s a workplace issue or something personal like a medical condition or poor mental health. If something is negatively impacting your work, it’s important to feel like you can honestly communicate that to your manager.

Your manager has most likely already realized that something is wrong, and may be waiting for you to speak up. You can then work collaboratively to support you.

5. Work with your manager to create an aligned understanding

An aligned understanding requires mutual effort and good communication. By the end of your performance review, both you and your boss should be on the same page. You should have a shared understanding regarding your performance and the organisation’s objectives as a whole. As an employee, this is your chance to get to grips with how your work directly impacts the company. This is why things like active listening and proper documentation matter.

You should leave your performance review knowing what’s expected. And your manager has a clear understanding of the support you need to achieve this. Here’s what your manager will be doing to prepare for your next performance review.