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Blindsided by a poor performance review? Here’s what to do next

Receiving poor feedback during a performance review is never easy, regardless of whether you’d anticipated it or not. Not only can it feel like a personal attack on you as a person, it can also be difficult not to take it to heart, or let it knock your confidence.

If you’ve been left feeling blindsided by a performance review, then what you do next is key. So, I’ve detailed some crucial steps to take that could help you to turn a poor performance review into a constructive learning opportunity.

1. Don’t react immediately

Even though this may go against every instinct that’s inside you right now, it’s essential that you don’t immediately get “on the defensive” and react negatively. Taking feedback onboard in a constructive and proactive way is part and parcel of achieving sustained career success. You therefore must do everything you can to ensure you’re perceived as somebody who takes feedback well, using it as an opportunity to learn and develop. Be mindful of this and adjust your initial reactions accordingly.

Take a deep breath and allow some time to reflect on the specific feedback points. Interestingly, research suggests that by first taking a step back and allowing yourself to ‘feel the pain of failure’, you’ll be in a stronger position to make constructive use of the areas detailed in your poor performance review. It seems that by allowing yourself to really feel the emotion, in future, you’re more likely to do everything you can to avoid being in the same position again. As Dr. Selin Malkoc states, “…When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

2. Ask for clarification

Once you’ve had some time to reflect, you may realise that you don’t fully understand one or even several specific points raised during your performance review. If so, don’t hesitate to ask your manager to clarify what he or she meant.

They should be able to provide you with concrete examples of when and where your performance has been unsatisfactory. Your manager should also be able to explain to you what behaviour they would have liked to have seen from you. Although this could, once again, be difficult to hear, it will nonetheless provide you with valuable clarity and context, following the initial feedback from your performance review, allowing you to approach the next crucial steps both objectively and positively.

3. Draft key objectives to help you improve

Now that you have spent some time reflecting and understand the specific areas in which you need to improve, it’s time to pencil in several clear objectives to help drive you forward, and proactively work on the areas you need to develop. Your manager may have also already highlighted a set of objectives during your initial performance review which you’ll need to work towards. If so, take a good look at them and review how they can be accomplished over the following working days, weeks and months. If not, take some time to draft these yourself, sharing them with your manager once you’re comfortable with them.

It will help to break down each of these objectives into small milestones – milestones that will ultimately help you achieve the overall objective. Importantly, keep a weekly record of your progress. Not only will this be hugely motivating, it will also form great evidence to your manager, demonstrating your unwavering commitment to your own professional development.

4. Explore further learning and guidance

Your manager may have recommended that you take a certain course, join a professional organisation or find a suitable mentor to aid your development. They may also have offered you the opportunity to work on a stretch project to develop your skills in a particular area. If they haven’t, there’s no harm in being proactive here too, and asking for their support in overcoming the weaknesses identified in your performance review. They may also be perfectly placed to provide you with the support you need themselves, or may even be able to introduce you to somebody else within the organisation who can act as a mentor.

Working with a colleague in this capacity, whether you approach them yourself or whether it’s facilitated by your manager, can be daunting – but bear in mind that the benefits of mentoring in the workplace can be substantial for your development.

Alternatively, if you find a relevant course or learning opportunity that will benefit your development, signing up to it could work wonders for your self-confidence at this tricky time. Not only could it help you rediscover your passion for what you do, it can give you the boost you need to push your performance forward – which can only ever be a good thing.

Proactively seeking to upskill proves your commitment to lifelong learning and demonstrates to your manager how dedicated you are to addressing the points raised in your performance review.

5. Book an interim review with your manager

Thinking ahead, book an interim review with your manager within three months of your initial performance review, so that you can prove how you’ve taken their feedback on board and are taking your personal development seriously.

This is your opportunity to present your manager with a plan of action which evidences that you’re headed in the right direction. You can explain why you’ve made certain decisions, how they will help you to grow as a professional, and how this in turn will help your employer. You can share how you’re progressing with your strategic objectives, and how you’ve made a commitment to improve. This is also a great opportunity to ask your manager for their own assessment of how you’re getting on, whether you’re on track, and what they think you could do to improve even more.

6. Adopt a growth mindset from here on

Throughout your journey of turning a poor performance review into a constructive experience, it’s essential to understand that self-improvement requires persistence, patience and practice. To respond in the best possible way to a poor performance review, it’s essential that you do your very best to adopt a mindset of growth. Understand that even the most successful business people in the world will have felt blindsided by a poor performance review at some point in their past. The way they bounced back from it, learning from their mistakes along the way, is what has made them so successful today.

Employees who adopt a growth mindset demonstrate that they can learn, grow and continuously add to their skillset by taking on feedback and using it to guide their personal development. They firmly believe that knowledge is learned, and that new skills are built with a dedicated application of trial, error, practice and effort. Subsequently, those with a growth mindset tend to persist when faced with the challenge of something like a poor performance review. They see negative feedback as an inevitable part of the learning process, and an opportunity to develop both personally and professionally.

After giving yourself a little time to reflect on the initial sting of your performance review, by being proactive, remaining positive, and following the simple steps detailed in this blog, you’re already well on your way to adopting a growth mindset.

A bad performance review doesn’t have to be terminal
Ultimately, poor performance reviews can be part and parcel of life in the world of work, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. This is nothing but a stitch in time, and by adopting the right approach you’ll turn this negative moment into a positive period for your longer term development. You’ll learn, become a better professional in the long run, and instinctively know how to handle similar problems should they arise again.

By using your time to react positively and proactively, planning effectively and overcoming challenges successfully, you’ll reduce the chances of being suddenly and unexpectedly blindsided by a poor performance review again in the future.


About this author

Jane McNeill, joined Hays in 1987 as a trainee recruitment consultant in London and is now Managing Director of Hays NSW and WA.

After two years with Hays Jane began managing her own office and quickly took on larger and more diversified teams of people and responsibility for a region in the UK.

In 2001 Jane arrived in Perth , Western Australia and shortly after took over as State Director for WA. After six years of significant business growth she was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007.

In 2012 Jane moved to Sydney and now oversees Hays’ operations in New South Wales with board responsibility for Western Australia.

Jane has an MA in Psychology from Edinburgh University.

Follow Jane on LinkedIn

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