When performance review time comes around, our top priority is surviving the conversation. With stress placed on the unknown, we forget about what we can get out of the performance review by just asking a few questions. Take a deep breath, write these 5 good questions to ask down, and take an opportunity to ask them the next time a performance review comes around.

1. What are my next steps?

The bulk of an employee performance review focuses on the past. While reflection is essential, don’t leave a review without talking about what comes immediately following this conversation. A review with concrete next steps gives you some agency in growth and shows a willingness and dedication to action. Instead of talking about only big-picture goals for the next year, outline what you can do in the next week or month to ensure a step in the right direction. Next steps coming out of a review don’t need to be grand or intimidating, merely setting meetings with other team members, or kicking off a new project will suffice. Just make sure you’re taking action on what you just discussed in the review to create forward momentum.

2. What skills can I build on?

Reviews are an excellent opportunity to talk about growth, specifically leadership or continuing education programs. Since the subject of a review focuses on areas of improvement, use this time to ask if your company might supplement workshops, or allow for time off for educational opportunities. Talk intentionally about skills you are interested in developing on the job--there may be unknown space in the budget to help supplement education. If there’s a conference or event you already have in mind, now is a great time to bring it to your manager’s attention. Often around the time of reviews, we’re also talking about budgets for the next year, so this can be a beneficial time to see if financial assistance is possible.

3. What goals can we set for next year?

Do not leave the performance review without expectations for how you can improve in the next year at a high level. Most of us are simply trying to survive the review, but you’ll set yourself up for a better review in the year to come if you have an idea of expectations. What accomplishments over the next twelve months equate to a stellar review? Unlike the next steps above, these goals could be less concrete. Your objective should be to gain an understanding of expectations of growth for yourself within your team and across the company at large.

4. What can I do to make your job easier?

A performance review should be a time for honest discussion and feedback. Your manager might provide insight into your performance, but take a moment to ask what he or she might still need from you. Could you be more proactive in meetings, better at following up? Is your manager looking to you to take the initiative with a new client? This question can illuminate specific areas of growth in your relationship with your boss. It might help open the door to creating a better relationship with him or her as well.

5. When can we do this again?

Performance reviews aren’t exactly a barrel of laughs, but having them more frequently can make the process less intimidating. If you can stomach it, ask your manager if the two of you can meet on a more recurring basis. Realistically, an annual meeting makes it hard to chart growth and change. Proposing more frequent reviews can benefit your growth, and also signals you are taking your role seriously.

Performance reviews are stressful but remember they are in place to serve both sides of the relationship. What can you get out of this experience (besides the quickening of your pulse or a stomach ache)? Asking questions of your own gives you more autonomy in the experience. It also creates conversation, a discussion, instead of just feedback from one side. Speaking up during a performance review can establish ownership, as well as ease, for an employee.


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