Oh Joy, It's Almost Yearend Review Time!

The yearend performance review has been a tradition in agencies for decades, often bringing with it conflicted feelings of trepidation and reflection, apprehension and anticipation. Over the course of my career, I’ve performed hundreds of these one-on-ones. Reviews, in my opinion, are one of the most difficult, and often fruitless, conversations people have at work.

In the advertising industry, the individual performance review process is especially daunting given that 44% of the workforce is comprised of Millennials. A TriNet Perform study conducted in September 2015 found that Millennials and the performance review make a toxic cocktail. Top-level findings included these fun-facts:

-62 percent of Millennials have felt “blindsided” by a performance review.

-74 percent frequently feel “in the dark” about how their managers and peers think they’re performing at work.

-Nearly half (47 percent) feel that receiving a performance review makes them feel like they can’t do anything right.



-Nearly one in four (22 percent) have called in sick because they were anxious about receiving their review.

-More than half (59 percent) frequently feel their manager is unprepared to give feedback during performance reviews.

Fun times indeed. 

A 2014 Washington Post article cheekily titled, “Study Finds That Basically Every Single Person Hates Performance Reviews,” underscored the negative repercussions of the old-school review. In recent years, top companies like General Electric, Deloitte and Adobe, to name a few, have begun the long process of overhauling their review practices, pivoting away from the archaic annual and semi-annual review. In place of the formal review (evoking an overwhelming sense of time wasted for both manager and employee alike), these companies are erring on the side of frequent, casual conversations (agencies, pay attention!)

According to Cliff Stevenson, a senior research analyst for the Institute for Corporate Productivity, nearly 10 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have stopped their annual rating. For the 10 percent of you experiencing this revolutionized review process, congratulations. If you are stuck in the 90 percent (and let’s face it, the majority of you are) here are some tips for surviving your performance review.

It’s a conversation

By coming to the table with questions prepared for your manager, you will have a little bit more control over the discussion, alleviating some of the trepidation you may be feeling. I suggest you start by asking specific questions, based on your specific career goals with the company:

-How I can develop skills to move forward with the company?

-What are your goals [your manager’s] for the upcoming quarter or year?

-Can we set up a regular meeting, perhaps monthly to make sure that I am on track?

Know your goals

Whether you want to grow old with your company, or it feels like a great stepping-stone to your dream career, performance reviews are a great time to reflect on your near-term and long-term career goals. Start by making a list of your one, five and 10-year career goals and ask yourself serious questions, like:

-What hard and soft skills do you need to develop in the next year or few years?

-If you’re angling towards a promotion at your current company, what can you do to get there by the next review?

-What challenges do you need to experience to get to your goal? Such as, going back to school, taking on skill-building projects or taking on leadership roles.

Squelch your anxiety

Easier said than done, right? Walking into your manager’s office, uncertain of the tone of your impending review (doom) try these three simple steps:

-Prepare yourself ahead of time, eliminating the chance of any surprises. Make a list of projects and accounts you’ve worked on, people you’ve helped, revenue you’ve helped secure, processes that you’ve helped develop that have saved the company money or time. What are the top three things you want to work on for rest of the year? Add those to the list as well.

-Be prepared to answer the question, “What feedback to you have for me?” That’s your manager asking. If you can’t answer that question, you’re wasting an opportunity to guide your manager toward understanding how to best leverage you.

-Remember all feedback is good feedback, even if it has a negative connotation. You can’t grow until you know what you need to improve on.

Leveraging the performance review in your favor, by preparing questions and ideas, as well as establishing follow-up meetings and next steps, should make the process somewhat less daunting by putting you in the driver’s seat. What you do after your review is completely up to you.


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