6 secrets to getting a better performance evaluation

With the year drawing to a close, it’s performance evaluation time in many companies. Performance evaluations don’t have to be stressful or nerve-wracking, especially if you follow these six tips to get ready for for yours.

1. Realize that most managers hate doing performance evaluations. It’s not that managers don’t want to give you feedback, but structured performance evaluations can feel bureaucratic (even though they shouldn’t be if they’re done well) and take up a lot of time to do, especially if the manager has a large number of staff members. As a result, many put them off or look for ways to get them done faster. As an employee, you can take advantage of this by making your evaluation easier for your manager. That leads directly to the next two points.

2. Let your manager know that you’re looking forward to your evaluation, not dreading it. One reason managers fret over evaluations is that they assume they’re nerve-wracking for employees. If you make it clear that you’re looking forward to feedback, you immediately make the process more pleasant for the person charged with giving it to you.

3. Evaluate yourself first. Some companies build self-assessments into their evaluation processes, and so you might be asked to fill out a self-evaluation before your manager does her piece of the process. But even if you aren’t, you can do one anyway and supply it to your manager. And it doesn’t have to be hard – just list out what your goals were for the year and how much progress you made toward them, and add a section on strengths you bring to the job and a section on where you’d like to do better in the coming year. If you provide this to your manager before she needs to finish her own evaluation of you, there’s a good chance that she’ll pull directly from it when she writes her own (sometimes quite liberally!).

4. Start planning for your evaluation from the first day of the evaluation period. In other words, if you’re evaluated every December, start thinking about your evaluation in 12 months earlier, in January. Think about what your goals for the year should be, and lay out a plan to achieve them – including monthly or quarterly milestones to make sure you’re on track. Then, work toward those milestones, and at the end of the year when it’s time for performance evaluations, you can ideally show your manager that you met all of your goals for the year.

5. Keep an evaluation file throughout the year. If you start trying to think about what you did well this year, you’re unlikely to remember the fantastic reception your report got in February or that great praise you got in June. Instead, keep a file where you jot down notes on project successes during the year, so that it’s handy when you’re reflection on your performance during evaluation time. You can even include notes of praise from others in the file and reference them in your review.

6. Ask colleagues to give feedback to your manager. Ideally, as your manager reflects on your performance over the last year, she’ll seek out input from other people who work with you closely and who might have insightful perspectives on your work. But don’t wait to see if she does this, or take the chance that she might not ask the people best positioned to speak about your accomplishments. Instead, think of who particularly appreciates the work you do and tell them you’d be grateful if they’d provide input to your manager. It’s fine to be direct about this; for instance, you might say, “Jane, Susan and I are getting ready to do my annual performance evaluation, and if you have any feedback on my work this year, I’d love it if you’d share it with her.”

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    And I was just evaluated this morning! Some things do not pertain to me, but nonetheless, these are good tips for next year!

  2. Yup*

    I accept that I am probably one of three people in the entire world who enjoys the structure of the evaluation process. I like that it pushes me to measure my work and write goals on a set cycle.

    I especially concur with #4 start planning immediately and #5 keep a rolling file. My coworkers were shocked at how quickly I completed a recent self-eval until I explained that I just copied + pasted most of the ‘accomplishments’ section from monthly reports we prepare for our boss. (I also update my resume every year right after the appraisal process. So much easier to write it in a positive frame of mind than after you’ve started job hunting because you’re totally demoralized.)

    1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      I agree – I love formal reviews. I always let my manager know (as I seem to have a new manager every year) that review time is my Adult Christmas. I literally look forward to it every year. …. Now who is the third person? I am sure they are out there!

    2. ChristineSW*

      I think it really depends on the manager and your relationship with him/her. If you have a strong, positive relationship with your managers, coworkers and, if applicable, outside clients/colleagues, the performance evaluation should be a fulfilling process. It is the rare manager who really knows how to conduct effective evaluations and make it a motivating experience, rather than something to be dreaded. Yes, everyone will likely have something they need to improve on or develop, but it shouldn’t feel punitive. I’m still scarred from some of my previous evaluations!! Oh sure, there were times I deserved the criticism, but….ugh!

      1. Vicki*

        I had a manager who made something up for the “needs improvement” section. When I called him on that (I said “That never happened.”) he admitted he’d made the scenario up. His excuses:
        * you need _somethng_ in these sections
        * no one really reads these things anyway

        1. Julie*

          But I’ll bet you could come up with something realistic for yourself to improve upon in the coming year. He didn’t need to make something up, and if he couldn’t think of anything (yay!), he could have asked you what you wanted to get better at.

        2. Marcy*

          Oh no- not the “no one really reads these things anyway” line! I was just given a warning about my new boss from a coworker who has worked for him for awhile and she said don’t expect the good evaluations I have been getting from my other managers and she said he always says that when you ask why he graded you so low. He tends to only give threes (out of five possible) because anything else requires comments and he is lazy. And people DO read those things.

    3. Chinook*

      You aren’t the only one. I am actually looking forward to the annual evaluation my boss is doing for her staff and contractors/temps. It will let me know what the little things are that I need to focus on.

      I was actually jealous of DH’s evaluations in the Canadian military they were highly structured, done at every level and affected promotions by telling everyone what number they were on the list for promotion (I.E. If you were #45 and there were 40 positions open for the next rank, you knew you wouldn’t get it unless 5 of those people quit). Everyone took it seriously, that I knew, because the underling you are evaluating today could be your boss 5 years from now and you want the good ones to make it.

  3. Verde*

    As the person who has to manage the process and nag, poke, prod, beg, threaten, and plead for participation from top to bottom and back, I dread it every year.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      At NewJob, I had mine in October, and found out that any managers that don’t get them done by the end of October are not eligible for pay increases for themself. There’s a nice little incentive to get them done without any begging, threatening or pleading.

      1. Joey*

        That’s really the only way to make sure managers know they’re important-tie their completion to raises. Because otherwise its way too easy to put them at the bottome of the pile so to speak.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        This is a great idea. My industry as a whole tends to be notoriously late about getting reviews done (mine is five months overdue, and I’m still waiting…), and I would love to see this kind of incentive to get people to give feedback on time.

  4. Anonymous*

    I’ve only had one job that did performance reviews, and the manager gave everyone 3/5 because “everyone can improve”. Bad workers, good workers, everyone gets the same so-so score. Waste of time.

  5. Mialou*

    I have worked for the same manager for almost 20 years and have not had a review — which is dependent on my merit raise — in four years. Somehow I get the raise without the review but I find it kind of intolerable that we haven’t sat down to talk about my work, Additionally, I no longer have a viable job description. I have written one for the work I am currently doing more than once, have submitted them to my manager as asked so that it can be evaluated and graded accordingly by HR, then I hear nothing more. And yes, I have brought this up to my manager — in writing, in person, in groups, etc. For whatever reason, she just does not want to review me. I’m at the point where I think that leaving this position (which I love) might be the only recourse that I have to find out just how much value I bring and what my skills are worth.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Do you get feedback from her in general? And have you told her that you’re frustrated/upset that you can’t get the review that’s needed for a raise?

      1. Mialou*

        Yes, we actually talk quite a bit. However, there are a lot of changes coming to my whole office structure and I have the opportunity to create my own position. I don’t want to get left behind those who have less experience than I do. My manager says all the right things — you are valued, I can’t do this without you, etc., — but the position has been the same grade and experience level since I was promoted to it more than 15 years ago. Folks 15 years younger (with that much less experience) are coming in making more than I am because they have qualitative job descriptions against which to have goals, tasks, etc.

        Of course, there are some really good things about the job. I have unbelievable flexibility in both time management, projects, tasks, etc. And I have some longevity here, which counts for quite a bit at the upper level. It’s the money (and the promotions of others around me). My manager is a crisis-person — if you are not in her face threatening resignation or a better job elsewhere, then your job just plods along. I don’t have it in me to bluff. It’s not my style. But at least we are having conversations now. If the outcome is not what I end up wanting, then I know that I have done everything I can to get what I want from the job and have to decide whether its in my best interest to stay.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    If you get a particularly effusive verbal compliment from a coworker on a job well done, don’t be shy about asking, “Can you put that in an email?” You can either ask her to email your boss or just email you, in which case you can save the note and trot it out when it comes time for your performance review.

    1. Anonymous*

      Would this be similar with clients? One of mine said she wants to email my manager about my work but hasn’t done so. Is it weird to send her my managers email? How should I phrase it?

      1. Yup*

        The easiest thing to do might be to have her send the email to you directly — “Dear Anonymous, Thanks so much for the great job you did on XYZ! Yadda yadda yadda.”

        Then you can either forward the email to your boss, or reply to the client (cc the boss) saying ‘Thanks so much for the kind words! It was my pleasure to do XYZ thing and Insert Other Nice Words Here.”

      2. Chinook*

        I have absolutely asked clients/vendors to let my supervisor know. And when one vendor sent me flowers as a thank you for helping her, the first person I bragged to was my boss.

    2. Anonna Ms.*

      Definitely ask coworkers to put compliments in email. Either to you, since that’s easiest, or directly to your boss, if you’re both comfortable with that. (And understandably, some people just aren’t.)

      I have yet to get up the nerve to ask a client to do that. They’ll praise me effusively on the phone, but it’s hard to ask them to put it in writing or tell my boss.

      Oh, and if/when you do your own self-evaluations, feel free to heap praise on yourself. Remind us of the thing you did 11 months ago that made the client super thrilled, and that we think of as being “last year” and would forget to put on your evaluation. While we want you to do well, it’s hard to remember everything you’ve touched in the last year, especially if there are a lot of you to evaluate before the deadline when we have lots of other work to do.

      And please don’t beat yourselves up to terribly much. If there’s a performance area that you need to work on, believe me, we’re going to bring it up in our evaluation of you. If it’s something that you know that you need to work on*, say “I’m continuing to work on improving X skill by doing Y”, rather than “I’m a miserable failure at X, and that one time, two years ago, I forgot this tiny little thing, and the world almost ended, and I should just probably be fired.” It’s easier to agree with your assessment of yourself or whittle you down to reality a bit than it is to talk you up when you’ve talked yourself down.

      * Yes, you should know about weaknesses before you see it in writing, as the year-end performance process should be about documenting all the informal feedback you’ve been given throughout the year. In an ideal world, written reviews are merely documenting, and feedback happens all the time. In the real world, sadly, some people wait until written review time to say that X is an issue. By the time the employee learns of it, it’s too late to correct for this evaluation period, and it’s in their written review. I would say that 9 times out of 10, this is entirely a failure of management. The 10th time, it’s because the employee doesn’t take feedback well, so a secondary reviewer has to be brought in. Needless to say, that makes informal feedback that much harder, so the only feedback ends up being at official times. Even then, it’s partially on management.

  7. Julie*

    This is a great article! I do a lot of these things, but even though I was keeping an Outlook folder of “accolades,” I haven’t been “planning for [my] evaluation from the first day of the evaluation period.” And usually this means that some goals (that I’m excited about when they are set) don’t get much attention. Partly this is because I work onsite for a client, and it’s very busy. But I think if I kept myself to quarterly or monthly updates – just for myself – it would remind me to take the online training that I need in order to learn the software I really want to learn in the first place. Thanks for the much-needed push in the right direction!

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