4 Steps to Acing Your Next Performance Review

For many, an annual performance review can be the most anxiety-inducing event of your professional year. But with a little bit of reframing, it doesn’t have to be.

Try thinking of it this way: A performance evaluation is a great opportunity to sit down with your supervisor, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, and craft a vision for what the coming year could look like.

It can be hard to find time to do any of those things—let alone all three—in your day-to-day, so when your evaluation shows up on the calendar, be sure to prepare so you can fully take advantage of the opportunity. Here are four steps you can take to ace your annual review.

Tell the story of your accomplishments

Your performance is the focus of your annual review, and hopefully you have plenty of accomplishments to share. The conversation will be most effective if you present your accomplishments as a coherent story of the value you’ve added to the organization over the last year.

The key to telling a story about your accomplishments is to focus on outcomes from your work, as opposed to activities you completed.

Pro Tip: Much of this information can go in a self-assessment. If your organization doesn’t require one, you can use an online template, such as this one provided by The Management Center. Just send it to your manager at least a week before your review and say something like: “In advance of my review, I have reflected on my accomplishments and progress toward my goals over the last year. I wanted to share my reflections with you to inform our conversation next week.”

To build your story, first review your accomplishments over the last year and choose the ones you want to highlight. This part will be much easier if you’ve been tracking your accomplishments in real time.

As you reflect, focus on enduring accomplishments with notable outcomes, as opposed to bringing up everything you’ve done in your role. Here are some examples:

  • Notable outcome (recommended): Implemented new donor management system that allows us to more easily identify donors who could be upgraded, resulting in an average of $X more in donations per month.
  • Fleeting outcome (discouraged): Planned a successful meeting for 40 people.

If you and your boss set annual goals in your last review, make sure to highlight if you achieved—or exceeded—those goals and then note the outcomes.

Prepare to receive and give feedback

The two kinds of feedback you are likely to receive are supportive feedback (what your boss wants you to keep doing) and constructive feedback (what your boss wants you to improve).

In practice, this could look like:

  • Supportive feedback: “The weekly reports you prepare have been indispensable to our team. I’ve used the information in reports to our funders and to the management team, and everyone has expressed their appreciation for your thorough work.”
  • Constructive feedback: “I want to discuss your management of the volunteer recruitment program. Six months ago, we talked about how to rework the program to recruit volunteers from different age ranges and backgrounds, but I haven’t seen any progress on that front. Can you help me understand what’s going on?”

Whichever type of feedback you receive, a simple “thank you” is a good first response. Prepare to receive constructive feedback by reminding yourself its purpose is to help you improve and focus on actionable steps. If you receive feedback that you don’t understand, you can ask for clarification or a suggestion of what your boss would like you to do instead.

Remember: No one is perfect. You want to be the best you can be at your job, right? Receiving feedback—and applying it the next time you face a similar situation—can help you do that.

Your manager may also ask you to provide feedback on their performance so they can better support you in the coming year. This is the space to focus on big-picture things that affect your ability to do your job, such as:

  • “It was really helpful to hear your feedback on [PROJET OR SKILL] today. Could you give me feedback like that on a more regular basis so I can continue to improve throughout the year?”
  • “Sometimes I struggle to complete a project because I lack key information, such as a budget or details on who needs to sign off on the materials. It would help me if you could provide this information (to the extent we know it) when we’re first talking about the project.”

If your manager doesn’t ask for feedback and you want to provide some, you can say something like: “It would help me complete my goals for this year if you could… [insert the thing you would like them to improve].”

Think about what you want to negotiate

As long as your performance review is positive overall, it can be a good time to ask for a raise or additional perks because you’ve just noted all the ways you added value to your team in the last year.

Any successful negotiation requires preparation. First, think about what you want to ask for. What would make you a more productive or satisfied employee in the coming year? Is it more vacation time? The option to work remotely? A raise? Then, build your case.

When asking for a raise, promotion, or title change, always focus on how you’ve earned it, not how much you need or want it. When asking to work remotely, focus on how it will improve your work; for example, if your organization’s open-office plan is distracting, explain to your boss how working in solitude at home can help you to be more productive.

Practice what you want to focus on in a performance review

Part of why performance reviews feel so stressful is because we only have them once a year. The unfamiliar can be frightening, but practicing can make it more familiar.

Try role-playing your performance review with a friend. You play yourself, and ask them to play your boss.

You want to prepare how you will tell the story of your accomplishments in a clear and engaging way, but also make sure you remember to give and receive feedback from your “boss.” Ask your friend to give you pointers after the role-play and then try again with their advice in mind. If you don’t feel comfortable practicing with someone else, you can take a video of yourself or practice while looking in a mirror.

Taking the time to prepare for your performance review in the weeks leading up to it can ease any stress you may be feeling. By utilizing these best practices, you’ll highlight exactly how you’ve contributed to your organization over the past year and will figure out what’s next for your career.


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By Stephanie Sperow