They seem to generate a Vegemite or Marmite reaction – we either love them or loathe them. For many people, performance reviews come around every year and we’re likely to react differently each time; depending on our personality or what type of year we’ve had! There are some who relish the chance to talk about their performance. The review lovers are comfortable listening to 360-degree feedback and discussing views from bosses and colleagues about how they work, and they are motivated by discussing their next goals. But the loathers are more likely to approach the date at worst with anxiety or dread and at best with complacency about the process and its value.

The appraisal process should provide more than just job security and a pay rise. Done well, they should give both the appraiser and the appraisee some valuable insights. The review should be a learning opportunity for all. It should be about two-way communication, establishing goals, recognising good performance, improving weaker areas and sharing views for the future.

But they don’t always run as smoothly as you might expect. To avoid disappointment, or to get the most from your appraisal, try these tips to be better prepared.

It’s your review, make it work for you

Whether you’re a lover or a loather, remind yourself that this is your meeting. In the most effective reviews, the person being appraised should do most of the talking! Your appraisal meeting gives you the chance to discuss all the areas that relate to your performance, so take control and be prepared. If a date hasn’t yet been set for your review, be proactive and start the process by arranging the meeting.

Familiarise yourself with the review process

Each agency and marketing department will use a different approach. Make sure you see all the related forms. There should be a self-complete section issued to you well in advance, and a full report form that will show you the areas on which your performance will be assessed. If it’s your first review with a company, make sure you ask who will be consulted for 360-degree feedback about you (colleagues, clients, suppliers?). Who else will contribute to your appraisal? Who will be present in the meeting? How long will it last? What is expected of you?

Prepare an executive summary of the past year

Even if this hasn’t been requested by your boss, it’s a great place to start. Just as you presented yourself at interview stage with a promise of what you could deliver, try the same approach now on what you feel you have delivered over the past year. This will give you a valuable indication at the start of the meeting about whether you and your reviewer are on the same wavelength about your current performance. For reference it’s always useful to look over your job description and have that with you in the meeting. Make sure you review this year’s performance against your objectives and KPIs that were set the year before or at the start of your employment.

Prepare a full account of your achievements

When preparing a list of your greatest successes do this as fairly as you can. It’s really worth putting the time in here – do this out of the office environment and allow adequate time in advance. Serial appraisers can quickly spot a form completed on the same day as a review. Provide plenty of examples and support your achievements; enjoy this bit, it’s what you’ve been proud to work on this year. (A quick tip is to keep an ongoing record of your achievements throughout the year – written praise, fan mail, recognition from clients etc. The record will save you time and boost your memory.) Remind your appraiser of the times where you’ve added value and where you performed quicker/better than expectations. Demonstrate how your employer has benefited from your performance. Remember that your boss might have easily forgotten some of the things you’ve done this year – here’s your chance to remind them.

Be honest about your disappointments

Spend time reviewing the things that didn’t go so well. Highlight examples and explain how you overcame any difficulties. Explain why you think you may have encountered any disappointments. There maybe external factors that affected your performance so mention them, but try to stay unemotional and rational. This is a good time to make suggestions for future improvements or request extra training in areas you have felt vulnerable in.

How have you gone the extra mile?

Don’t feel shy about documenting all the other things you’ve done this year that were above and beyond your job description. They often get overlooked, now’s your chance to make sure they don’t.

How have you performed to the company’s values?

Hopefully your company will review your performance against its values. Within our appraisal process at The SG Group we review each staff member’s attitude towards a series of statements that relate to our values. In return, we ask their colleagues to rate them against the same statements. It provides us with an indication of the degree to which we demonstrate the company values in all aspects of our job. If your appraisal process isn’t set up that way, use your initiative and provide examples of how you’ve conducted your job closely in relation to the values.

Look at the bigger picture

Yes, it’s all about you – but remember to show your appraiser that you have a sense of how you relate to the bigger picture. Be aware of your commercial value to the organisation and where you fit. Be prepared with quantifiable data on the contribution you or your department have made to the bottom line of the business.

Know what you want for your own personal growth

Here’s your opportunity to share your own desires for your role and your career development. Take the time to prepare for this part well. Be honest about how you want to navigate your career within this company. What’s been missing from your skill set and experience so far? What do you want more experience in? In which areas would you like more training? What changes and enhancements would you like to see made to the management style in order to improve your performance? Healthy dialogue between both parties will be beneficial in the long run. If this is an area you feel anxious about, seek some advice from a mentor or colleague before your appraisal.

Prepare a list of goals for yourself for the next 12 months

Don’t leave it to your boss to set your goals. Be proactive and make suggestions about what you think you should and can achieve before your next review. Explain what action you’ll take to achieve them. In the meeting you and your appraiser should agree key performance indicators for your future. Make sure these are measurable. Ask for examples and indications of what your boss really expects from you so that you are crystal clear.

Do you have any under-utilised skills?

During the review meeting the focus is likely to be your performance against your current role. But often we have skills that our current role doesn’t use. Remind your appraiser of any strengths or skills that you feel are currently under-utilised, but you believe would benefit the company.

Make suggestions

Organisations have long been using the review process to discover how they can buck up their own game by listening to their staff. Your review meeting is a good forum for you to have your say on how the company or your department could improve. Although don’t leave this solely for an annual meeting – speak up frequently and appropriately with your initiatives or suggestions.

A common observation made about appraisal meetings is that they can sometimes become emotional or personal. Reviews really should remain work-focused and not spiral into a dissection of your personality. Our industry promotes managers relatively quickly and sometimes without sufficient training in conducting effective staff appraisals. Here are some quick tips for the appraiser and the appraisee to keep the review meeting professional and on track:

  • keep your conversation work related
  • try to remain unemotional
  • be fair about your own performance
  • be honest about other people’s performance
  • don’t get personal – remain professional about any personality clashes between yourself and other staff
  • make notes
  • request a third party is present if you sense issues may be difficult to resolve
  • ensure a written record of your review is made after the meeting, including all additional comments and action, and have this signed by you and your appraiser, and
  • if you experience a negative review, avoid a knee jerk reaction – always look at it objectively after the meeting; put aside any personality conflict and request a follow-up meeting to present your case for anything you disagreed with.