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3 Surprising Tips to Rock Your Annual Performance Review

Did the title of this article get you super excited or did it kinda make you want to hide under your desk and chew your nails?

Performance reviews are usually both a highly anticipated event and one of the most nerve-racking days of the year.

It doesn't have to be scary.

This is your time! Your performance review shouldn't be something to dread. More importantly, the conversation shouldn't be a one-way street.

With just a little bit of preparation (and guts), you can use your performance discussion to help catapult your career.

Here's the lowdown on how to make sure you're ready to rock the Running Man after your review (or, you know, your dance move of choice).

1. Less is more.

I often talk to people that say, "I've been told I don't do a good enough job selling myself. "

My reply: DON'T START NOW!

Bosses don't want you to sell yourself in a review. When has anyone actually wanted to be sold anything?

Don't puke out everything you've done. Keep your discussion focused on the most impactful accomplishments. (Picture source: Pixabay)

Instead, they want to be reminded of how you helped them, and the company, achieve its goals.

In order to do that, the most important thing to know is that the quality of the accomplishments you highlight is much more important than trying to prove you did a shite ton of work all year.

If you came to me for your review with a list of 28 bulleted accomplishments, my eyes would glaze over.

Focus on the biggest, most impactful things you accomplished. Be sure to highlight the end result in relation to the unit/company's goals.

Highlight those cases where you went well above and beyond your standard role. BUT, whatever you do, don't make it sound like you're upset you had to do things that weren't your job. Instead, talk about the ways in which you went outside your comfort zone, took initiative, got vulnerable, and...well...kicked ars.

2. Make "connecting with your boss" your number one goal.

This suggestion is actually true for every. single. interaction you have. And it's especially important in a performance review.

Look, your boss is human. S/he wants to work with and be around people s/he feels connected to.

This focused and dedicated time together is a PERFECT time to strengthen your relationship with your boss. And I don't mean surface-level: "How are your kids? Did you watch the Celtics game last night?"

Instead, come in knowing where your boss is focusing his or her time. What is likely keeping him up at night? What is the biggest frustration she's had with your performance?

You may wonder how you're supposed to know what's in your boss's head.

The answer is simple: ask thoughtful questions.

Too often, we head into these discussions like a juror in a courtroom. We think our role is to just sit there and listen.

Do not fall into that trap.

As a former CEO and leader, I didn't want to be a talking head. There was nothing I loved more than someone asking me truly thoughtful questions.

For example, "What is one thing you wanted our team to accomplish this year that we didn't? How can I help going forward?"

To inspire you, here is a fantastic list of thoughtful questions that you can leverage.

Trust me, there is nothing more powerful than killer questions to strengthen your connection with your boss. That connection will, in turn, improve your overall review and your career.

3. Build the business case for a raise and/or promotion BEFORE your review discussion.

I'm sure it's no secret that your year-end performance review is a great time to ask for a raise or promotion, if you're truly deserving.

But here is the twist. You need to plant the seed in advance of your actual discussion.

Here's why: Most companies have a budget for annual raises and promotions. They reserve some money to account for those individuals that performed in a way that deserves a bigger reward than others. Most budget for this for no more than around 5% of employees. To be in that 5%, you need to plan ahead.

Just like any other investment - whether it be a technology project or new product development, it's critical to have a clear business case explaining why they should spend money on one thing vs. another.


Relax. It's just a fancy word for putting together some clear points - bullets in an email work wonderfully - explaining why you deserve an additional investment.

Putting together a "business case" for a raise or promotion doesn't need to be fancy, but it is essential to getting buy-in from all stakeholders necessary (Picture source: Pixabay)

For a raise, you can list accomplishments such as:

  • Took on additional responsibilities of doing X that led to Y

  • Implemented a new operating system that reduced the company's costs $X

  • Led a first-time initiative to go on a road show to meet with our top 10 customers to demonstrate X

I love this article by Career Contessa. She gives so many other great tips - do's and don'ts - as it relates to asking for a raise.

If you're going to push for a full promotion, you also want to research what the formal HR description entails for that next level. For example, if you are trying to move from Manager to Director, it's important to understand the new qualities and/or responsibilities listed as a Director that aren't listed for Manager.

Tying your accomplishments to specific qualities of someone operating at that higher level position is critical to justifying a promotion to your manager.

It's really important to know that you're not just selling your boss. It's likely that s/he is also required to justify the promotion to their boss and/or HR.

By clearly outlining your case and sending it to your boss in an email or document prior to your review, you're in a much better position to not only persuade your boss (oops, I almost said "sell") but also to help them convince others in the sign-off chain.

I hope these tips sparked a little somethin' somethin' in your brain and got you pumped up for your review.

Was I a year-end review master myself? Nope. Definitely not. I definitely walked out of some of my reviews in a half hypnotic state, going "Crap, I wish I'd asked this. Or I wish I'd said that."

However, eventually I did get the top job and these tips come from what I loved to see from that side of the desk. It's now my mission to make your annual review a heck of a lot better than mine ever were!

And in case I ever get a boss again (not Plan A but...), I'd love to hear your best tips and advice too.

What's one thing you've done to make the most of your annual reviews?

Erin Hatzikostas (me) is a former Corporate CEO turned Career Coach, Speaker and Podcast Host. She is the Founder & CEO of b Authentic inc and is on a mission to empower more authenticity in the workplace. Dip your toe into the authenticity movement by taking her free, fun, and insightful “What Dog Are You at Work?” quiz here.

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