Depending on your organization, the formal review process can take place quarterly, bi-annually or annually. Regardless of the cadence, it’s helpful to know what to expect. If you have had many annual reviews in your career, you can still follow this checklist to make sure you take control and level up these meetings. There’s still time to wow your boss and lead versus follow in these meetings.   

The review process is not meant to be led by your manager. Yes, that’s correct. This should be an open-ended discussion where the employee and the manager collaborate. If you’re used to just reading your review and then signing at the bottom, allow me to share another way.  

I would recommend scheduling a one-on-one before your annual review where you discuss your progress, objectives and future career goals.  

Here’s a short list of what to can bring with you to the table: 

  1. Progress on previous years’ goals and accomplishments. Many managers have 10-25 (or more) employees; they can’t possibly know everything you’ve accomplished. Share all that you’ve done, including projects, training, recognition or anything noteworthy. Don’t be shy – you know the hard work you’ve put in over the year; let your boss hear it all without reservation. 
  2. Clear goals for the next year. It may be hard to think ahead and decide, “Who is 2023 Heather and what does she have the bandwidth to accomplish?” This is an exercise that takes a concerted effort to really determine your priorities in the upcoming year and beyond; your goals can even be three to five years out. Think big.
  3. Ask questions. Some great questions include:
  • What are the department’s goals? If you are aware of the department’s goals, you can align your efforts to projects already planned or in progress. This will also help you avoid having large personal goals that may get derailed when you are pulled into more priority team projects or initiatives.
  • How will I effectively measure the success of my goals? Here we want some metrics, and numbers that can be objective vs. subjective where possible.
  • What projects do you fill best fit my skillset? This allows your manager to highlight your strengths and they may already have something in mind for you for the upcoming year.
  • Any other questions that will help you align your efforts with your managers? 
  1. Ask for one thing in the upcoming year. This can include a raise, promotion or specific If your manager cannot commit to those during the meeting, you can also seek information on the path to getting those things. We have heard this before, but in the case of the annual review, 100% of the time the answer is no if you don’t ask. You have a 50/50 shot, so you might as well try. 
  2. Prepare to receive feedback, both positive and negative. I am not sure many enjoy hearing things they can work on, but mentally preparing to hear them ahead of time is a great idea. Any feedback that you receive is best received first with a thank you, then you can go into restating the feedback and committing to improvement if you haven’t already been working on improvement. It’s not the time to get defensive, but if you adamantly disagree, ask questions like, when was this observed, how long ago, and what was the impact, but make sure your tone is inquisitive and not defensive. 
  3. Be aware of some common manager biases, so you can speak honestly with your manager. If you feel your manager is employing any of these biases, you can most certainly discuss that. This is why it’s important to ask lots of questions about those improvement areas, so you can fully understand the feedback and improve. If your ratings were all satisfactory, asking how to achieve a higher rating is acceptable. 

The most common performance review biases include: 

  • Contrast bias happens when a manager compares an employee’s performance to another employee instead of the outlined company standards. This is essentially comparing employees on a team instead of the job function. 
  • The halo bias happens when an employee is rated highly in all areas of performance because of one thing they do really well. This can also be applied to employees that are well-liked and available but don’t always follow through on commitments.
  • The horn bias is the opposite of the An employee is rated as a poor performer because of one thing they don’t do well. This can be someone who meets all of their objectives and is a high performer, but they are always behind on filing, for example. 
  • Leniency bias is when a manager gives everyone on their team a “satisfactory” rating. This doesn’t differentiate and facilitate a high-performing culture. 
  • Recency bias happens when an employee’s most recent behavior becomes the primary focus of the review. This can be applied when the employee is doing well or poorly and is often applied to the most recent interaction with the employee. 

When it comes to the annual review, take time to prepare and advocate for what you’ve done and what you’d like to do in the upcoming year. Reviewing your past year’s progress, setting clear goals, asking questions and preparing for your manager’s feedback will help you feel prepared for your performance review. You will most likely get much more out of the experience as you will be more involved in the process. Managers appreciate employees that support the process; it’s a lot of work for them every year. Don’t sit back and sign your review; step forward and help create it.