Making your performance appraisal work for you

They can seem like a chore for bosses and employees, but if you want to climb the career ladder, it’s vital to take appraisals seriously.

For your employer, they’re an opportunity to communicate their priorities and set targets. And for you, they’re a chance to talk about what you need to develop in your career and to reach the next level.

As Geoff Fawcett, director of Hays UK recruitment, puts it: “Letting your team know that you’re thinking about their development will help instil in them an ethos of ambition, in turn driving the business on to be more productive and aspirational.”

So, how can you ensure that your annual review has a positive effect on the year ahead at work? Here are some tips to help.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

A lot happens in a year, so if you walk into your appraisal cold, you might fail to flag up some of your most important successes. Be ready to discuss your accomplishments, projects, and contributions to the team. “Preparing for the appraisal is vital. Whether your boss is prepared or not, you must be ready,” says Simon North, founder of careers consultancy Positive Ignition.

Armed with evidence that shows how you met your objectives from the previous year, it’ll be easier to turn the agenda to how you’d like your career to develop.

Accept feedback

Your boss wants to be assured that whether your performance was good, bad or just ‘okay’ last year, you’re committed to continuously improving. So, the last thing they want to hear is you arguing with their assessment.

“While there will always be something wrong with the feedback you get — maybe even 90% — there will also almost always be something right that you can learn from,” say Sheila Heen and Debbie Goldstein, who teach negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Look for points of agreement and build on them, and remember that it’s a conversation about your performance, not a personal judgment.

Insist on specifics

Whether it’s an evaluation of your performance or a target for the future, it’s impossible to respond to your boss’s assessment unless you’re given details. Unfortunately, some unprepared managers will just offer sweeping generalities.

Requesting specific targets will mean you’ve got an objective basis to work on next time. “It amazes me how often employers have no outcomes from appraisals,” says Tom Doherty, general manager at HR Dept Ltd. “If you take the time to sit down with someone, you need actions.”

So, don’t hesitate to ask questions during the session and seek clarification on feedback and expectations for improvement.

Focus on your long-term goals

Your company has a strategy for the future, and you need one, too, if you’re going to make the most of the appraisal process. That might mean asking for training and new qualifications to develop in your role.

Career coach Marie McIntyre recommends asking your boss at appraisal, “What additional knowledge or skills would make me more effective in this role?” Once you’ve heard their assessment, you can make a business-focused case for the training that could take you to the next level.

Overall, keep in mind that appraisals, whilst they can be a bit challenging, are a part of professional growth and development. They provide an opportunity to align your own career goals with those of your employer, and receive useful feedback to help you improve. By approaching appraisals with a proactive and open-minded attitude, you can make the most out of the process and continue to grow in your career.