Getting the Most From Your Appraisal
Building Future Success on Past Achievement
Some people dread appraisal meetings. They go into them with a defensive mindset, expecting conflict. Others view appraisals as little more than a chance to air their grievances. Still others take a cavalier approach and just "wing it" on the day.
But they all miss the point of appraisals. They are not an administrative chore, they're a chance to develop and grow in your career. Sure, review processes aren't always straightforward, but if you approach them in the right way you can reap significant benefits.
This article looks at how to prepare for an appraisal, how to ace it on the day, and how to keep your career development at the front and center of your boss's mind – whatever your current circumstances.
What Are Appraisals For?
An appraisal is an opportunity for a constructive discussion about your career development, and a chance to reflect on and celebrate your successes. A good appraisal will provide clarity, purpose and optimism for your next review period.
It's also a chance to showcase your commitment to organizational and team goals, and to demonstrate your contribution toward achieving them.
In modern organizations, one-sided, top-down, and judgmental appraisals are no longer the norm. Now, they tend to be positive, collaborative, open exchanges with the potential to strengthen your relationship with your manager.
Of course, you may need to discuss the things that didn't work out as you'd hoped. A project may not have gone to plan, for instance, or you may have complaints about your role that you want to talk about. But these discussions should form the basis of a plan for positive action.
How to Prepare for Your Appraisal
Ideally, you'll have received performance feedback throughout the appraisal period. If this is the case, nothing in the meeting should come as a surprise, either to you or to your manager. Nonetheless, you need to prepare in order to have a great appraisal.
1. Research Your Organization's Appraisal Process
Each workplace does appraisals differently. Where you work now might have a very different process than your previous employer.
If the process is new to you, find out which aspects of your performance the appraisal will measure, and how they'll be measured. You may find that you're required to fill out a self-assessment form or prepare a short presentation.
At a minimum, make sure that you have a thorough knowledge of your job description and how it compares with what you actually do each day.
It's also a good idea to ask your boss in advance how COVID-19 will inform the appraisal process. And to think yourself about how it has impacted your role and responsibilities – either positively or negatively.
2. Master Virtual Appraisal Skills
With many people working from home, or with only limited access to their usual workplaces, you'll likely have your appraisal remotely. Make sure you have the software you need to take part, and that you are confident using it.
For example, if you need to provide supporting documents for your achievements, make sure you know how to share your screen.
Video conference meetings can be physically and mentally taxing, particularly if they're one-on-ones. Focusing on a screen is different than being in a room with your manager. If the appraisal is likely to be longer than 30 minutes, ask if you can build in a break or two.
3. Make a List of Your Achievements
Your manager likely has several reports to do, so they may not remember every highlight of your last appraisal period. You can enlighten them!
Make a list of four or five of your successes. Try to highlight achievements that are measurable. For example, "boosted sales by 15 percent" will have more impact than "worked well with data analysts."
Highlight skills you've used which are harder to measure. This is particularly valuable in teams that are away from the office, and your work can't be as easily seen. If you've taken the lead on a project, for example, demonstrate this. And if you've learned new skills or had surprise successes, highlight these too.
4. Acknowledge Any Failures
Your appraisal period might not have been all smooth sailing. A project may have floundered, or perhaps an unexpected deluge of work made you fall behind. And the pandemic will almost certainly have had an effect on your results.
Don't duck these issues. Instead, take the lead in bringing them up. Your manager may have been uncertain about how to do so and be impressed by your initiative.
You may have had particularly challenging circumstances during the pandemic. For example, sharing a workspace with a partner, or juggling childcare, can be stressful. Your industry sector will likely also have been affected. Be assertive, and make sure that your manager takes these issues on board during the appraisal.
On the other hand, be honest. Don't make COVID-19 a reason for failures if it isn't. Be honest and demonstrate what you’ve learned.
5. Gather Information
If your role is assessed on facts and figures, have them to hand. For example, if you're responsible for a project coming in on time and within budget, make sure that you have the relevant data prepared. If feedback is likely to be more qualitative, prepare evidence for any points that you want to make. You may also want to include feedback from colleagues or customers.
Also, be sure to review the outcomes of your last appraisal, so that you can address any issues that arise from them.
6. Have Clear "Appraisal Goals" in Mind
Go into the meeting with an idea of the outcome that you want. If you'd like to see changes to your role, say so, and be ready to support your views with evidence. If you have particular ambitions for the future, be prepared to make the case for why they're important and how you'll pursue them.
You may need to renegotiate mid-or long-term goals because of changes to your personal circumstances, or shifts in the marketplace during the pandemic. If so, be ready to do so.
7. Identify Your Learning Needs
If you need new skills to improve your performance and enhance your career prospects, an appraisal is a great place to bring this up. This will also show initiative and commitment, so consider in advance where you'd like to make improvements. At the very least, your manager will be required to make a note of them.
If you're not a natural communicator, practice delivering your key points either alone or with someone else. Consider how you would respond to negative questions and how you could turn them into opportunities. For virtual appraisals, you might want to practice using the tech too.
What to Do During Your Appraisal
There are a number of things that you can do during the meeting to make sure that it's a productive and enjoyable experience.
If your appraisal is virtual, make sure that you have it in a quiet place, with no interruptions. This may be difficult if you're working from home, particularly if other family members are around. But your appraisal is important, so be firm about your need for quiet and privacy.
Be Proactive and Engaged
Don't leave all the work to your manager. Smile and ask for their feedback. Show your enthusiasm for the process, and make it clear that you're not simply counting down the minutes until it's over. If you're feeling nervous, remember that there's a good chance that your boss feels the same way.
Use Active Listening
Asking questions about your performance, and how your role could develop, will demonstrate your commitment. Make sure that you've thought your questions through and that you're genuinely interested in the answers. Listen actively to your manager's responses, so that you have some practical takeaways to act upon.
Think About Your Goals
Your review is also a good opportunity to tie your own to organizational and team goals. Show how your development, over the appraisal period and in the future, will benefit your team and the wider organization. Ask your manager to set you SMART goals that align with your own long-term career plans as well as with the interests of your team and organization.
At some point, the conversation will turn from reviewing the previous appraisal period to setting goals for the next. This s a great opportunity to carve a path that will satisfy both you and management.
But avoid committing to anything that you don't think you'll be able to achieve. There will almost certainly be parts of your role that you have to carry out even if you don't enjoy them. The key is to not leave the meeting dreading the next appraisal period.
It's crucial that you keep calm, no matter what happens. Don't get angry or defensive if things take a turn for the worse. Instead, treat any subject that arises, positive or negative, as an opportunity to learn. If you think that your boss is criticizing you unfairly, speak up. But keep your cool and be assertive, not aggressive.
What to Do After Your Appraisal
Good appraisals aren't self-contained, one-off meetings. They are part of a longer process of personal development. So, to make the most of them, you need to follow up on what you've agreed with your manager.
1. Take Some Time Out
Appraisals can be stressful. Virtual appraisals, by their nature, may be even more intense. So, take some time to relax afterward. Get some fresh air and clear your mind. After you've had some time to reflect, you might also want to talk it through with a trusted colleague, family member or friend – and maybe even celebrate some important wins!
2. Be Willing to Receive Future Feedback
Even if your organization doesn't provide regular and structured feedback, show that you are open to it on an informal basis.
You could ask your boss for regular catch-up meetings between appraisals, if this fits in with your organization's overall development policy.
3. Implement the Action Points
The appraisal process isn't just a "box-ticking exercise" – it's the springboard into the next phase of your career!
4. Keep in Touch With Your Manager
Try to use your manager's preferred method of communication style to keep them informed of your progress and needs. For example, they may prefer an email summary, or for you to update them in your one-on-ones. Face-to-face meetings might not be an option for a while so be prepared for virtual catch-ups.
Don't overload your boss with information. But if they have made commitments to you, it's reasonable for you to follow up.
5. Prepare for Your Next Appraisal
Always try to keep your next appraisal in mind, and build preparation time into your schedule.
Approach appraisals with a three-stage plan:
- Before the appraisal: ensure that you prepare thoroughly, understand the formal and technical requirements of the meeting, and have a list of your achievements and the areas that need further development. Gather supporting information, create "appraisal goals," and identify your learning needs.
- During the appraisal: be open and honest, collaborate with your boss, ask questions, keep your cool, and show how your success ties in with team goals.
- After the appraisal: take some time to relax. Keep the channels of communication open with your manager, invite further feedback, and prepare for your next appraisal as part of a continuous process.
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