Getting the most from your performance review


Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know, when it comes to having a performance review. It’s the perennial discussion that is too important to miss, even though it may be uncomfortable. Silence doesn’t necessarily translate into, “You’re doing fine.” It could just as easily mean, “I don’t want to tell you that you aren’t doing well.” Either way, you need to know. 

 “I haven’t had a performance review in two years!” a colleague told me recently. Another person within earshot added, “I just had my review and it was a waste of time. My boss didn’t give me the details I was looking for. I don’t think he even knows what I’m working on.” 

Many managers avoid giving performance reviews. They fear hurting feelings or worry about an angry reaction. Some managers are so busy, they let performance reviews fall to the bottom of their priority list. 

Yet, one of the most important things a manager can do for his or her employees is to let them know how they are doing. Even if the manager and employees work closely on a day-to-day basis, employees want to know where they stand. In fact, the desire for meaningful feedback is so important to many employees, it is a leading cause of dissatisfaction and turnover when they don’t get it. When their manager doesn’t take the time to review their performance they feel it is a slap in the face—complete disinterest in their contribution. 

If your manager is not skilled at giving feedback, there are some things you can do: 

  • First, take an honest look at yourself. Are you approachable? If you get defensive at the slightest mention of an area requiring improvement, don’t expect your manager to eagerly share corrective feedback. You will be perceived as a problem, if you fight your boss’s attempts to be honest. You will succeed at quieting the feedback but the longer you stay in the dark, the more at risk your career will be.
  • Prove that you are coachable. The next time you get feedback, ask for advice and specific ways that you can improve. Then thank the person for their honesty and look introspectively at your own behavior to understand the feedback and act on it.
  • Take responsibility for your own actions. People who point fingers or who defend their actions are not seen as people who are promotable. Come back with an action plan and execute the plan, including giving your manager regular updates on your progress. 

If have taken these steps but still see your manager struggle to deliver honest feedback, here are some additional techniques: 

The reviewer is reluctant, say:

“If you’re afraid of hurting my feelings, don’t be. I really need to hear it.”

“I can’t get ahead if I don’t hear feedback about what might be holding me back. Please tell me what I need to know, even if it’s a small thing.”

The reviewer is only telling you what you did wrong:

What part of my performance do you think I did well?”

“The feedback you are giving me is all negative. Are you telling me my job is in jeopardy?”

“I understand that I need to improve in these areas. If you step back and look at my total performance, what percentage would you say these problem areas represent?”

The reviewer is focusing on one incident:

Are you saying this incident is an example of a pattern? If not, I’d like to talk about other areas of my performance, as well.” 

You’re surprised by the information:

“This is the first time I’ve heard this. Of course I want to work on improving in this area but I wish you had told me right away, when you first noticed it. If I had known, I could have corrected it by now.” 

You’re manager is rushing through the discussion:

“If you’re pressed for time, I’d rather wait until we can have a more thorough discussion.”

(If there are very few written comments.) “I’d really like to know how I’m doing. Can you give me some examples in this area, so I understand why I was rated ‘above average.’” 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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