What HR Doesn’t Tell You about Your Annual Performance Review

Performance Review, Annual Performance Review, Bad Annual Performance Review

It was all rolling down hill…onto him.

John had his annual performance review and was ranked in the “needs improvement” box in 6 of 7 categories.

He’d been working for the company for 10 years and really enjoyed it until he moved into his current group.

Since then he’d had lots of arguments with this boss many of which were heated, and now he was resentful.

He even described his boss as a:

“a defunct golden child who over-promises and under-delivers.  He takes credit for the over-promise and then sheds any blame to those around him.”

It really got bad when he got the news that he was being put on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan).

For those readers who have never heard of a PIP; it’s usually the kiss of death in Corporate.

It’s often a list of ultimatums that are extremely difficult to hit.

It’s comparable to running the gauntlet during the Gladiator TV Series and it usually doesn’t end well.

My friend was in a tough spot.

John shared,

“If I don’t agree to 100% of the goals, I’ll get fired; and if I do agree to 100% and don’t hit them I’ll still get fired.  I can’t decide if I want to get fired now and be out of my misery or wait and see if I get lucky? Maybe my boss will get fired first.”

John wanted to keep working for his company, but he felt trapped by this situation with his boss.

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Getting a Bad Annual Performance Review has Career Benefits!

When you get an annual review that gets you questioning your career path and advancement opportunities, it’s natural to feel frustrated, angry, and even resentful.

This is how most people in Corporate respond.

However there’s a different possibility for considering this situation that can serve you far more and even ignite your career to new possibilities.

Even when your annual performance review goes poorly, it can:

  • Inspire bold now possibilities
  • Propel you forward to take new action and reach out to your network for help
  • Motivate you to break out of your daily routine and explore something new for yourself

So let’s talk about rocking your Bad Annual Review (aka Rocking the B.A.R.)…

Your Annual Performance Review is just an Opinion

It’s often a relief to consider that your annual review is your boss’ assessment (or opinion) of how you’re doing at work.

The key distinction is that it’s an opinion, NOT fact.

The liberating aspect for you is that opinions are never, ever the real truth about you.

Try thinking about your review as either ground or ungrounded or an even a bit of both.

When your review goes poorly you can tend to beat yourself over it.

Why beat yourself up over someone else’s opinion?

Your Annual Performance Review Tells the Future

Peformance Review, annual performance review, bad annual performance review

You might tend to tune-out the boss during a difficult performance review, but there are golden opportunities from carefully listening.

You’ll find that even though your performance review is typically focused around past performance, it has a heavy-duty future orientation and provides a bell-weather of things to come for your role.

Listen for the direction things are headed.

How’s the message being delivered?

What’s really driving the feedback?

Is how you’re hearing the feedback really serving you?

If you don’t particularly like the way it went, then it’s crucial to acknowledge that something’s got to change.

Then instead of discounting the feedback, try taking a step back and looking at the big picture.

What Your Annual Performance Review Says about your Boss

There’s always two sides to every review.

The review you get says just as much about your boss as it does you because every boss brings their own history and experience to the review.

If you’re getting a bad review then there is probably just as much going on for your boss as there is for you (and they’re probably not enjoying it).

A bad review is an excellent time to probe what’s happening and get a glimpse of the world through your boss’ eyes.

What’s the pressure they’re facing?

What are they bumping up against?

Mood Impacts Your Performance Review and If you Get Fired

Opinions are heavily influenced by how you show up emotionally.

Think about how you feel after a day of fire-drills at work.

If you or your boss shows-up in a similar state-of-mind it’s going to have an impact.

Also consider that if your boss’s review goes poorly then the likelihood of yours going poorly is much higher.

This has a huge impact on how they do reviews, how they make judgment calls, and of course how they deliver the news.

You may not be able to change the scheduling of your review but consider timing any follow-up for when you’re both at your best and maybe even outside of the office over coffee or lunch.

What you can Learn from an Annual Performance Review

A performance review can often be helpful in your learning both professionally and personally.

Performance Review, Annual Performance Review, Bad Annual Performance Review

Consider how your performance review impacts you and how you observe what’s really going for you before, after, and during?

What emotions are triggered for you in your review?  Excitement, inspiration, despair, anger, etc…

How does it impact you physically?  Do you notice yourself tensing up, poking your chest out, etc…

What key words come-up?

Taking notice can present some deeper learning opportunities for you and your career.

What to Do When you Get a Bad Annual Performance Review

  • Notice – Are you angry or relieved?  Notice what emotion comes up for you when you get the news from your boss.  Are you feeling beat down, angry, or maybe even excited because you’ve been wanting a change anyway?
  • Embrace It – Annual reviews don’t come frequently and often times you don’t get a lot of feedback throughout the year, so take these insights and savor them (especially if you don’t agree).
  • Acknowledge – While you may disagree with a lot of the review; seek the kernel of grounded opinion. What’s the 1-2 powerful things you can take forward that will serve you?
  • Speak Into your Concerns –If you don’t agree with your review, then speak into your concerns with your boss first.  Don’t try to argue, but ask your boss for examples that will help ground their opinions and make the more picture more vivid for you.
  • Dream about the Next Step – When you do get a bad review, it’s a good time to double check what your next career step might be.  Even if these get back on track with your current boss there’s no better time to start considering the next step in your career (or at least diversifying).

So here’s to you annual performance review and to igniting your career!

Ben, your burnout specialist


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  • Tamatha Phetteplace

    Reply Reply June 6, 2012

    Hi, I just wanted to say, I disagree. Your point doesn’t make any sense.

    • benfanning

      Reply Reply June 11, 2012

      Hi Tamatha, I invite your opinion and would like to hear more about why.

  • Susan Archer

    Reply Reply November 12, 2012

    I’ve not been in this situation, but as a minister I have sat with many who are in pain over their work situations. I find your concrete positive suggestions helpful. We have one life, It is imporatant to know what we want and need and how to move forward.

    • benfanning

      Reply Reply November 12, 2012

      Thanks, Susan. That’s beautiful! Agreed that getting clear on what you want is important. It’s easy to get caught up in the doing of life that you never take the time to reflect on that.

  • Susan penn

    Reply Reply November 12, 2012

    Hi Ben, as an HR professional, I would like to add that it’s helpful to play an active role in your review. Assume your boss does not recall all your contributions, and come prepared to discuss. Even better, if your company does a self review, outline these in a factual, uninflected way and provide ahead of time.. Also, come with questions about how you can add even more value and get clarification regarding the gaps between your and your bosses perceptions. Best scenario for a review is alignment going forward, and being in sync. You’re right about the opportunity to see your boss more clearly, and also assess whether being there is the right thing for you. Often, folks are conditioned to see this as a passive process, something being done to them because of the power differential…but, it can be mutual, sharing what you need more of to succeed..

    • benfanning

      Reply Reply November 13, 2012

      Love it, Susan. Showing up “active” for your review vs “passive” is a great reminder.

  • Jennifer

    Reply Reply June 11, 2013

    What if your boss gives you a bad review and then requires you to e sign it with out giving you the right to read it? There is nothing on the e sign page to read and you could be signing your life away and leave your self open to added comments post signature.

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