The end of the first quarter for most organizations is performance review and bonus season. When all goes well, it feels great. You are being seen by your supervisor in the way that you see yourself. You are being noticed for the value that you feel that you are adding to the organization. However, it can go another way. It can be an incredibly disturbing experience, where you feel like your contribution is being missed or some component of your behavior or skills are being negatively blown out of proportion.  In those cases, what do you do?

Definitely do not return to your regular routine or go back to your normal behavior.  Work on changing your mindset about a performance review. At best, it is a solid evaluation of your strengths, growth and areas for further development. In the worst case scenario, it’s a clear indicator that you should move on from your current role or organization. In almost all cases, it’s an indication of how you are perceived in the workplace (i.e., by supervisors and/or peers depending on how the review is conducted) and we have all heard the adage that “perception is reality.” With that said, it’s not about whether your boss is right or wrong. It’s about knowing that he or she is sharing with you his or her feelings about working with you. So, it’s a great opportunity to work on changing any negative perceptions there are about you in the workplace, because these perceptions can only get worse if you don’t do anything about it or stew about the review. The perceptions rarely get better accidently.

Here are some steps to make the most of the opportunity that a performance review provides:

  • When you receive the feedback, remain non-defensive and even positive about any feedback that you perceive as negative. It’s to your advantage to be aware of management’s concerns about your performance at work. It’s better than receiving a glowing review, even when they are unhappy about your work product and behavior, and potentially being blindsided by discussions about termination. You should ask for examples about the difficult parts of your review if you need clarification. Make sure that you understand what behavior is being viewed as needing improvement.
  • Take a day or a weekend to be angry, sad and/or frustrated. You clearly have the right to have and express your feelings about the experience. Just don’t do it at work, even with work friends. Don’t stay mired in the emotion – find productive ways to move through it. Definitely, don’t let this type of emotion guide your behavior.
  • If you have been given a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) or Performance Management Plan (PMP), you should take it extremely seriously. Both focus on becoming very clear about what will be expected of you in order to remain in your position. At the same time, you should consider engaging in a job search without having the search become disruptive to your performance at work (e.g., no missing work, doing searches at your desk, taking interview calls at work). These kinds of behaviors can accelerate your dismissal. Keep your demeanor at work – positive, work-focused, and willing to put in extra time.
  • If you haven’t received a PIP or PMP, but there is some negative feedback, create a plan of your own to address any issues immediately. This means put yourself on your own PIP if you want to stay in your current role. You have to remember that someone put time into your review and this is how they boiled down a year of working with you, so those are the indelible impressions and they are incredibly salient right now because they just completed this review. If you make changes to your behavior that are noted, it demonstrates that you are open to feedback, which is critical in general. Make sure that you have a clear sense of the issues, your plan to change them, and how you will know that your plan is making a difference in perception (e.g. what behavior markers will you be able to identify).
  • You may want to consider setting up regular meetings with your manager. It’s especially important when your review is surprising (e.g., your experience of yourself and your manager’s are far apart), when it’s noted that you don’t take feedback well, or when your communication skills are called into question. Clearly, you want to set these up with your supervisor and have a plan to be able to take additional feedback, as well as report on changes that you are making to address perceived shortcomings. Whether it’s on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis, you should take into account aspects such as the culture of your office, the immediacy of the issue, and your manager’s style.

As much as is possible, try to remember that there can be tremendous growth opportunities in a less than positive performance review. It can be a moment when you make a change to a behavior that has been holding you back. It can allow you to realize that this is not the place for you or not the career for you. The real challenge is to take the performance review and take charge of the impact that it has on your future.