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What to Do Before Your Annual Review: Tip 2

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Here’s the second tip in this series, What to Do Before Your Annual Review.

Tip #2: Know What To Expect

What’s the best predictor for a successful performance review? No, it’s not the fact that you rocked the corporate world this year with your amazing sales, your talented creations, or your heartfelt leadership. In fact, the worst thing that can happen in a review is that you walk in thinking you are a shooting star, and walk out feeling like a black hole. Ugh.

But that’s not going to happen to you this year, because you’re going to do the one thing that can help you get ready. You’re going to know what to expect.

Don’t believe that’s the magic wand? I didn’t either. But after talking to several clients and corporate colleagues, as well as reflecting on my own experiences reviewing and being reviewed, I discovered that the one thing that makes a performance review  successful in our eyes is whether or not it met our expectations. Even when we’re expecting a tough review, if we knew it in advance, we walked out feeling fine.

That’s a powerful realization. Fortunately, as a high-flying Red Cape Revolutionary, you already have the tools it takes to know what to expect right now. You have the confidence to ask. Here’s where to start.

1. Ask your manager, or whoever will conduct your review. I know, I know, you’re saying “duh–of course I should ask my manager.” But I’m surprised by the number of people who talk with their manager about every little thing, but never take time to ask about the annual review process until they’re headlong into the conversation and realize it’s not going the way they thought. So here are some questions to ask your boss/manager/leader:

  • I know our annual performance process is approaching. I’d like to understand all the steps you take leading up to it and what happens afterwards. Would you have 10 minutes to walk me through it? (If they’re not prepared to share in that moment–then take the initiative to schedule it!)
  • Where are you in the process right now?
  • [After you get the overview] I understand how our process is designed to work, but I know we live in the real world and sometimes things shift for speed or resources. Are there any workarounds or informal steps people in your role end up taking to work through the process more effectively here?
  • What are the one or two things I should expect from the annual review conversation we’ll have? What should I not expect?
  • What do you need me to do in advance to make sure we have a productive review conversation?
  • Anything else you want me to know?

Also, even if you’ve been at the company for a while, don’t be embarassed if you’ve now realized you’re not clear on the processes and aren’t sure what to expect. Things are changing at a rapid pace, and there’s no shame in saying to your boss:

  • I know I’ve been through a performance review with you before, but I also know lots of things are changing in our business. I’d like to make sure my expectations are in line for how it’ll work here this year.

A good boss will appreciate your curiosity and desire to know. A mediocre boss may be forced to think through the process further in order to share it out loud. And a bad boss, well, let’s hope he or she can just learn by your example—but at least you’ll have some data to start, to add to the information you’ll gain in step 2.

2. Ask your human resources (HR) person.

HR has gotten a bad rap in recent years, as its practitioners have been forced to wear the black hats of layoffs and cost-cutting. But most HR people I know actually want you to remember they have the word “human” in their title. Yes, they want to help.

You likely have an HR person who serves your company, department, location, or division. They may be on the other end of a phone rather than down the hall, but they’re there. Don’t assume they can’t help just because that’s the grumbling you’ve heard from others. There are awesome HR people and there are stinky HR people, just as there are awesome and stinky IT pros, financial managers, and blog writers.

Here’s what to ask an HR pro in your company.

  • Overall, what are the steps of the annual review process in our company?
  • In your experience, how closely does each manager follow that process? If my manager does something different, is that a concern?
  • When does the process kickoff, and when does it need to be completed?
  • Does our process typically include conversations about my pay, or is that handled in another conversation? If the conversation includes pay, will I also hear about any other rewards (such as bonuses or incentives)?
  • If the conversation doesn’t include pay, what is the timing and process of conversations about pay?
  • Who is involved in my evaluation and review? What forms get filled out? Who sees those, and do I get a copy?
  • In general, do we rate or rank employees against each other here? If so, what do those ratings or rankings mean?
  • Will I be asked to sign something confirming I agree with the review?
  • Will we be setting goals for the next year, or is that handled in a separate conversation?
  • Will we be talking about specific skills to grow and develop?
  • What else should I know?

[Hey HR pros, what else would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the reply box below or on our Facebook wall.]

3. Ask a senior, trusted employee in your company.

As you gather information and start to create a picture of what to expect, you may hear conflicting facts. HR may say it works one way; your manager may offer a different view from “in-the-trenches.” So the other piece of valuable insight you can gather is to ask another employee, someone who you respect and trust, and who has been through the company’s processes several times in the past. I’d also err on the side of picking someone who has an optimistic view of the world, rather than the local grumbler or complainer. (Why hang around the dreary?)

Ask your colleague about the process from scratch, using the same questions above. Then, query them on the inconsistencies, asking them for their theories, or what they do or don’t do about them. It can be a great conversation to really cement what you can expect from your annual review–and what you shouldn’t expect along the way.

Agree with these ideas? Disagree? Would love to hear from you either way. Reply in the box below or share your thoughts on Facebook! Plus, more tips coming soon–to be sure you don’t miss them, make sure you’ve signed up for our free Community News at

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