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Spring Cleaning: How To Survive Performance Reviews And Improvement Plans by Leslie Juvin-Acker

March 26, 2015

Review time is here and the mood around an office can quickly go from basking in sunshine and having spring fever to feeling like a contestant on Survivor with yellow fever. Companies use review time at the end of the first quarter to do their spring cleaning (read fire) and it’s high time we took the cue to do get organized with a little review preparation.

Spring Cleaning: Don’t Get Voted off The Island

At the turn of the new year, we’ve probably learned about new performance initiatives that we must meet or have been put on a Performance Improvement Plan. Those first three months were focused on getting on board with the required changes and implementing them. By now, at review time, we’re going to be judged on the execution and whether or not we’ll progress from here.

Managers and human resources managers employ Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) to weed out weak performers. In some instances, PIPs can be used effectively with the right guidance and motivation but, essentially, they’re used to accumulate written evidence to avoid litigation when it comes time to fire people. If we’ve been put on a PIP or are facing review - now is the time to get ready to meet the tribal council.

Preparing for a review is all about dusting off our professional image and making it shine. It’s time to show how well we have dealt with conflicts and problems, exhibit a paper trail of communications, demonstrate how we followed procedures (even if those procedures don’t make much sense), and show how we’ve worked on bad habits and are working on developing good ones. This way, when face to face with a reviewer or boss, it’ll be easy to CYA with strong evidence to confidently discuss our performance. 

Building A Strong Position

Instead of walking out of the meeting room with a verbal beating or worse - a pink slip - it’s possible to walk out with a raise and a pat on the back. The difference between the two is follow up and preparation.

The key strategy of confidently facing performance reviews is changing our mindset about them. Instead of thinking, “Oh God, how can I shift the blame to something or someone else to buy me time?” focus on “How can I give my boss zero excuses to reprimand or fire me?” Shifting from a place of no control over our circumstances to a place of control over ourselves can change the tone of discussions: from defensive to proactive.

Questions To Ask:

- What were the main goals and objectives that I was assigned last quarter? How did I deal with them and what are the results?
- Who was responsible for putting me on review or on a PIP? How did they help me achieve my goals? How did they not?
- What were the competencies that I was asked to improve or employ and what was the result?

- Do I have written evidence supporting my efforts? If so, what does it say?
- What mistakes did I make? What affirmative defense do I have for them? (Example: Yes, I missed this meeting, but I was handling a client issue at the same time.)

- What is my salary now? What have I done to merit a salary increase and what evidence do I have to back that up?
- What are some new or existing goals for the next quarter? How can my reviewer help me achieve them?

The Aftermath: Rebutting Unfair Reviews

Maybe we’ve already faced a review and it wasn’t pretty. Maybe we’re feeling a little butthurt even if we managed to survive elimination. What happens now? It’s possible to rebut them with some clarity and objectivity.

More often than not, my clients don't know how to respond to negative reviews. They just get pissed and moan about them, but don’t know how to move forward. Time to go from feeling hurt to thinking constructively.

Questions To Ask:

- Did we focus solely on performance (accomplishing the job) and not feelings or emotions (if our performance made someone feel a certain way)?
- Was I recognized on the specific goals and objectives I achieved? If not, why?
- Were there any issues that kept me from achieving my goals? Like, maternity or sick leave, redirection of time and attention to other diversions, relative performance (of others in the group), and no prior notice. Were these fairly acknowledged?

- What are the appropriate channels and methods for rebutting a performance review?

Springing Forward From Q1 to Q2

Now that the first quarter is almost over, we can be sure that companies are using performance reviews and PIPs to do their own spring cleaning and are voting those that aren’t strong enough to make it to next quarter off the island. Based on the premise that we worked diligently and did our job to the best of our ability in Q1, performance review time allows us to showcase all that we’ve overcome and accomplished, reflect upon and correct past mistakes, and come up with action plans for new challenges… and, maybe get a raise out of the deal. With adequate preparation and a clear focus on what matters, review time is just the fresh start we need to stay on job island for another day.