Performance Reviews: Bad vs. Good

I’ve never met anyone who really enjoyed performance reviews–giving or receiving them! Some people consider them a necessary evil at best. The fact is, though, that if your company uses performance reviews, you’re not going to have a choice in the matter.

Keeping things as black-and-white as possible, we have two kinds of performance reviews: bad and good. However, like many things in life, it’s not exactly that simple.

Bad Performance Reviews

One way of looking at this is to label as bad any performance review that does one or more of the following:

  • Hits you with negative comments that seem to come out of the blue.
  • Criticizes you for events outside your control.
  • Gives unclear feedback that leaves you wondering just where you might have gone wrong and what you can do to correct that.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list. I imagine you could think of some other circumstances that you would consider involved a bad performance review. One of the criteria that I consider is whether or not the review enables you to move forward progressively if you are really willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

Good Performance Reviews

On the other hand, a good performance review (at least in my opinion) is one that does the following:

  • Takes a constructive approach to pointing out areas where you have room for improvement.
  • Includes suggestions or invites open discussion of ways you might elevate your job performance–including but not limited to those areas marked for improvement.
  • Praises you for work you have done well–that is, beyond just what was “expected” (i.e., the minimum acceptable performance) and makes particular note of your contributions that went substantially above and beyond what you were required to do.

Bad Performance Reviews are Hard to Swallow

If you receive a positive review, you’re probably not going to lose much sleep over it later. In contrast, a negative performance review can cause you serious concern, stress, uncertainty, and more. It’s seldom, if ever, something you can shrug off and move on without a qualm. And you shouldn’t do that anyway.

According to an article by Carolyn O’Hara on HBR Blog Network titled “What to Do After a Bad Performance Review,” you can take several steps to respond during and after a negative performance review. Briefly, these are:

  • Reflect before you react.
  • Look for your blind spots
  • Ask questions.
  • Make a performance plan.
  • Give yourself a second score (for how you respond to the comments).
  • Look at the big picture.

I believe the first one is possibly the most important, although they’re all valid. For example, if you do a “Mt. Vesuvius” (volcanic eruption) or burst into tears and rush out of the room, you’ve done yourself an immediate disservice. It’s tough to bounce back from that in a beneficial way. It’s kind of like the saying, “Make sure your brain is engaged before putting your mouth into gear.”

Note: In this post I’m not trying to address the kind of negative review that stems from having a totally unreasonable (e.g., toxic) boss who might not have given you a positive review even if his or her life had depended on it. That’s when the last suggestion on the above list might come into play–you might really be better off looking for a new and hopefully better job than spinning your wheels trying to turn that bad performance review into a good situation.

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