You never want to hear that you’re doing a worse job than you thought you were, especially if the person delivering the bad news is your boss. If your IT career has consisted primarily of exemplary performance reviews, you may not know how to react when you receive a less-than-stellar assessment.
Keep in mind that how you respond to a subpar evaluation is of tremendous importance. In fact, your actions afterward can mean the difference between rebounding from this setback and repeating the mistakes that led to the poor appraisal.
Here is some advice that can help you move past a bad review.
Take a deep breath. Upon receiving an underwhelming performance review, it’s easy to become defensive and focus on the reasons you think your manager’s assessment is wrong. Instead of trying to argue against what you consider to be invalid criticism, take a moment to think about what your boss has said and how valid his or her concern is. Viewed objectively, you may see that your manager’s criticism is warranted. For example, you may think missed deadlines related to a recent website refresh project were beyond your control. But could the issue have been avoided if you had been more proactive about following up with other team members or alerted your boss in advance to issues that jeopardized the due dates?
Respond with facts. If you don’t think you deserve the feedback you received, it’s best to respond with facts instead of emotions. Get specific examples from your supervisor of how and when you failed to meet expectations. This information can help you counter the evaluation or better understand where you went wrong. Note which assessments you don’t agree with; then following your meeting, look through your files and determine if your records reflect your manager’s assessment. If you think they don’t, go back to him or her and compare notes. You’re both human, so it’s possible either or both of you made a mistake or misinterpreted a certain situation.
Collaborate on a plan. A few days after your review, once you’ve let the feedback sink in, take the opportunity to address the points your manager has made and work with him or her to develop a plan for moving forward. Together, the two of you should set performance goals — build your communication skills, for instance; establish action items — enroll in a professional development course, perhaps; and map out a timetable for completing them — say, within three months. Also, schedule follow-up meetings to track your progress.
Keep the lines clear. If receiving a negative performance review comes as a shock to you, it’s likely that you aren’t doing a good job of communicating with your manager. To rectify this, schedule a regular meeting with your supervisor so you can keep him or her apprised of your current projects, priorities and challenges. If you’re not meeting expectations, the meetings should help alert you to the situation well before your next performance review.
It’s important to note that a lack of consistent communication not only can set the stage for a rude awakening at review time, but also can be the source of the poor assessment. An evaluation of your firm’s privacy control policies that your supervisor considers critical, for instance, might not have made it past your back burner if the two of you were not on the same page. Regular communication can prevent these types of misunderstandings, especially as the economy begins to recover and focus areas change.
Give yourself a break. You may feel like you’re the only person who’s ever received a poor performance review, but most IT professionals can point to at least one subpar appraisal over the course of their career. Even top performers have areas in which they can improve. Instead of sulking, learn from the experience. Your manager’s feedback may highlight skill deficiencies you were unaware of or weaknesses that you considered strengths. Ultimately, the comments you receive could help you strengthen your skill set and enhance your performance.
Above all, don’t let a poor performance review affect your relationship with your manager. He or she has a significant impact on your career, and it’s important to remain on good terms. Be professional in all interactions, even if you disagree on certain points.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.