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Performance reviews can strike fear in the heart of even the most diligent worker. No matter how well you feel things have been going, the thought of sitting down with your boss to scrutinize your value in the office can be terrifying.

If you’re worried about your upcoming review, it can be tempting to ignore it entirely. But by failing to prepare, you make the experience all the more likely to be painful. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Take back control, instead.

Use these easy tips to make your annual performance review work for you.

Be prepared

If your company uses a standard document for annual performance reviews, you should already have a template laid out for your preparation. Use this as a guide.

If your business has a more organic (or chaotic) approach, then these are the documents that can help you prep. Gather as many of them as you can.

  • Job description. Ideally, you will have a recent role description. However, as jobs tend to evolve over time, this isn’t always easy. If your job description is out of date (or non-existent), then have a look online for publicly available job descriptions of roles similar to yours.
  • Agreed objectives. If you have already had a review then you may have formally agreed objectives or targets. Bring these to your meeting. If not, then draft your own list of the things you believe you have been asked to do, such as completing a specific project or hitting a certain financial goal.
  • Evidence of achievements. When preparing, you will think about your achievements over the past year. Gather supporting evidence, such as business metrics which show you hit targets, customer and colleague feedback, or details of training and qualifications you have achieved over the period.

Look over your job description and objectives, and consider how you have done against each point. It is best to write some notes at this stage, so you have something to refer to during your meeting.

Did you deliver all that was required of you during the year? How do you feel about your achievements? What are the examples you’re most proud of over the period, which you would love to share with your boss during your review? A document like this one can help you structure your thoughts.

Be honest when preparing, and consider your shortfalls, too. Where do you need extra training, focus, or support in order to be able to excel at work?

Go the extra mile by drafting some objectives, or things you would like to achieve in the next review period. You could even start to think more about your overarching career plan. Decide what support you would like from your business to help you achieve your bigger goals.

It’s a two-way street, so be brave!

Annual reviews should not be a long monologue from either party. They should be a lively dialogue — a real conversation between you and your boss. You should expect to talk and share your ideas, as well as go over how you’re feeling about work. You should even be prepared to toot your own horn just a little bit. After all, decisions about promotions and pay rises are often based on the content of these meetings. It’s no time to be shy.

Use the opportunity to give and receive feedback. Ask your boss how you’re doing and how you can improve, and offer your view on how things are going more broadly. Praise others who are doing a good job in the team, too. Be sure to ask for the training, support, and resources you need to deliver a really good job.

This is not just about your salary and remuneration, although your performance review is often a good time to start such financial discussions. If you want to raise your pay as an issue, do so gently. Usually it is best to highlight the fact that you are looking for a raise, and request a further meeting to discuss your remuneration in more detail. Annual reviews tend to be jam packed already, so your boss could well be pretty strung out. This is unlikely to make him feel excessively generous.

Think big

In most businesses, getting quality time with your boss can be tricky. Use the chance to talk face to face about the bigger picture for your career.

Talk about your ultimate objectives — where do you want to be in a year, five years, or even longer? What are the skills you wish to develop, and how might they help you in your current role? Presenting the upside for your boss, as well as for you, makes it more likely you’ll get his buy in.

If you’re asking for specific support, such as training or exposure to other parts of the business, then request a separate meeting to continue the conversation. Otherwise, you might find your request kicked into the long grass.

Set some objectives and a plan for follow up

The most important part of any annual performance review is setting and agreeing objectives for the next review period. Make them in a SMART format so that you and your boss are both very clear about what you’re signing up for.

Chances are you will not get past the draft stage with these in your meeting, but get some ideas down on paper and work on them later. You can then send a finalized copy to your boss after the meeting, along with any requests for support to deliver against the goals set.

If you don’t already have a structure for interim performance reviews, then now is the time to suggest it. Annual performance reviews should not be full of surprises for the employee. Performance and achievement should be part of regular conversation, either formally through structured meetings, or in everyday feedback.

If you don’t feel like you get enough feedback already, then ask for a follow up meeting in a month to check in against your goals. This doesn’t have to be a long conversation, and will make both you and your boss more confident that the targets will be met.

Make your performance objectives come alive

After your review, you might just want to breathe a sigh of relief and wait for next year’s ordeal. However, the conversation should not just be pushed to the back of your mind. Neither should the stack of notes be buried in the bottom of a drawer… sorry.

Instead, make your objectives more like a performance project plan. Break them down into smaller chunks, and create a timeline for achievement. Write down what you’re doing as you go, so you have a live record for the next conversation with your boss.

A performance journal is a great place to write this record, and makes preparing for next year’s review much easier! Simply keep a notebook and write in it what you’ve achieved at the end of every day or week. It can be a great thing to do on a Friday night during your commute, to round off the week and get ready for the weekend.

By preparing a little before your annual performance review, and keeping the momentum moving afterwards with a few simple steps, you really can seize back control. You will have a better review experience, and show how committed and proactive you are. This will put you in a better place to continue the performance discussions with your boss during the year, and get the recognition and support you deserve. It’s well worth a little extra effort!

How do you ease the pre-review jitters? What have you found to be the best approach in your own performance meeting preparations?

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