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Make the most of a performance evaluation to help you succeed at work

Dr. Wanda Gravett Faculty, Master’s in Human Resource Management program Walden University

When performance review time rolls around, everyone’s interest and investment in the process is piqued because it has meaning and impact for all involved. The outcome is important not only for the individual being evaluated, but also for the supervising individual, because their involvement in the process will reflect upon their own performance. With so much riding on it, the performance evaluation deserves attention and respect, because nothing is more effective in growing people and organizations than a thoughtful and well-honed performance review process.

Because performance evaluations have generated a variety of models and differing approaches, here is how to make the most of one by keeping in mind this simple advice for both employees and supervisors associated with the process.


Do establish the work plan and process

The key to a good process is having one that everyone in the organization has been introduced to and understands, and is using it as it was intended. This includes creating a schedule for the entire process, establishing an agreeable performance evaluation date, and briefly reviewing what will happen in the first meeting. Establishing a good work plan minimizes any fears about the process and lays the foundation for trust.

Do prepare for the evaluation

It is critical for both supervisors and employees to prepare for the performance evaluation.

Supervisors should prepare for the meeting by providing key documents to employees before the meeting, including a copy of the employee’s rating and evaluation. This could be a day or a few hours ahead of the meeting, but it should allow the employee time to read, react, and process the information internally first. Many employees are able to acclimate to their evaluation if they aren’t put on the spot, and they are more likely to calmly listen to additional information like supporting data or observations during the meeting. The overall or final rating can be shared either in advance or at the meeting.

Employees should review last year’s evaluation, including goals that were set, together with the new documents provided by their supervisors, and bring any information they may want to share during the meeting (e.g., professional development opportunities they want to attend, their goals for the coming year, and areas where they need help or guidance). This allows the employee to come prepared with rational questions and positive input.

Do conduct the review in appropriate surroundings

A performance review is a formal institutional process and deserves to be treated as such. Informal meetings (e.g. over lunch, on a noon walk, or at the employee’s desk) will not optimize the process like an office or a private and comfortable conference room will. Make sure the review takes place in a quiet, confidential, and organized space, secure from interruptions, so both the employee and supervisor are engaged in the process.

Do provide specific examples to enhance understanding

As part of an evaluation, supervisors should always provide helpful examples that make it possible for the employee to understand better why they were rated as they were or why their actions were perceived as they were. If examples aren’t given, employees should ask their supervisor to share this feedback with them. Without this clarity, there is little chance that an employee’s future behaviors, actions, and, of course, performance, will vary from the employee’s current perception of acceptable performance. This information is needed in order to learn and grow.

Do identify and agree upon next steps at the close of the review

A performance review is a rigorous examination of how a person operates within their work environment, drawing upon their skills, knowledge, and attributes. In order to benefit from the review, both the employee and the supervisor need to agree on next steps, such as the employee preparing and submitting an action plan that incorporates feedback from the performance evaluation and solidifies goals. The employee and supervisor should then schedule time together to review and finalize it.


Do not evaluate without supporting documentation

Working from actual evidence-based documentation ensures that usable information is the basis for planning both ongoing improvement and also opportunities for growth. Hearsay and informal feedback without supporting documentation is only as reliable as a rumor.

Do not identify third-party sources

Supervisors are obligated to use reliable and appropriate feedback from a variety of the employee’s working relationships during the performance evaluation, but they are never obligated to nor should they identify these sources as part of the review process.

Do not allow bias to influence and be part of the process

Bias has no place in any objective process, and especially in performance evaluations. Performance reviews serve as a basis for many things, ranging from potential development for better opportunities to how an individual is compensated for their accomplishments, so anything outside of the formal process and the associated documentation does not belong in the evaluation. If the bias is your own and not related to actual performance, isolate it from the evaluation process because personal bias can also be contagious.

Do not makes promises

As plans are made for the next year based on a current evaluation, do not include anything needed to support their goals or their development for the year ahead that you cannot fund in the budget or support philosophically or politically. Flying in the face of adversity will create unnecessary scrimmages that neither of you need.

Do not jump to conclusions—explore, talk, and listen

This message should be applied throughout the entire process for the both the supervisor and the employee, and thus is an important last reminder. Never make assumptions about a situation or operate on perceptions in a formal review process, as these may allow important realities to be overlooked. Employees should come prepared to ask questions, respond to the feedback given in the performance evaluation, and establish a future plan of action.

Supervisors should conduct the necessary research before finalizing a review, including having a dialogue with others, including the employee, prior to the actual review if facts do not add up or make sense. Listen to the employee during the review process, and if they offer counter information or insights that change your view, remember that it’s better to be accurate than right. A performance review is not a negotiating table, but accuracy trumps everything else when we consider the importance of the process.

Jumping cartoon

It’s easy for most of us to acknowledge the value of an effective performance evaluation, both as part of an assessment of an individual’s accomplishments and value to the organization, and also as part of what creates an organization’s capacity to fulfill its vision and create an edge in its market position. Without an effective and respected process that is consistent, thoughtful, and integrated with other important processes, a performance evaluation is merely a paper product without value to anyone. However, with a respected and well-honed process in place, a performance review can serve as an integrated basis for the evolution of people in the organization and for the organization itself as it seeks to expand its reach and its value.

More expert advice about Managing Your Career as an Employee

Photo Credits: 01 (49) by Flickr: victor1558; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Dr. Wanda GravettFaculty, Master’s in Human Resource Management program

Dr. Wanda Gravett is a faculty member in Walden University’s Masters in Human Resource Management program in the College of Management and Technology. In addition to completing doctoral studies in this discipline, Dr. Gravett’s background includ...

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