Take initiative on your job review

The Baltimore Sun

It's not too early to start thinking about end-of-the-year performance reviews, as many employers get ready in the next few months to evaluate your work.

Managers use performance evaluations to decide on annual raises or bonuses, but the ritual seems to carry more urgency amid a worsening economy. Several surveys have indicated that some employers plan to slash bonuses and dole out smaller salary increases in response to the gloomy market conditions; others also plan to slash jobs.

"That's why, if you've been an average performer, this is going to be a below-average year for merit increases," says Paul Rowson, general manager at WorldatWork's Washington office and conference center. WorldatWork is an international human resources association. "If you've been an above-average performer, then it could be a very good year for you, but a lot fewer people will be considered above average."

That said, a positive review can boost your morale.

(I should acknowledge that some workers and employers don't believe performance reviews work.)

The review process is an anxious time for many workers, so I asked Rowson, whose job includes writing performance reviews, for advice on how employees can prepare for the scrutiny and get the most out of it.

"The greatest risk is to the person who's doing their job but is basically unnoticed," he says. "And if you're doing your job poorly, it's probably noticed."

Ideally, workers and their managers would have set annual goals at the beginning of the year and weighed them by priority.

If not, Rowson says, it's not too late to set them. And you could start setting goals for how you will be evaluated for next year's work.

Approach your boss and take the initiative; that alone might impress him or her.

"I think if the employee takes that initiative, it'll be a relief to the manager who may not have been a good manager to date and driven that process," Rowson says. "I can't help but think it'll help the employee in the manager's evaluation of some of their softer skills."

When setting your performance objectives, Rowson offers this framework: Goals should be specific, measurable, aligned with the organization's targets, realistic and time-bound.

"You need to give your manager objective criteria to make a very subjective decision," he says.

You and your manager need to agree on what measurements would be used to determine how well you met your goals. Having such tough conversations early can alleviate your worries.

"If you and your manager have some understanding and a performance contract in place, then you have the basis of a yearlong set of face-to-face, one-on-one discussions, which are focused on achieving goals," he says. "A manager could be less concerned about what you should be doing but how they could be helping you."

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