A reader has gotten no feedback at work and wonders what will happen at a performance review, in the July 21, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.
I’ve been at my current job about ten months. My first review will be coming up but no one has brought up anything about it. Other employees tell me it’s rote. The boss gives you feedback after filling out some forms, you sign them and then HR meets with you. I think my boss is happy with me. She’s had no complaints that I know about and I’m basically happy here except I’d like more interesting work. Should I be worried about my upcoming review?
I worry about people who wait for review time to ask for feedback from the boss. Of course, your boss should be talking with you regularly about your work and your performance. She should be expressing any concerns and letting you know what you’re doing right. Unfortunately, formal performance reviews have become so bureaucratic and rote that many managers avoid them and employees are glad when the meeting is delayed.
Don’t wait for your boss to tell you how you’re doing. Without frequent feedback it’s very difficult to adjust your work behavior so you’ll perform well. In fact, feedback is so fundamental a control mechanism throughout our lives that I wonder how people could miss its significance in their careers.
Almost every life science (biology, psychology, medicine) involves the study of feedback. I remember this question on a biology exam in college: Why do animals have their brains at the front of their bodies rather than on the back end or in the middle? The answer is that, as the processor of sensory input, the brain is near the eyes, ears, nose and tongue. An animal’s sensory apparatus is positioned at the part of the body that goes first when the animal moves.
Why is that important? Because survival depends enormously on the ability to process input quickly. When an animal moves forward, instant feedback about the results of that action is crucial to the animal’s survival. The human brain is on top of the body because that’s where the most important sensory input arrives: a few feet off the ground. (Or so we’re told.)
Imagine what would happen to a horse galloping towards the edge of a cliff. If its brain and sensory apparatus came last, the animal would likely go over the cliff before it could process the visual input that provides feedback about danger and motion.
Get feedback early and often
This is why, when you’re doing your job, it helps to gather feedback early and often – to help you avoid going over a cliff. There’s very little difference between that horse and the employee who fails to get regular feedback and is fired for not doing the work in the way expected.
Studies have shown that people who ask for feedback tend to do a job the way the boss wants it done, and they tend to get promoted. Even more interesting is that younger workers seem to ask for feedback more than older workers. (They get promoted more often, too.)
Asking your boss, “How am I doing?” doesn’t imply that you lack confidence. It shows that you’re trying to do the job the way the boss wants it done. While you may have great suggestions about how to do the work better, what matters most is that you talk to your boss and listen to what the boss has to say. The feedback you receive should direct your behavior on the job.
Create a feedback loop
If there’s a problem, a feedback loop can help you identify it early and give you (and your boss) time and a chance to adjust your behavior, or to make other necessary choices before the matter is beyond your control.
Creating a regular feedback loop is not hard. Keep it informal. One or more of these tips should get you started on a path that avoids surprises at review time.
- When your boss gives you a new assignment, map out your approach, show it to your boss, and ask for comments and suggestions.
- When you complete all or part of a project, show the results to your boss and ask for feedback on how you did it.
- When you encounter problems or challenges on a project, outline the issues to your boss, suggest how you’ll deal with them, and request guidance.
- A month before your review meeting, make a brief, informal list of your accomplishments during the year. Discuss it with your boss and ask, “Can you give me an idea of what I’ll be working on next year?” Be ready to express a short wish list of your own.
- Stick your head in your boss’s doorway (or e-mail box) and casually ask, “So, how’s our company doing?” or “How’s our team doing on delivering what management expects of us?” This opens a discussion and a channel for important dialogue on how you fit into the business.
Tune these suggestions to suit your situation, your boss, and your style. The idea is to make your work an ongoing discussion without appearing to lack confidence.
Don’t wait for a performance review
To get a measure of control over your forthcoming performance review, engage in regular discussion about your work and how you do it. By talking about it you’re helping your boss verbalize and express judgments about you. Another fun fact from the world of psychology is that people tend to remember opinions they have expressed out loud. Help your boss say it to remember it and believe it!
Obviously, you want to have discussions that put you and your performance in a good light! When your formal performance review arrives, both you and your boss will be on the same page. No surprises. No worries.
While factors beyond your control can affect your job (the economy, the pandemic, changes in management), don’t let your relationship with your boss depend on an annual review. Don’t wait until review time for your boss to tell you how you’re doing. Make it an ongoing conversation about your work.
(The studies referred to above are described more fully in From the Outside in: Seven Strategies for Success When You’re Not a Member of the Dominant Group in Your Workplace, iUniverse, 2005, by Renee Blank, Sandra Slipp and Vincent Ford.)
Do you ever ask your boss about your performance at work? How often? Has a performance review ever turned into a nightmare? How do you know where you stand?