• michaelhouben

66% ‘strongly dissatisfied’ by annual performance reviews – insider tips to ace them (part 1 of 3)


It's that time of the year again... Shivers start rolling down the spine of many engineers and team leaders alike... It's the time of the often dreaded 'annual performance review'. 😨

Strongly disliked by 66% [1], yet still used by 80% of companies [2] ... What a great way to kick off a new year, isn't it!? 😏

But anyway, things are what they are, so let's discuss how to deal with performance reviews properly!

In the last decade, I've been both on the 'receiving end' and on the 'giving end' during the annual performance review. I failed more than a few times in absorbing the feedback from my team leader, and in giving appropriate feedback to my team members. Luckily, over the years I gained several pragmatic insights to turn annual performance reviews from TRUST DESTROYERS into TRUST ENABLERS. In this 3-part series, I will forward these insider insights to you. 💡


The first part of the series (this one!) deals with tips for the feedback receiver. Useful for almost anyone! The second part covers my insights for the feedback provider, e.g. team leaders. The final part covers alternatives for the traditional performance review.

Now without further ado, let's move on to what you can do as a feedback receiver! 🏃‍♀️



Throughout the year: promote yourself and your achievements.


Like it or not, but putting yourself and your achievements in the spotlight every once in a while is very important in today's world, where everyone's attention is continuously sought after. Mind you, you're not supposed to become an attention digger! But you should also not be the last person that pops into everyone's mind. A first efficient way is by speaking out during meetings. Become an active (and useful!) contributor instead of a passive spectator. Pro tip 💪 : if the very thought of speaking out makes you feel uncomfortable (and I know this is the case for quite some of us), take following perspective: divide the duration of the meeting by the total number of participants in the meeting. This average duration per participant is usually surprisingly small, so a few sentences are often already enough to contribute notably! Pro tip 💪 : ahead of the meeting, spend a few moments to decide on your contribution. Tell an interesting anecdote, share some related knowledge, praise a colleague for a recent achievement, … opportunities are abundant! Another good way is to keep your team leader in the loop of your great achievements. Don't assume they will always find out by themselves, because at almost any given moment they are dealing with many different topics in parallel. Just inform them during an informal 1-to-1 in the hallway or at the coffee machine, or via a short email. No need to brag in front of other people!


Finally, make sure your team leader's boss knows about you (in a positive way of course 🙄 ). This is important because they are a strong voice in the calibration of your performance result. At least make sure they know who you are. The coffee machine can again work out, but more powerful is a proactively scheduled 30-minute 1-to-1 to get acquainted.



A few weeks ahead of the performance review:

provide a well prepared self-assessment to your team leader.


Ensure your team leader has the ammunition to make your case during the so called calibration rounds!


Regularly review and note down your achievements throughout the year. Don't wait until the end of the year because by then you will have forgotten many of your accomplishments. Pro tip 💪 : put your achievements directly into the performance review template used in your company. Turn it into a living document! Besides considering WHAT you did, also consider HOW you did it. No one likes a colleague who hits every target while behaving like an *sshole. Good team leaders find the WHAT and the HOW equally important! Include tangible examples, and links to your output whenever possible. This helps to fact-base the performance review. Plan a 1-to-1 with your team leader to explain your self-assessment. This ensures that she or he will share your interpretation.


During the performance review: demonstrate maturity

✅ Put your ego aside, and listen carefully to your team leader. She or he is in a unique position to contrast you with your past self and your fellow colleagues, and to highlight your strong points and improvement points. Demonstrate self-awareness about your improvement points, and willingness to work on them.

In case a document has to be signed, don't feel obliged to do this immediately at the end of the talk. Grant yourself at least one night to digest the feedback, and request a follow-up talk if any doubts remain.



That's it for the first part of this series, I hope you got something useful out of it! In case you do, please let me know in the comments below. 👇


Please also share your own insights to inspire your fellow engineering colleagues, and to make the annual performance review more pleasant and useful for all involved! ☀️






Sources: [1] Harvard Business Review, [2] BBC Hashtags: #engineering #HR #mach8

Keywords: performance review, performance appraisal, performance evaluation, performance feedback, performance assessment