Five myths about performance reviews

There are few workplace rituals more dreaded than the annual performance review.

According to a 2012 Cornerstone OnDemand/Harris Interactive survey, less than half (45%) of surveyed workers who had gone through their employer’s review process thought the assessment was a fair and accurate representation of their performance, and only 37% said their manager gave them useful feedback.

While it’s true that many supervisors aren’t skillful at giving formal reviews, an annual review can be more than a necessary evil. In fact, it can be an important tool for helping you achieve your job-specific and overall career goals.

Here are five myths about performance reviews—and the reality.

Myth No. 1: Performance reviews are a waste of time.

Reality: The review can provide a wealth of helpful information—if you ask for it.

“A good review should be a conversation about your job and how it relates to the goals of the department and the company,” says Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and training at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “You can use the review to calibrate against expectations and learn how to improve your performance.”

Tip: Even if you’ve been doing a great job, come prepared with suggestions for specific benchmarks for improvement, and ask your supervisor how he might help you achieve them.

However, if you want to be doing some other tasks, or move to develop your career, have that conversation with your manager in a separate meeting.

Myth No. 2: The review will have big (and bad) surprises.

Reality: If you’ve been getting periodic reviews—even informal ones—you shouldn’t be surprised during the annual review.

You may have been getting minireviews throughout the year whether you realized it or not. Many of these appraisals may have been informal, such as passing comments in emails or at the water cooler. These mini-appraisals are important, according to Orndorff. “A good manager will be appraising you and giving you feedback year-round, whether it’s in writing or in a passing comment,” she says.

Tip: Be active in soliciting feedback throughout the year. If you haven’t been getting the appraisals you need, request more frequent evaluations from your supervisor.

Myth No. 3: The annual review will determine your raise.

Reality: Even if your raise is based on performance, it’s probably set in stone long before the review.

Some companies have budget parameters, and some managers—say, in government organizations—don’t set your pay rate at all. Even if your manager does have the ability to raise your pay, budgets have been set and the approvals for salary increases have been made before the annual review, according to Orndorff. But you can still use the review to learn how (or if) you can get the maximum increase next year.

Tip: Have the conversation about salary at least two months before your performance review. “Make your case for any raise based on the market value for that job and the value you provide to the company,” says Janet Britcher, president of Transformation Management LLC, a Boston-based firm specializing in executive coaching, management development and team building.

Myth No. 4: You should refute all negative feedback about you.

Reality: Experts say you don’t need to dispute criticism, unless it’s based on inaccurate information.

Tip: Listen without defensiveness and don’t make excuses or argue.

Britcher suggests a win-win approach to criticism. “You can restate it saying, ‘What I hear you saying is…’ Then, once you’ve clarified the problem and corrected any inaccuracies, talk with your supervisor about developing specific solutions for addressing the problem or improving your performance.”

Myth No. 5: Your coworkers’ opinions of you don’t matter.

Reality: Coworkers can give your supervisor a clearer picture of your performance, but you may have to solicit their opinions on your own.

In the Cornerstone/Harris report, 53% of those surveyed said their manager was the only one to assess their performance, and only 21% said their reviews included peer feedback. If your manager doesn’t ask for feedback from your coworkers, you should gather that input on your own.

Tip: To apprise your manager of how others regard you, take detailed notes on everything your coworkers say about you, and present that information, along with emails and other documentation, at the review, Orndorff says. “It’s possible that your boss didn’t hear all of the good things about you,” she says.

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