What would I do if I received a disappointing year-end review?

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Today, we look at the next in our mini-series of items titled, “What would I do if…”  It’s that time of year… year-end performance review time. Typically, half or more of all individuals have some level of disappointment resulting from these discussions. It seems that most of us feel that our toils and labors are often overlooked and not recognized, but that final assessment is the chance to make up for it. We hope that our final review will recognize all the extra effort, extra time, and extra personal sacrifice that went into a successful year. However, in most companies, those highest ratings are reserved for those that “had career years” or “significantly moved the needle” or “that accomplished much more than anyone thought possible.” As a result, many are disappointed by these discussions. I have been there myself. I recall several times over my approximately 40 year-end reviews that I felt my boss failed to consider everything I did, or missed those items out of my control, or simply gave the benefit of doubt in the wrong direction. So, I know how it feels to walk away with some disappointment.

When you do feel disappointment from a year-end performance review, what do you do next? Is it appropriate to pose a counter-argument to the points made? Do I despair or re-energize my efforts? What are the best steps to take following that frustrating discussion. Well, you’ll see 7 suggestions below that you should consider to turn that disappointing review into something positive. Let’s take a look to see if you agree:

  1. Be objective and reflect on what you heard – Your first reaction after a disappointing review must be to quietly reflect on what you heard. Do not overreact! Do not engage with others until you have had a chance to be objective about what you heard. Was the feedback appropriate? Are there legitimate opportunities for improvement? Could you have done things better or differently? Could you have presented your case in a more positive way? What take-aways will you begin addressing today? Take the time to understand what was said and why. Can you put yourself in your boss’ position to see things from his/her viewpoint? Once you have reflected and objectively heard what was said, you are ready to turn this into something positive.
  2. Stay positive – Do not allow disappointing news to throw you into a loop or despair. No matter how bad the news, you can turn it around. The true test of your character is how you handle adversity. This is the time to dig deep and allow this to springboard you into a more positive future. In the meantime, do NOT throw anyone under the bus or involve others negatively while you formulate your next steps.
  3. Follow-up discussions with your boss are appropriate – A key part of turning disappointment into celebration is to create a plan and ensure buy-in from your leadership team. It would be appropriate to have a follow-up discussion with your boss 2 – 4 weeks after the final year-end review. At that discussion, you should begin with something like, “I have had some time to reflect on our year-end discussion. I would like to share with you my learnings from that discussion and my plans for making this new year our best yet.” Then, lay out the initial draft of key initiatives and plans for the new year. Allow this to be a collaborative discussion with input from your boss. The goal is to demonstrate that you heard what was said, you have taken the feedback seriously, and you have developed a plan to have a different outcome this year. Once a plan is agreed, suggest quarterly updates to monitor progress. It is acceptable to ask at this initial meeting, “If we can accomplish what has been outlined, do you feel that I would be on track for a more positive year-end result this year?” The answer will help motivate and guide your activities for the year.
  4. Consider what developmental activities you should undertake in the coming new year – Use the year-end feedback you received to enhance your own capabilities. This is the time to formulate plans to add new skills, refine old ones, or gain experience that can help advance your career and performance. Don’t wait until too late in the year to initiate these activities.
  5. Re-visit your primary objectives and plans for the coming year – With feedback from your year-end review AND your initial follow-up discussion, you should be able to better articulate exactly what you plan to accomplish in the new year. Refine your objectives to be more specific, more value-focused, and work toward having that “needle moving year.”
  6. Get better organized for making a strong personal case for next year – Begin early in the year to organize your work life in a way that ensures you can provide a better picture of what was accomplished. Create a system to retain/file positive feedback you receive. Capture those “off the plan” projects that might not have been anticipated. Be sure you include all your contributions in your self-assessment or year-end discussion in the next year. Now is the time to organize to ensure these do not fall through the cracks.
  7. Plan specific activities to distinguish your performance in the coming year – Finally, energize yourself to ensure that you do what you say you’ll do. Don’t fail to achieve your objectives! Don’t fail to be outstanding! If you hope to present your year as a break-out year, ensure that it is! Accomplishing a great year may require extraordinary effort or extraordinary organization. Plan now to be great!

If you do these things, your chances of a more positive year-end review next year are markedly improved! Using this year’s performance review to inspire specific and intentional action for the coming year can turn a disappointing discussion into years of more productive and rewarding performance. As with any other disappointment in life, don’t dwell on the negative because that simply multiplies the disappointment. In other words, when kicked in the fanny, pick yourself up and decide to never allow that to occur again. Be proactive, be intentional, and be focused and you’ll have a much more engaging and productive conversation in future year-end reviews.

Thanks for making a difference to others. Have a splendid day!



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