Date posted: 11/07/2017 2 min read

Pitch perfect performance review

Turn your first performance review into a positive experience by highlighting your achievements.

In brief

  • Communicate to your manager what has worked well in the past year.
  • Focus on your accomplishments and inform your boss how you will continue to add value to the organisation.
  • Explain what could be done more efficiently in the coming year.

You’ve been in your job for almost a year now and your boss has booked a meeting for a performance review.

The performance review is a chance to highlight your achievements and even ask for a pay rise. But the review and feedback from your boss can also trigger psychological dramas that, if they flare up, could damage and derail your career.

To succeed, you need the right approach, proper preparation, and openness to constructive criticism.

What is a performance review?

A performance review is a periodic meeting with your boss, usually every 12 months, to discuss your performance.

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Ben Dattner, a psychologist, executive coach and principal of New York-based Dattner Consulting, has written extensively on performance reviews for prestigious titles such as the Harvard Business Review. He says a performance review is to help an individual reflect on his or her past performance to create the foundation for better future performance.

Performance reviews are crucial to one’s success in some organisations, Dattner says, while in others they’re more about informal feedback.

But either way, it’s vital to take your first review seriously.

A collaborative discussion

The first step to a successful performance review is your attitude. You need to treat your boss as your customer. “Think about meeting and exceeding customer expectations,” Dattner says.  

You wouldn’t approach a customer as an adversary, but as someone you treat with respect and work closely with to solve a problem.

“It’s a collaborative discussion about what you can do better,” Dattner says.

“It’s about thinking about the future and how to make your performance better, rather than focusing on blame or anything that might have gone on in the past.”
Ben Dattner, psychologist and executive coach, Dattner Consulting.

The second step is preparation. Turn up armed with three key pieces of information. Be explicit about what you thought worked well over the past year. Be honest about what could have been done better. Thirdly, be informed – explain what you could do better in the upcoming year.

The key is to try and pre-empt your manager’s thoughts – try to get inside their head and answer the questions from their perspective. Be honest. If you could put yourself in their shoes, what would they really say about your performance?

That will allow you to be prepared for any issues, particularly criticism, but also to formulate a positive plan of action for the next period.

Listen and learn

Dattner says managers may be less direct with younger employees who are going through a review for the first time.  

“So these newer employees should be sure to ask questions and follow up, to let the boss know that they are not intimidated by feedback, but actually welcome it,” he says.

Ask lots of questions and try to be proactive. Ask questions such as, “what did I do well?” and “what could I have done differently or better?”

Then actively listen to the feedback.

The tricky issue of pay rises

One of the biggest challenges during the meeting with your manager will be asking for a pay rise. Again, don’t see your superior as an adversary. Instead, view them as an ally who can help you get a pay rise. You need to make it easier for your boss to take your case for a pay rise to human resources or senior managers, Dattner says, rather than make it harder.

Adopt an attitude of “we’re working together”, rather than you “winning” a pay rise and the boss losing.

That also means being honest about your financial situation. 

Assuming you are adding value to the company, Dattner says you need to communicate that you would love to stay there and want to have a happy, long-term career. But they need to know that if you are not paid adequately to support your lifestyle or family, you won’t be able to stay.

Handling criticism

One big mistake a young employee can make during a performance review is to be demanding and feel entitled.

Don’t believe you deserve praise or a pay rise without superior performance. “Generally, as a person starting out in their career, it’s better to be more humble and modest,” Dattner says.

But the biggest mistake young people can make is treating the boss like a parent.

“If the boss isn’t positive enough, or doesn’t validate you enough, don’t cast them in your ‘psycho drama’ as a critical parent,” Dattner says.

Dattner describes this dynamic, called “transference”, in this video. He recommends constantly reminding yourself that you are in a workplace, not a home, and regardless of what your boss does or does not do or say, “you need to act and react professionally, not like a child, pre-teen or teen”. 

If your manager criticises your performance, don’t get defensive. Use it as an opportunity to learn. Your preparation, which included seeing things from your superior’s perspective, will help you with this.

“Validate the boss’s perception even if you don’t agree, respect their authority; see it as a positive or a gift,” Dattner says.  

What if the boss criticises you unfairly? Dattner says it can be challenging at times to receive what you perceive to be totally unfair feedback.

“It’s important to not act rashly or impulsively, to try to learn, and to not escalate conflict with your boss by aggressively disagreeing with him or her,” Dattner says.

A learning opportunity

If you can adopt the appropriate attitude and avoid the big mistakes during your performance review it should be a positive experience. It should help develop a path forward for the next year, and even further into the future, that will help you deliver significant value to your boss and lay the foundation for career success.

“Both sides should use it as a learning opportunity,” Dattner says.

“It’s about thinking about the future and how to make your performance better, rather than focusing on blame or anything that might have gone on in the past.”

This article is part of an ongoing Careers column offering tips and advice for provisional members of CA ANZ and younger full members. For more information on the Chartered Accountants Program, as well as inspiring stories of young chartered accountants, visit now.