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Your performance review should form the basis of an open and honest discussion between you and your manager.Ryan Fox/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Question:

We have annual performance reviews, which we are encouraged to sign off on and amend if we disagree with them. We are often asked whether there are areas we felt that we slipped up on, or what we think we could do better. Can we afford to admit our weaknesses or should we try to ensure the records are always positive?

Simon Broomer, senior career counsellor at CareerBalance, a career coaching service based in the City of London, says:

An appraisal should always be an opportunity for you to receive honest, fair and objective feedback from your employer. Not all managers are capable of doing this, and sometimes let personal differences, snap judgments, or unsubstantiated comments from others in the team affect their perceptions of you.

You should see the appraisal as a positive and two-way process, so you must also give feedback to your manager. Dispel from your mind that this is the same as a school report, of which you are the silent recipient.

From my experience of being appraised (good and bad), I advise you not to take what you see in the written appraisal at face value. Most appraisal documents are now designed for written feedback from both the appraiser and the appraised, so you have a responsibility to take advantage of this to give honest feedback on yourself and to let your manager know how well they are managing you.

This should form the basis of an open and objective discussion between you and the person appraising you. You should really see the written version a few days before the formal appraisal interview so you have time consider it and comment on its contents.

Why not try first writing your own appraisal without looking at what your boss has said about you? If you have been with the same employer for a while, read your last appraisal to check what objectives you agreed on and to what extent you have met them.

You should really be looking at this on regular basis. Be honest with yourself about what you have done well and what you have not achieved as well as you would like. Then see how this matches up with the current appraisal document prepared by your manager.

When preparing your self-appraisal, try to point to specific examples of what you have achieved over the past few months. Quantify this wherever you can. For example: "Delivered successful seminar attended by 120 clients, leading to 15 inquiries for new business."

Yes, acknowledge where you have not performed as well as expected or where you need to make improvements, but in a way that shows you are serious about addressing these areas and that you have – or are about to – take action.

State clearly what support you would like from your manager or others in your team or organization to help you do this. You cannot be expected to address every area of weakness on your own.

If you feel that some of the feedback you have received is unfair or untrue, then challenge it, without getting defensive or blaming others. For example, if your manager tells you that "you have not always shown a helpful attitude to more junior members of the team" then ask them to point to a specific situation when this occurred. If they cannot do so, then don't accept this criticism.

You can agree to disagree about your appraisal and you can also ask for an objective third party to become involved if you are unhappy about the process, such as someone from your HR team.

Susan Doris-Obando, senior associate (barrister) at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, says:

This is a dilemma faced by many employees at this time of year. Strategy is everything. Focus on what your end-game is. If you are looking for promotion or a significant bonus arising from your appraisal, you will have every incentive to focus on and highlight your strengths. "Volunteering" areas of weakness might be a foolhardy approach.

On the other hand, many organizations value an honest dialogue with employees at appraisal time. Identifying areas of self-improvement is often recognized as a strength.

Presentation should be carefully considered. It is one thing to say: "I am useless at delegation", and quite another to say: "I would like to be considered for delegation training because that is an area I would like to develop as I become more senior within the business."

If areas of weakness are identified by your appraising manager during the appraisal, you will need to deal with them and try to turn them to your advantage.

You should be open and honest but there are a number of techniques in presenting negatives to your advantage. If you are dealing with a monumental disaster during the past year, you may decide to admit your mistake and focus on having learned very valuable lessons.

Challenging your appraiser's view of your performance is difficult. Doing so in a constructive, respectful and succinct way may be the best approach. Being aggressive and rude will rarely do you many favours in the long term.

If you decide to challenge areas of your appraisal form before you sign it off, you might look more credible if you focus on your best one or two points rather than embark on a wholesale markup.

In most organizations there are avenues of redress if you feel you are being treated unfairly or being harassed or discriminated against – ranging from informal discussions to engaging the grievance procedure.

You may, in appropriate cases, consider bringing a discrimination claim or a claim for constructive unfair dismissal if matters are so serious that you have no choice but to resign.