How to get the best from your performance review

10 tips to not just survive, but thrive

Done properly, performance reviews work well
Done properly, performance reviews can work well

Performance reviews are a fact of modern-day work life, even if the jury is out on whether they actually work.

Kevin Jarvis, New South Wales director of global recruiting firm Robert Half, says performance reviews work well if done properly.

“Performance reviews are most effective when approached with detail and conducted systematically," says Jarvis.

"They should be seen as career planning sessions. Regular catch-ups should be held to ensure there is continuous feedback and open communication between managers and employees. This also helps ensure all the necessary steps are in place so goals so can be achieved.”

“Performance reviews are subjective and therefore often wrong,” argues Kathi Elster, co-author of the New York Times bestselling book, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me.

“On a very basic level they inform us and keep a clear record of an employee’s performance,” Elster continues. “But they often misrepresent the employee’s impact on the company. Because human behaviour and relationships are complicated, the performance review form, which adds up one's accomplishments once a year, hardly represents the whole person.”

We surveyed people on both sides of the employment divide, from human resource managers to front-line employees. Follow their 10 tips below to not only survive the annual performance review but actually thrive.

For employees

1.    Go through your job description: While many people forget, it’s the most obvious way to ensure you’re fulfilling required tasks and responsibilities.

2.    Be familiar with your KPIs and whether you’re meeting them: If there’s anything that remains unchecked, be proactive and prepare ways to fix those areas, to demonstrate you have not become complacent.

3.    Come prepared with informed questions: Write a list of questions you’ve been burning to ask but never had the chance to.  For instance: “Where do I need to improve?” “What training is available?” “Am I eligible for a salary review?”

4.    Set goals: Looking at past performance reviews makes it easier to track development and set goals. It may be a cliché but ask: “where do I see myself in five years?”  Looking at the big picture may seem daunting at first but it is this thinking that will set you apart from the pack and help steer your career in the desired direction.

5.    Take advantage of the open forum: This is the perfect environment to raise any of your grievances. If there’s a problem, big or small, this is your chance to speak up.  More often than not, your manager will probably agree with you so don’t be afraid to express any concerns.

For managers


1.    Take it out of the office: Performance reviews can be a lot less stressful for both you and your staff so if possible, conduct them at a café instead of a formal office.

2.    Choose your language carefully: Performance reviews can be nerve-wracking and emotional for both you and your staff so be careful with the wording you use; it will set the tone of the discussion. 

3.    Plan in advance: Make sure you have feedback from the relevant people: direct reports, clients or other managers.

4.    Prepare examples:  Whether you’re giving praise or constructive criticism, ensure you have situational examples you can refer to rather than make broad, blanket statements.

5.    Remember what it’s like to be in their shoes: Having once been in the same or similar role, you’re in a position to give career guidance. Acknowledge the strengths of your staff and offer some pearls of wisdom and they will appreciate you for it.

Whether you’re a manager or an employee, a performance review is…


A discussion: Go in with an open mind and readiness to take feedback on board. Avoid being defensive; instead, approach it so both parties can implement achievable steps to address situations and reach goals.

A collaboration: While a performance review is about your own performance, if you work in a team you still have to keep team dynamics and goals in the back of your mind. How can you become a more active player? Think of ways you can go above and beyond what’s outlined in your job description to contribute to your workplace and achieve shared goals.


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