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Unpleasant performance review? What not to do

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This is the second article in a series of three about performance reviews.

Robert Meggy has a mantra for employees when it comes to performance reviews: "Always be honest." The CEO and president of The Great Little Box Company Ltd., a packaging manufacturer based in Richmond, B.C., believes it's the employee's responsibility to give feedback. The manager's job is to listen.

"If you have an issue, come clean with it," says Mr. Meggy, whose company has been named as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers for eight consecutive years. "It's important to talk out any differences you may have. When people are asked why they're leaving a company, it's often for the stupidest reasons. They didn't get a $50 raise or thought they were unfairly treated over something minor, but never talked to their manager or supervisor about it."

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When you consider statistics that losing a good employee can cost a company three times his or her salary, it's worthwhile for both sides to encourage open and honest dialogue. With that in mind, Mr. Meggy asks employees to give a written rating from one to 10 on how things are going as part of their performance review.

"If somebody gives it five and then says everything is fine, you know something isn't right," Mr. Meggy says. "They may not want to say it but will write it down. We emphasize with our people that this is their chance to tell us."

If the employee needs to bring up a delicate subject, Alan Kearns, career coach and founder of CareerJoy, advises his clients to prepare for the review by writing a set of bullet points.

"You never want to speak out of your emotions," Mr. Kearns says. "That's not to say you aren't emotional about it, but writing down the facts, not the feelings, is really important when you're having difficult conversations."

Mike Harwood, human resources director at Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada in Concord, Ont., would agree.

"Don't make the discussion personal," he advises. "A performance review should be about observable behaviours and results. If there are issues, the employee should be open to constructive feedback, based on specific examples."

Kate Hays, a sports psychologist and founder of the Performing Edge consulting practice in Toronto, recommends rehearsing anything difficult so that you have an idea of what you're going to say.

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Try not to act defensively during the review, Dr. Hays says. "That doesn't mean you have to be wide open and bleeding, but don't have too many barriers up so you can potentially realize some value or learning out of it."

If you're going to ask for a raise during the review, you need to prepare for that conversation and be ready to say what you think you're worth in the marketplace. Also be aware that although raise and promotions are often tied to reviews, not all companies have it on the table. Mr. Meggy keeps it separate so that the discussion is about the review and not the money. But if you go for it, do your homework.

"A lot of people think, where's my raise?" Mr. Kearns says. "Some employers are really good that way but most people need to present a business case of what you've accomplished over the past year including what you could have done better. If you say it, how much better is that?"

While you can use the review process to lay out expectations of where you want to go next professionally and economically, if you're not achieving results, the review can be devastating. The question then becomes where do you go from here? You need to have clear and defined expectations to achieve results the next time around.

If you have a bad review, there's a huge emotional impact at first that makes it almost impossible to be rational, Dr. Hays explains. She typically has athletes ask themselves two questions after every performance, good or bad: What went well and what can I learn?

"Figure out what aspects were accurate and what you could do differently," Dr. Hays says. "Then you can decide if the supports are there for you to do that within your organization or if it's a signal to start looking for something else fast. Or maybe even question if you're in the right field."

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Tips for employees on performance reviews

-"Don't hide things," Mr. Meggy says. "So many people leave a company without ever bringing up what bothered them."

-"Use the review to give feedback to your boss on what's working as well as what's not," Mr. Kearns says. "We're often not affirmational to our boss about what we appreciate about them and the organization."

-"Do document any action plans coming out of the review and be sure to follow up with your manager to ensure that they are acted upon within the timelines identified," Mr. Harwood advises.

-"If you're savvy enough to have your wits about you during a bad review, ask if you can come back and talk again in a week because you need some time to digest this," Dr. Hays says. "Then you'll be at the point where you can be somewhat rational and look at it objectively."

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