How to Prepare for Your Performance Review: Top 10 Review Mistakes & How to Fix Them

After 20 years in Public Relations leadership roles, I have been involved in more performance reviews than I can count. And while I wish that every meeting was a jubilant, high-five frenzy…some are not. Why?

To be truthful, themes emerge over time. Here are the top 10 review mistakes I’ve seen:

  1. Poor explanation for mediocre outcomes
  2. Defensive posture on mistakes
  3. Lack of self awareness, particularly regarding weaknesses
  4. Modesty prevents appropriate horn tooting
  5. Distracted by the accomplishments or struggles of others
  6. Inability to link personal success to firm success
  7. Fear of letting go of role to embrace a new and harder role
  8. Victim mentality prevents accountability
  9. Unable to hear feedback as constructive criticism
  10. Emotions – or indifference — get the best of them

Why do people make these mistakes? Human beings are imperfect. Therefore, we produce imperfect work. That’s ok, as long as we commit to improvement. In fact, it might be better if we started calling performance reviews something else. “Growth Assessments?” “Evolution evaluations?”

No matter what we call it, the outcome of your review is almost entirely in your control. Your supervisor has a part to play and can be an important advocate. But this is your once-a-year chance to shine. So what can you do to ensure it goes smoothly? Make the most of your review by:

  • Offer superior performance throughout the year: Of course, this guarantees the best outcome. The problem is, people often neglect their major performance goals to focus on micro projects and tasks. Develop a system to keep you on track to hit major milestones.
  • Stay focused on you: You are the only person you can control. Leave the highs, lows and in-betweens of your colleagues behind when you walk in the door.
  • Own your mistakes & offer solutions: It’s fine that you dropped the ball. We all do. What I’m most interested in is a) your analysis of how it happened and b) how you’d prevent it from happening  again.
  • Listen carefully to daily feedback to construct the likely review direction: You are getting thousands of clues from your colleagues, you just have to look for them. Have you received public recognition? Client feedback? Team notes? Sit back and reflect on how these themes connect.
  • Stay Open: It’s hard to hear negatives, but we all have them. Ask us to tell you the hard truths. Embrace those moments as your growth opportunities.
  • Be part of the bigger picture: Know what your company’s overall business and marketing objectives are – then recap your success stories around that frame of reference. We love to see people who make it clear that we’re all in this together.
  • Show what you’re passionate about: If we know what you are invested in, it’s easier for us to see where you fit in the agency. Don’t hold back if it’s important to you. On the other hand, keep those emotions laser focused on ideas that benefit all of us.
  • Predict your own success: You know yourself better than anyone, including your boss. Once you can honestly pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, envision what your ideal role should be. Walk into the review with a proposal for how you might get there over the course of the year.

As your supervisors and employers, we have an enormous role to play to help you become the best possible professional. You deserve our support every day of the year. But relying on yourself is always the right place to start.

What kinds of mistakes have you made or seen in reviews? Or, if you had a great review, what choices led to that moment?

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  • JasMollica

    This is a fabulous post, Elizabeth. It’s also one that is perfect for me, since reviews are coming up. One thing I appreciate about where I work now is that the communications process between myself and my boss is very good. Regular chats about performance can be a huge advantage when you walk into that year ender. You are apt to have a better understanding of where you stand.

    • Anonymous

      Hi there:

      You are absolutely right. At our firm, we speak about the idea that nothing in your review (good or bad) should be a surprise.

      As communicators, we owe it to ourselves to communicate – if not over-communicate — about individual performance and progress. A great team requires continuously improving individuals.

      If that’s true, then the ideal review isn’t about delivering news at all. It’s a thoughtful discussion about how, given your own strengths and weaknesses, you can achieve your personal “road map” for the coming year.

      Bonus points if you can map that out in advance. That will allow you to better drive the conversation towards your desired outcome.

  • Jamie Jones

    I am always nervous when it comes time for any type of performance review. This is mainly due to the fact that I am always afraid that I haven’t done a good enough job, and also compare myself to my co-workers. These tips were incredibly helpful, and I know they will come in handy for me. Great post!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Jamie:

      Personally, I feel it would be strange if you weren’t nervous. I think “nerves” are a useful compass for your preparation. If you stop and think about what’s worrying you the most, you’re likely to hit upon the performance area that you most need to discuss in your review.

      Thanks for visiting with me virtually 🙂

      Elizabeth

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