So you've had a bad appraisal. What can you possibly do to avert the
damage, before the company writes you off as deadwood? Considering most
performance appraisals are formally conducted once- or twice-a-year, you can use
the evaluation period as an opportunity to summarize what you have demonstrated.
Appraisals often state the goals, roles, and expectations for the coming year...perhaps all of them were not met or addressed as expected. Before you get all worked up and annoyed with the appraiser, let the raging and rampaging devil in you calm down somewhat, and evaluate your appraisal on a broader level.
In anticipation of your next appraisal, you can gear up by adding some valuable tools in your arsenal.
A bad appraisal does not come as a surprise, unless the employee is an earthling and the manager a Martian, and there is a complete mismatch in just about everything.
The company has already invested heavily in you as an employee, and just one bad appraisal should not push them in firing you. Bear in mind, the appraisal is in line with the company goals – not just your personal preferences (which are also a part, but a secondary one.)
Did you record the reviewers' recommendations during your last appraisal? If your answer is in the affirmative, this may be the ideal time to act on those suggestions. See what went bad in the last appraisal and why. Notwithstanding their criticism, reviewers often try to get you on the right track, ensuring you meet the company-defined goals with proper quality measures. Do not brush aside their feedback; try to understand and incorporate the same into your work.
As Bill Swallow, Engineering Practices Leader (Documentation) at Pitney Bowes MapInfo, puts it, "Feedback should always be delivered at the end of a project. If it's not, the project leadership isn't doing its job. Yearly reviews also have value; they track improvement over time. You can have a good project and a horrible project. A project by project review only gives you localized feedback, but a yearly review by someone employed as your manager (one who is responsible not only for your performance, but also for coaching you through your career growth) looks at everything, not just project work, over the past year and evaluates you on your total performance. Or at least they should be."
Disconnect the Ego
Make certain you understand what the rating means, as specifically as possible. A skilled manager will have very specific data points, describing the behavior and results that lead to the appraisal. Address those issues and make sure your efforts are noted. Remember it is not 'you' under fire, but 'your results.' Disconnect your ego as much as possible, and form a conversation.
Define Your Job Description
Consider your job description. Is it clearly defined? Do you completely understand your role, duties, and responsibilities, within the company? More importantly, does your manager, reviewer, or appraiser has a clear understanding about it? If not, press the panic button immediately.
Position Goals alongside Challenges
Review each goal or target set out for you during the last evaluation. Once you have a clear understanding of the goals, position them alongside challenges. Some challenges can restrict you from meeting the company's goals. Talk to your reviewer about it and garner his support. If the support is hard to come by, request him to assess your performance in the light of the problems and frustrations faced.
Press for Training or Extra Resources
Suggest the provision of extra resources or specific training opportunities, stressing the benefits that will accrue to the company. Summarize the conferences, seminars, and training courses attended in the assessment form.
Keep a Check on Your Accomplishments
Maintain a regular status report of your tasks at workplace throughout the year. This report can be daily, weekly, or monthly. If you use project management software like Microsoft Project, use the tool to track your critical deadlines and milestones. In addition, generate reports of your work after accomplishing a particular task to assess the time spent on each project. Since it is practically impossible to remember your accomplishments during the evaluation period, you can use these reports to highlight projects completed on or before time.
Some projects you worked on will garner more appreciation and applaud from stakeholders than the others. Appreciation will usually come in the form of verbal praises, emails, monetary benefits, special bonuses, team outings, and so on. Create a file or folder to save all the appreciation mails from stakeholders, including those from clients, supervisors, or senior people in your department/ team/ company.
Do not hesitate to request for a letter of recommendation in case you receive a special mention for your efforts in any project. Certification, press releases, newspaper articles, testimonials, and other awards also hold prominence, provided they enhance the quality of your allocated work.
Finally, describe your contributions and achievements, along with the difficulties encountered.
Strike a Rapport with the Stakeholders
Track your progress and accomplishments on your own. While a skilled manager will try to "catch you doing good things," a busy one may not be aware of all you do. Make certain you can tell your boss everything (sell yourself), so that he or she has the data to appraise your efforts appropriately.
Jayanath Perera, a senior techie at Autodesk, Singapore, states, "In my company, performance appraisals are linked to the goals for that year. My manager and I sit down together at the beginning of the year and set goals. We try to use SMART goals. At the end of the year, we sit and chat on how well these goals were achieved.
360-degree feedback forms an integral part of our appraisal process. My immediate supervisor is overseas, and never gets to see what time I arrive at office or leave for home. She depends on the feedback that my peers or those I work with give her. I too have to provide 360-degree feedback on others. I have to state five things that went right and five things that need improvement. All statements must be substantiated with an actual incident that happened. This also means that I can't suck up to my boss and be nasty to others."
Selling your services is a continuous process. You also need to master the art of interacting with stakeholders for seeking project information or requirements. While it is not necessary to befriend the stakeholders' every time, sharing positive vibes with people you work for certainly does not hurt. More often than not, happy clients can get your company repeat business or references to other prospective clients. If you are successful in bringing business to the company, it will directly translate into better grades during appraisals. Therefore, work out your way by building a rapport with stakeholders.
Highlight the Additional Responsibilities
Have you taken on any additional responsibilities or extra projects after your last appraisal? The reviewer must be aware that you are capable of handling extra work. By being indispensable to the company, your services can be used for multiple projects, which in turn can put you in a better stead than rest of your colleagues. What you are doing in the process is increase your value to the company.
Deal with Facts and Handle Criticism
A good manager would answer all your questions at the time of delivering the appraisal. Try to leverage this opportunity by being open-minded and co-operative. Fix whatever you were doing that was "bad." Do not hide in your shell. Acknowledge problems, and deal with criticism using a positive approach. Ask for clarification. It is highly unlikely you will be in complete agreement with the appraiser. If you disagree about your goals or targets, say so in as many words, but assertively.
Prashanth Vijayan, a senior technical writer at Manhattan Associates India, says, "At Manhattan Associates, if an employee's performance is rated "unsatisfactory" by his manager and approved by the appraisal committee, he or she is sent on a performance improvement program (PIP). This program is the last opportunity for the employer to salvage a precious resource and for the employee to prove his or her mettle. During the next six months, the employee is sent on special training programs and assigned to special projects. If the employee is still found unfit for the role, he or she is shown the door.
I have been on both sides of the appraisal. When I was at the receiving end, I would hate the whole process and take every advice with a pinch of salt. When I started appraising my team members, I understood how elaborate our appraisal process is. We do a "normalization" with other departments (such as QA and Dev) and then with other teams (Services organization). Each team leader or manager has to fight it out with her counterpart in other departments to justify a rating. This ensures the appraisal is not lopsided."
Summarize Your Overall Contribution to the Company
Employers love the word 'contribution.' Stress your overall contribution to the company, focusing on the value to stakeholders. Tell the appraiser how you could do more than you were hired to or how something you did saved the company some dough.
Perform a Trial Run
Before you head for the next appraisal, prepare documentation, and try your arguments on some friends. Consider objections your manager might raise during the evaluation. Do not forget to tie your answers around how you have helped the company grow.
Finally yet importantly, you have been eying that promotion, and it is time to prepare the turf and put your best foot forward. If it is a fair appraisal given by a good manager, then use it to help turn your weak areas into strengths. Otherwise, head for the exit.