What to do when you think your performance review is wrong

I still remember my first performance review, even though it’s been almost 50 years since Ray Moeller, my first boss at GE, called me into his office and handed me a document that he called a “performance appraisal.”

I read it. It hurt.

Ray’s appraisal of my performance was harsh, but it was also accurate: I wasn’t doing a good job. Ray laid it on the line. My response was to shape up immediately and start earning my pay.

I might have reacted differently if I’d felt the review was inaccurate or unfair. How should you respond if your manager gives you a review that seems off the mark?

Start by recognizing that a performance appraisal is a formal record of a supervisor’s opinion of the quality of an employee’s work.

As long as that opinion is based on your manager’s honest assessment and uncolored by personal biases, the matter is settled.

We all think we’re better than we really are. So the first step is to accept that the boss may, in fact, be right.

With that in mind, you’ve generally got three choices:

— “My boss may be right. I’m disappointed, but I’m going to accept this and make whatever changes are necessary to justify a higher rating next year.”

— “This rating is wrong, and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get it changed!”

— “I’m out of here.”

Make the choice clearly and then proceed.

The easiest performance appraisal problems to get resolved may be those where the manager’s opinion is based on factually incorrect information. Sometimes bad data is sufficient to justify challenging the final result. But challenging a boss’s appraisal, even in a clear-cut case of bad data, is always a ticklish matter. Be sure it’s worth it.

Whatever you do, don’t try for immediate resolution. Say something like: “I’d like to think about what you’ve said and written, and perhaps have another conversation before this becomes official. May I get back to you in a day or two?”

Then sleep on it. Consider whether your boss’s assessment might be on target, or at least not so far off the mark that it’s worth making a major fuss over.

When you do get back to your boss, do one of two things. Acknowledge the fact that getting the assessment served as a significant learning experience, and ask how you can make a more valuable contribution in the next 12 months. Or tell your boss that after serious thought you believe an adjustment of the rating is justified.

It’s understandable to be unhappy, even upset, when you don’t agree with your performance review, but proceeding carefully rather than acting rashly is the best approach — and the one most likely to earn you a more favorable appraisal in the future.

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