Love them or hate them, employee reviews are something most of us have to deal with in some way. They can be anxiety-inducing for even the very best employees. Still, employee reviews also serve a good purpose and are an excellent tool for helping you grow professionally, whether within your current organization or as an individual contributor.
There are many different types of employee reviews, and they can come from peers, your boss, or even your direct reports. The thing that makes them so intimidating is that mixed in with all of the praise of a job well done are usually a few criticisms and notes about areas of improvement. While they may be difficult to hear (no one wants to hear that they’re doing a less than perfect job), these critiques are essential in helping you master your job, refine your skills, and prepare for the next level of your career.
The good thing about an employee review is that it doesn’t usually come out of nowhere, so you typically have some time to prepare. You can use the days leading up to the review to think about what you think you do well, where you’d like to have more support so you can improve, and what direction you’d like to take your career. By coming in with your plan, you may be able to use the review to your advantage.
What are Employee Reviews?
The purpose of an employee review depends on who is giving it. The assessment may be part of a general performance evaluation, or it could be a less formal self-evaluation and serves as a starting point for you and your boss to chat about your progress. Here are some of the different possible kinds of reviews:
New Hire Review: This is usually a check-in between 90 days and six months into a new job. A boss will look at how the employee is doing — whether they are fitting in, mastering the tasks, etc. — and make sure the employee feels confident. It is an excellent opportunity for both the manager and employee to raise any concerns that need to be addressed early on, whether based on performance, support, or something else. Usually, these reviews are relatively informal and positive since no one expects an employee to have mastered a job in a short amount of time (especially as you move into more specialized roles).
Annual Employee Review: Most companies have a policy where managers have to check in with their employees for a significant review throughout the year. If it’s once a year, it’s an annual review, twice-yearly reviews are often mid-year reviews, and some companies even have quarterly reviews for more regular check-ins. However often these reviews take place, they’re usually more formal and structured. It is when a manager will go through skills necessary for the job and assess whether an employee has met expectations. In annual reviews, employees can mainly discuss their goals for the upcoming year and develop strategies for meeting them. Finally, most yearly reviews tie into merit increases, so managers may use the review to help them explain your raise amount.
Peer/Team Review: This may seem like a less intimidating review since it’s not coming directly from management. A peer and or team review is still significant because it allows employees to see how their work affects their teammates. These reviews may or may not be anonymous, and an employee will often review the results with their manager rather than with their peers. Peer reviews help employees learn where they need to pick up the slack and how they can better support the people who rely on them. This type of review is for constructive feedback from co-workers to help them improve and, thus, strengthen the team as a whole.
Upward Review: For managers and people in leadership, upward reviews come from their direct reports (and possibly their direct reports, depending on the role and job level). This type of review gives the employee a glimpse into how they’re doing as a leader rather than critiquing their day-to-day work. For the most part, these reviews tend to be anonymous (due to fears of retaliation) and are reviewed by the employee’s supervisor first. Similar to peer reviews, upward reviews are not meant as an opportunity to air major grievances but to give helpful feedback aimed to help the employee improve.
360 Review: A 360 review is complex because it’s a collection of reviews from people all around an employee, including their manager(s), peers, teammates, and direct and indirect reports. Truthfully, these can feel intense because it’s a lot of information to go through, and it can feel like it’s coming from all directions (hence the “360” title). Companies utilize 360 reviews in different ways — sometimes they’re part of an extensive employee evaluation, other times they’re meant to be a point of reference for an employee to improve as needed on their own.
Self Assessment: Honestly, the self-assessment may be one of the more difficult reviews because it’s when an employee is asked to objectively review their work and list out their strengths and weaknesses. It requires reflection, honesty, and a bit of vulnerability. The employee expects to shine a light on an area where they think they need to improve, which their manager may not have noticed before. These reviews are a good opportunity for an employee to take a step back and look at their work. Still, they are usually used more as a conversation starter for the manager than as a formal evaluation.
Remember, every organization is different so they may use all of these review styles, a handful of them, or maybe they have their custom review for employees. Regardless of the assessment, the intention should be the same: to help an employee meet their potential, master their job, and grow professionally.
How to Prepare for an Employee Review
How you prepare for a performance review will depend on what type of review it is and how much information you have before you meet your manager to go over the results. For instance, sometimes managers send a copy of the review to the employee before the meeting, allowing them to look over responses and scores to prepare to discuss potential problems. Similarly, annual, mid-year, and quarterly reviews typically follow a standard formula, so employees should know what to address even if they don’t remember the exact details.
No matter what, you usually aren’t going into a review meeting completely blind (it’s not a good practice to ambush employees with something like this), so you should be able to do some degree of preparation beforehand. Here are some ideas:
If provided to you, look over the review a few times to take in the information; if there is something you disagree with, come up with a rough script for discussing it and gather any materials that you think will back you up
For an annual performance review, come to the meeting with an outline of things you’d like to discuss, including your goals for growth (internally or as an individual); if there is a merit increase on the table, do your research beforehand to learn market value for your role/experience-level
Print out copies of any complimentary emails you’ve received from people within the organization and or from clients; this will be especially helpful if you’re surprised by any negative peer feedback
Pull out your most recent reviews to refresh your memory on where you stood before so that you can discuss how you’ve improved since the last review or signal that you’re still lacking the support you need
Regardless of the type of review, you’re going into, make sure you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally — especially if it’s in your nature to take criticism personally. It’s important not to go into the meeting on the defense because your responses may come out too aggressive, and that’s not a good look during a review. If something surprises you, show honesty by letting your manager know and then calmly explain why you disagree (and, yes, it’s okay to respectfully push back if you feel like there’s been an inaccurate assessment).
Use Your Review to Your Advantage
Whether the review aligns with your personal assessment, worse than you’d hoped, or better than expected, it’s essential to use the new insight and information. Let your review serve as an opening to discuss your goals or even your salary with your boss. A review also offers an opportunity to get your manager more invested in your professional growth and create a closer working relationship (which is always suitable for promotions down the line). Yes, employee reviews can be intimidating on the surface, but they’re a handy tool in getting to the next step in your career.
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