There’s nothing usual about business-as-usual these days. While many companies have transformed the way they work, that doesn’t mean things have slowed down. In a year in which face-to-face time has been limited or eliminated entirely, many knowledge workers are now finding themselves in the position of preparing self-evaluations.
But don’t fret. While the big once-a-year sit-down can be fraught with anxiety for employees and managers alike (with some even questioning the true value of the yearly check-in), your session can instead be one that ends in alignment and excitement. There are several ways to reduce your stress and boost your outcome so that you both leave your meeting with nothing but optimism for the new year.
This is it: your “get through it” guide to your annual performance review and self-evaluation.
Tips for filling out employee self-evaluations
Generally, prior to your performance review with your manager, you will be asked to complete a self-assessment. You can prepare for this by:
- Reviewing your job description and goals for the year
- Looking back through your calendar, saved emails and messages, and other notes to compile a list of your accomplishments
- Connecting the dots between how your individual wins supported the success of your wider team or department
The more organized you are throughout the year, the easier it is to pull this information together at the end of the year for your self-evaluation. Listing all your accomplishments is just the first step in your prep work. The second step is to make sure your manager understands the impact of all that you’ve achieved.
Don’t be shy: Employee self-evaluations should highlight your best efforts
Your self-assessment isn’t a time for self-deprecation. Be loud and proud about what you’ve done in your role over the past year. Do you struggle to pat yourself on the back? Jane Scudder, a leadership and personal development coach, suggests letting the metrics do the talking for you: “Any good self-appraisal has metrics, but it’s also a great way to let the results speak for themselves. Rather than writing ‘Had great team success in 2017!’ try something like ‘Outperformed 2017 sales goals by over 135 percent.’ ”
Even if you’re in a field that’s less metrics-driven, there are likely still facets of your role that you can use for benchmarking against others who do similar work or try taking a more robust evaluation of the growth of your skill or craft over the previous year. At the start of the year, work with your manager to identify what the indicators of success in your role look like (or, if you’re a manager, communicate these indicators to your employee).
Sharing is caring: Get feedback on your employee self-evaluation beforehand
Scudder also recommends that you swap self-evaluations with a peer to make sure you’re putting forth your best work (and putting yourself in the best light). “Rather than keeping your written self-appraisal and accomplishments under wraps as if they were military secrets,” she writes, “try exchanging with a close colleague or even someone external!”
Annual performance reviews: It’s not managers vs. employees
A performance review may feel like a confrontation, but remember that in actuality the two of you are in it together. The best way to reduce review-related anxiety is for managers and employees to communicate frequently throughout the year.
The manager’s role during performance reviews
As a manager, you should have a timeline you follow to foster communication between you and your employees: Goals should be set at the beginning of the year, check-ins should happen on a regular rhythm, and you should keep notes on each employee’s performance so you can give them robust feedback during their review. Both your critical feedback and praise should be purposeful and precise.
The employee’s role during performance reviews
Stephanie Gibson, HR manager at J. Knipper and Co., says that although it’s really on the manager to engage in regular feedback with employees, if that isn’t happening, employees should initiate it. “You have to take control of your own destiny and request feedback,” she advises. “You should always know where you stand. You should get some type of feedback on any type of special project, and you should know if it met the expectation or not.”
Responding to critical feedback during performance reviews
If you and your manager aren’t on the same page about your performance for the year, Gibson says it’s OK to advocate for yourself. “If you know you have a rocky relationship with your manager, you should absolutely be prepared with information walking into it,” she says, “and you should be brave enough to challenge the feedback.” She explains that a negative perception can only be changed if you address it by taking control of your own narrative during your employee self-evaluation.
Of course, there are ways to disagree constructively in the workplace, but you’ll also want to make sure you don’t go into your review with your guard up. It’s easy to get defensive. If you can’t process your manager’s feedback on the spot, it’s fine to ask for some time to do so and put a follow-up meeting on the calendar
If you find yourself obsessing over negative feedback, Sheila Heen, a consultant and lecturer at Harvard University Law School, tells TED that it can be helpful to make a containment chart. “On a piece of paper, create two columns,” she says. “In one column, write down what the feedback is about; in the other column, write down what is it not about. Perhaps you’ve been told you need to speak up more in meetings; your boss is not telling you that your contributions at meetings are incoherent or ill-informed.”
Don’t forget that these conversations don’t have to be one-sided. As an employee, the questions you ask and the information you relay during your performance review can create a fruitful conversation between you and your manager.
And if you’re a manager, remember that your employees are probably walking into a performance review feeling a little nervous—whether or not they need to be—so you can alleviate some of that energy by asking questions that show you’re there to support them any way you can. Katie Douthwaite Wolf, an editor at career website The Muse, recommends asking employees these four questions:
- How do you want to be rewarded?
- How do you work best?
- What don’t you like about my management style?
- What can I do to make your job easier?
These types of questions make an employee self-evaluation and an annual review just as much about how managers can improve as they are about how employees can excel in their role.
When managers and employees treat annual reviews like the natural culmination of a conversation they’ve been having all year, it’s a lot less stressful for all parties involved. Annual review time is simply an opportunity to reflect on the past year and prepare for the upcoming one. And if stress still infiltrates your office around review time, you can always unwind together at your annual holiday party.
Additional writing contributions by Nic Vargus