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11 best performance review tips for employees

By Brett Farmiloe from Terkel · February 22, 2023
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Preparing for a performance review shouldn't mean stress dreams and tanked productivity. But no matter how chill you are, it's never easy to have someone in a position of power evaluate you. It brings back high school vibes, and if there's a self-evaluation aspect, college application vibes too. How do you revert to adulthood and get through a performance review without it taking over your brain space?

We asked HR experts, team leaders, and employees themselves for their best performance review tips—here's what they said.

11 employee performance review tips

1. Do a 360° self-evaluation ahead of time

"If you're preparing for a performance review, start by taking a 360° self-evaluation in advance. Do your best to rate yourself in all aspects of your performance, and make a note of where you perceive yourself as weak. Wherever you have low ratings, develop a brief plan for improvement that you can verbalize during your performance review. 

For example, if you see a need to improve in communicating with others, you might develop a quick plan to be more proactive about initiating important conversations. It's ok to explain how circumstances may have hindered your ability to excel in an area—just don't come across as defensive.

In short: Recognize the problem. Mention the barriers to success. Then, present a simple plan for improvement. Make sure that your plan is specific, measurable, and time-bound. Your evaluator will appreciate the thought and effort you put into doing better the next time around."

Dennis Consorte, Digital Marketing and Leadership Consultant for Startups, Snackable Solutions

2. Align yourself to your job family matrix (JFM)

Candice Trebus's quote about performance reviews

"Many Fortune 500 companies have a job family matrix (JFM): a standardized write-up of your role and the levels of expertise above and below it. A JFM will vary in the amount of detail it contains, but at a minimum, it provides a brief description of the role and a bulleted list of core duties. Your company may call this your career paths and ladders, a career plan, or a career framework. 

Aligning yourself to the job family matrix means taking an honest stock of your role and abilities. I've seen an employee's alignment with their JFM really help develop their leadership qualities and increase their confidence in taking on more high-visibility work. 

As a manager, I've used the JFM to advocate for role changes, promotions, and to guide career moves. Prepare for your review with your Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (SMART) goals for how you plan to master each bullet inside and out on your JFM."

Candice Trebus, Sr. Lifecycle Marketing Manager, Skillz Inc.

3. Show, don't tell

"Everything begins with your self-assessment. Review your milestones and achievements, and anchor each of them with evidence. It's essential to show your supervisor what you've done and how those accomplishments have impacted the company. 

Think about where you've improved a process that saved time, generated more revenue, or led exceptionally well. Your performance review is an opportunity to tell your story. And while your supervisor should know the things you've done, there is a possibility they aren't fully aware of everything. That's why you need to tell your story better than anyone else."

John Neral, Owner, John Neral Coaching

4. Articulate success and be transparent about challenges

"In preparing for a performance review, you want to succinctly articulate two or three projects and initiatives that have gone well over the past year. Try not to fall victim to the 'recency effect' where you can only recount the most immediate wins because they're top of mind. Take some time to think about the past year, and be prepared to shine a spotlight there. 

The same advice applies to ideas, projects, and initiatives that may have fallen flat or never quite come to fruition as planned. Be transparent about those challenges. If the reviewer is on their game, they may ask something to the effect of 'how can I help you in the future?' or 'what do you need from me to help you continue to grow?'

Be prepared and willing to answer these questions. If the reviewer doesn't ask, this is the time to show you're proactive about your own growth and development. Making a statement like, 'Here's how I would like you to help me…' is a great segue toward your next steps."

Stacy Berg Jackson, CEO and Chief Executive Coach, SBJ Consulting, Inc.

5. Create a rough draft of your goals

"The performance review meeting will include a discussion about your targets and goals for the upcoming year. This discussion must, of course, be a joint effort between you and your boss. Despite this, it won't hurt if you take the initiative and create a few tentative goals of your own. 

This is particularly true if you've recognized any areas for improvement or abilities you'd like to learn that could help boost your career. Try to make sure your goals are sensible and pertinent when you create them. They should also be directly tied to your role and have value in the context of your work, in addition to meeting any demands you may have for personal development or increasing your earning potential."

Andrew Dale, Technical Director, CloudTech24

6. Cast a vision for the future

"Performance reviews are an opportunity not only to reflect on your successes over the last 6 – 12 months, but also to cast a vision for how you want to show up at your company over the coming months and year. 

Consider how you can play to your strengths and any growth areas. You can set yourself up for a successful performance review process by coming prepared to speak to your goals, as well as the support you need from management to get there. Be specific while leaving room for the uncertainty of business."

Dr. Kyle Elliott, Founder and Career Coach, CaffeinatedKyle.com

7. Bring a portfolio of your work

"This method was incredibly helpful in my preparation when I was an employee. In my portfolio, I included copies of projects that showcased my successes and highlighted achievements throughout the year. 

Not only did this show the breadth of my work, but it also served as a tangible reminder for why I deserved a raise or bonus in the coming year. Additionally, when I met with my supervisor, I could easily access any of this information and present it on the spot during our discussion, which further strengthened my argument for increased compensation or reward."

Grace He, People and Culture Director, Team Building

8. Have a case study ready

Jarir Mallah's quote about performance reviews

"A case study is used to present quantifiable results. It's one thing to walk into a review and make statements; it's another to actually present proof of your efforts. 

This will show actionable results, which will speak to intangible skills offered. Such skills may be that you're a great collaborator, communicator, or manager. Your superior may not be aware of your direct effect on company results, further offering insights into your importance to the organization."

Jarir Mallah, HR Specialist, Ling App

9. Connect your goals to business-impacting results

"I worked diligently with my teams to create goals that were tangible and measurable and directly connected to improved customer satisfaction or business impact. 

One of the best things you can do when communicating the impact of your goals during a performance review is to connect them to business-impacting results. I grew X, which resulted in Y. I re-engineered this process, which resulted in a faster process, expense reduction, or improved customer satisfaction. These types of results will get you noticed no matter what level of the organization you are in."

Luci Rainey, Principal, Day One Training and Coaching

10. Take notes during the year

"If an employee is only just preparing for their performance review right before the meeting, it may be too late. A tip I give employees is to keep a working document where they can write notes throughout the year of their successes. It's especially important to keep track of measurable outcomes, such as increases in sales because of their efforts. 

It's difficult to remember everything that you've done throughout the performance review period, particularly if they're annual. By keeping a working document throughout the year, the employee has helpful information that can prove value—and potentially provide more negotiating power to them."

Gabriela Cervantes, MBA, Owner, Gabriela with one L

11. Be prepared to listen

"Regardless of your performance level, prepare to listen to the gift of constructive feedback. And remember: receiving the feedback is only the beginning stage of listening. 

Listening also includes remembering, evaluating, and responding, so that you can engage in meaningful conversation on how to put your gift to good use in your future performance. 

In addition, I've found that preparing to listen reduces anxiety and anticipation for employees. So, come prepared with written notes about specifics on what you did well and areas you'd like to improve on to be even more effective."

Mary Debra Hester-Clifton, Executive Consultant, MB Enterprises

Automate your performance review

By starting with a brag sheet and connecting it to all the apps where you receive feedback, you can automate the process of collecting the details you'll need to nail your performance review. Learn more about how to automate feedback tracking at work.

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