Do you seek professional feedback on a regular basis? If not, it's time to start.

As an employee, if I didn't receive feedback, I had no problem knocking on my manager's door to ask how I was doing on a regular basis. I know they say no news is good news, but I also know that many managers will avoid tough conversations about performance. Even if all is going well, I still find it's helpful to converse about work processes and to obtain real-time feedback on what's working (and not working) to allow for idea generation and forward momentum.

As a former employee, manager, and human resources professional, I understand how difficult it can be to hold performance discussions and complete performance appraisals from all perspectives. Managers and employees alike find it's a challenge to make the time in their busy schedules, and not to mention, discussions required as a result of poor performance are not fun. However, these are not viable excuses for managers to escape the responsibility of providing performance feedback to employees nor are they good excuses for employees to give up on their performance management or career development.

Do performance appraisals add value?

Constructive communication around performance adds value to the organization and employees and is effective when correctly and thoroughly completed by managers and employees. Aside from the obvious record of performance, real-time feedback can provide guidance to support succession planning, developmental opportunities and needs, merit pay and salary increases, promotions, terminations, and severance programs.

Performance appraisals are also an opportunity to reward and acknowledge employees for a job well done and for managers and employees to communicate openly about performance, allowing them to work together to develop goals and objectives for the upcoming year — in an ideal world, that is.

Who should be taking the lead and initiating performance discussions?

Performance discussions — even if they're brief in nature — should frequently occur throughout the year, and your manager should be taking the lead on this. Common practice indicates they might not, however. Performance management programs are often set up for annual performance reviews, which unintentionally promotes this type of behavior. Therefore, it's important that you take the lead for regular discussions about performance if your manager does not. The benefit of doing so includes:

  • Being clear that you're meeting your manager's expectations, as well as clearly understanding what those expectations are.

  • Avoiding the surprise of finding out you're not meeting your manager's expectations.

  • Finding out sooner rather than later that your manager isn't thrilled with your performance means it will (hopefully) be easier for you to get back on track.

  • Identifying developmental opportunities in a timely fashion when you need them (instead of six months to a year later).

  • Showing initiative and that you care about your work and development.

  • Building a stronger relationship with your manager.

What steps can employees take to support performance management and feedback?

To help you better support performance management discussions throughout the year, as well as your role in your organization's performance appraisal process, consider the following tips.

It's OK to ask for feedback

First, get clear that it's OK to ask for performance feedback if it's not in your manager's nature to give it to you. Your career development depends on it. In the SHRM Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report, two of the top five most important aspects of job satisfaction for employees were communication with senior management and their relationship with their supervisors. In other words, you're not alone in your desire for communication with your manager. Annual performance reviews just won't cut it, so schedule the time to speak with your manager about your performance.

Schedule a conversation with your manager every one to two months

Let your manager know you'd like to send an invitation to set up regular 30-minute meetings once a month, or every other month, to discuss your performance and current priorities. By doing this, it will allow you to be clear on what your manager's expectations are and how you're doing from their perspective. This is especially important if you're new to an organization.

As time goes on, you might feel you need to meet less frequently with your manager, so every two to three months could work. You can also work with your manager to discuss how frequently you should meet as you also want to be respectful of your manager's busy schedule. A good manager will want to honor your request and will hopefully see the value in your meetings. On that note, be prepared for the meetings with your manager by having a list of items to discuss, so you can stay focused and on topic without wasting time when you meet.

If you sense your manager is unhappy, initiate a conversation as soon as possible

Trust your intuition if you sense something is out of sync with your manager and your performance, and schedule some time to discuss it sooner rather than later. This will help you clarify if there is an issue, allow you to get real-time feedback, and if there is an issue, you'll be able to correct it before it gets worse. Taking this approach also shows that you have initiative and care about your performance.

Know the performance appraisal process and how your salary is tied to it

As is the case with any policy or procedure that comes with your employment, it's a good idea to understand your organization's performance management process, including the type of appraisal process used and how salary is tied to it. It's very common for organizations to use performance appraisals to support salary increases and terminations.

Many organizations utilize a rating scale or ranking system, where you're given a number based on your performance compared to a specific set of factors. Other organizations use a 360-degree feedback approach, where peers and other managers are asked to provide input to better form a comprehensive perspective of an employee's performance. Other approaches to performance management include an objective-driven performance management process, where an individual is given specific objectives and the rating is based on the results of meeting those objectives, or it's a purely qualitative approach without a scale or rating system. Reviews might be required quarterly or bi-annually, but the most common approach is an annual performance review.

Track information throughout the year

When completing your portion of the performance appraisal, it can be hard to recall everything you did and accomplished throughout the year. This is why it's in your best interest to document your work activities throughout the year, even though it can feel inconvenient to do so at the time. It will save you a lot of time and hassle when it comes time to complete your appraisal and will also ensure you don't miss anything. It will also make it easier to update your resume if the need should ever arise, as well.

Give your appraisal some thought

An appraisal is a document that will remain in your employee file for at least as long as you're employed with the organization. If the need arises, it could be used as a legal document, as well. It can be tempting to rush through completing your appraisal to get it done, but this is your employment and career we're talking about. You've put in a lot of work and likely accomplished quite a bit, so it's worth to document it and acknowledge it. Though it might seem like it should be otherwise, your manager isn't always apprised of everything that you do, so it's up to you to let them know. Also, if for some reason your perspective is different from your manager's — in other words, you think you're doing OK, and he or she doesn't — you'll want to provide documentation as to your side of the argument on your appraisal. Be specific, clear, and detailed when completing your performance appraisal and complete it by the required deadline.

Remember that it's just feedback

I've seen employees stress and become overly sensitive to the information they receive during their performance review, even if the majority of the information is good news. Part of the feedback process is to provide areas for improvement, as we all have areas for growth and development. It's good to see these types of comments as an opportunity rather than something negative. Also, if your performance review doesn't go so well in your eyes, remember it's just information as to how one individual or organization sees your performance — not a personal reflection as to who you are as a person. It's just feedback.

There's been a lot of controversy in recent years as to whether or not performance appraisals cause more harm than good or are useful within organizations. A poll reported on of 2,677 CEOs, HR employees, and other staff reported that 98 percent found performance reviews unnecessary. Performance feedback and conversations are important for employees and managers to have, and in many organizations, it's the approach to performance management that needs to be evaluated and revised to encourage regular, valuable, and useful communication regarding performance. Yet, effective performance appraisals can be of value to an organization for the numerous reasons listed in this article.  

With all that said, you own your career development. Performance management and the appraisal process are a part of the work environment that can be valuable components to support your career development if you treat it as such. If you don't receive the regular feedback you desire and deserve as part of your employment, it's up to you to take the initiative to get it. It's also up to you to share your accomplishments and work with your manager through conversations, as well as your organization's formal performance appraisal process.

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