Surprises are great for birthday parties and anniversary gifts, but they’re NOT what you want in a performance review. Watch the video below or read the blog that follows to look at the issues that can contribute to surprises in a performance review. We’ll also delve into strategies you can do to prevent surprises – whether that’s in reviews you’re giving or receiving.

Let’s dig into why surprises sometimes happen during performance reviews and what you can do to minimize them – whether you’re on the receiving end or delivering someone else’s review.

The biggest reason surprises happen in performance reviews is that feedback is so darn uncomfortable. People feel bad about giving it. They feel worried about getting it. All of that leads to avoidance.

If you’re a manager, it can be easy to procrastinate giving feedback. You tell yourself the problem is not a big deal. Or you’ll wait till next time. But without feedback, the issue gets worse. Before you know it, it’s really hampering performance. And then it’s review season. Now you’re required to make an assessment of how the person is doing in their job. You need to include the performance problems.

But when you hold the review and share the feedback, the recipient is surprised and upset. Trust is lost.
Now, not only are you dealing with the fallout of under-performance, but you have a disgruntled employee on your hands. That can cause additional drama, particularly if they are well-liked on the team.

Being on the receiving end of this kind of treatment is no fun, either.

You think things are going well, only to find out in a performance review that something is off. I’ve unfortunately talked to three or four potential clients in the last couple of months where this has happened. They thought things were going okay. They knew there were some challenges, but they thought they had things under control. Then, in the performance review, their boss provides them with feedback that makes them sound terrible – like they are seriously underperforming. That experience is completely demoralizing. It can knock the wind out of anyone’s confidence.

So how do you avoid these situations?

Set yourself up to receive feedback early and often. The first step in doing this is to shift your relationship to feedback. If you see it as something to dread, you’ll be more likely to avoid it. On the other hand, when you know how to solicit useful feedback, that can make a world of difference in your career. It’s important to have a strategy for eliciting feedback that will be helpful – asking questions and digging into the details, so you know exactly what worked and what didn’t. It also helps to have a way to separate out unhelpful opinions from the golden nuggets buried among them. These are skills I help my clients learn.

Gather feedback from a broad network of people. If feedback is scary and networking is scary, then putting the two together might seem downright terrifying. It doesn’t have to be. Reaching out to peers and higher-ups for input can be a great way to build your reputation. Done well, it shows that you are interested in learning and growing. It also signals that you value their input. Both go a long way toward building relationships that can boost your career.

Have strategies to recover when you get upsetting feedback. This is another area where I provide support to clients. I provide them with specific tactics for moving past a bad performance review. They gain their confidence back and then can make an effective decision about what’s next. The confidence-building is critical. Without that, I’ve seen too many people jump at the next job that comes their way. Too often that’s a step down or a company that’s not a good fit – which further erodes their self-esteem. It’s important to break that cycle before it begins.

As a manager, learn to give feedback that is experienced as developmental and supportive. Being a good manager means being able to give effective feedback. Done well, feedback feels supportive – even when there’s something to correct. It moves the recipient forward in their career. As we described above, effective feedback needs to be given in a timely way. That way, when the time comes for the performance review, there are no surprises. You’re simply putting a bow on the items you’ve talked about over the course of the year. The employee already knows where they stand. You’re just documenting it so that it’s now part of the company record. With any luck, the performance review is even documenting progress on feedback given early in the year.

Giving the kind of feedback that people appreciate – even about something they need to improve – that’s a leadership superpower. So is seeking out and then learning from feedback about your own performance. Both are important ingredients in your career success and fundamental skills I coach my clients to develop.

Ready to learn more?
Join me and Ben Benjamin, author of Conversation Transformation in a multi-part workshop (in May 2022) on giving and receiving feedback. You’ll walk away with specific strategies you can use to bring feedback into your work effectively. To learn more and register, click here. Be sure to register right away, as spots are filling up.

Check out my webinar, 5 Shifts Successful (But Dissatisfied) Professionals Make to Earn the Respect, Recognition and Pay Raises They Deserve. Register for it here:

Or, if you’re ready to talk about how you can implement these 5 shifts in your own career, schedule a free career breakthrough call with me here:

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