How to Have a Productive Performance Review

Performance Review


The pandemic unleashed a new professional climate, reorganizing and restructuring workplaces across industries and in higher education. The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources’ (CUPA-HR) 2021 annual report summarizes: “The severe budget cuts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many institutions to freeze hiring, cut positions and, in some cases, decrease salaries.”

In the midst of staffing changes and other pandemic-fueled adaptations, you may have found yourself evolving to fill gaps and meet new demands. It can feel confusing as you contemplate your annual review and revisit past goals, recognizing that your current focus is more about toeing the Covid-19 line than achieving what you once aimed to accomplish. Pandemic urgency, perhaps, revised elements of your role, making it seem unlike the job you originally accepted.

How can you use your performance review to clarify your goals, speak to your success, and reclaim fit in the wake of so much change?

The Opportunities That Change Creates
Think back to how we felt ringing in the 2020 New Year; it seems an impossibly long time ago. Do you remember what you planned to accomplish professionally before we knew what 2020 had in store for us? Examine any notes you took about your plans. Dig up your last pre-Covid performance review.

Was there a role that you were targeting? What were your development goals? Have you achieved those goals? Has your focus changed? How have departmental changes been directed by the pandemic? If your professional life feels like it went from being purposeful to reactionary, you’re certainly not alone.

The pandemic railroaded all of us, but it also taught us new lessons too. They might not be the enhancements we were targeting, but growth still matters. Note those changes as you prepare to talk about your performance.

Revise Your Resume
Review your resume. Revise it. Add those new skills that made you nimble, productive, and successful throughout this strange season of crisis. Note the technical skills that enabled your remote work. Think about some soft skills you honed: communication, resilience, and flexibility, for example. These competencies helped you balance your workload and come through for your team. If your institution had to make staffing cuts and you inherited work, or if you stepped up for an ill colleague, note the new responsibilities that you absorbed.

Own your growth and achievement before you meet to discuss your performance. Document it so that you can discuss it fluidly. Use data to back up your claims, detailing the particulars that demonstrate your impact — how you upskilled, how many students you helped, how much time you saved colleagues, how many donors contributed due to your outreach.

The pandemic took us off-script; it cratered our systems. We fight our way back by making new ones. Start by claiming your success in the document that tells your professional story.

In the new frontier that is our post-pandemic reality, those who understand how to talk about the pandemic as a skills accelerator will have an edge. Your performance review may be your first opportunity to flex this skill. Do it up.

Annotate Your Job Description
Look at your current job description. Has this role changed? If so, how? Annotate and edit the job description. Note these changes.

Again, this exercise gives you a chance to see how the pandemic has impacted your work and your role. Powering through the pandemic has been dizzying and overwhelming. Use this touchstone to track how things have changed.

Recognize that managers have been experiencing the same feeling of disorientation. “This year, employee reviews will be far more ’employee directed’ than in previous years. . . managers have been less able to monitor the progress and performance of their team in a remote setting – especially during the initial periods of turbulence throughout the onset of COVID-19.” Mike Grossman, CEO of GoodHire, points out. “While managers may endeavor to check in with individual team members and keep a pulse on how their team is performing, it can be harder to gauge an employee’s overall performance when you see and engage with them less frequently. As a result, employees have been urged to demonstrate independence and adaptability within their role.”

Recognize, that these are different times. Clarity and self-advocacy are vital now. “Employees may be urged to take a more proactive role in evaluating their own performance and setting achievable goals for the short and long-term,” Grossman adds.

Use the opportunity that this meeting affords you to reflect on your work. Being a thorough reporter about your work and your future plans serves you well in a performance review. So go into the meeting prepared to drive the conversation.

Find the Right Outlet for Your Emotional Work
Working, living, supporting students, and caring for family members has been hard, exhausting, heartbreaking, and scary during this strange time. Emotionally, we are done.

The CDC reported the results of a recent survey: “During August 2020-February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, and the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7%. Increases were largest among adults aged 18-29 years.”

If you are struggling right now, that is understandable, and it’s ok. Talk to your colleagues in the wellness center. Find resources that serve your needs. Get the right support. You are not alone, so many of us are struggling with you. There is no shame in this.

But do your emotional work outside of your performance review. It’s not a successful strategy to use this session to vent. That’s not the purpose of a performance review, and doing so sets an employee up for self-sabotage.

There are plenty of reasons to complain, mourn, lament, and reflect on the pain that the pandemic has heaped on our doorsteps. But if we use this meeting to vent, we stand to lose our manager’s support when it comes to strategizing about our future with our institutions. We need that.

Work through grievances with therapists, career coaches, mentors, or trusted friends. Schedule a future meeting with the manager to discuss issues that need attention once some of the hot emotion has dissipated.

Keep in mind that everyone is experiencing the same pain and exhaustion. We are all in a delicate place. Neutralize emotions when we can, especially in the workplace.

Use your performance review to emphasize what you learned, how you grew, and how you plan to continue growing. Discuss your plans and hopes for the future. Stay focused, organized, and positive. Those qualities help all of us navigate this strange time.

Disclaimer: HigherEdJobs encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by HigherEdJobs.

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