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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Bad Performance Review? Here's What to Do Next

Unsatisfactory. Needs improvement. Poor performance. Those phrases can strike fear into the heart of any employee, especially if they come up during an annual review. Fortunately, a poor performance review doesn’t have to mean your career is going downhill. Use the feedback you get the right way, and you can be on your way to bigger and better things.

If you’ve recently gone through a less-than-stellar performance review, don’t fret. By following these four steps, you can take your next review from “so-so” to “so awesome.”

1. Understand the Situation

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a bad performance review, the first step is not to slink back to your desk and hide—it’s to make sure you understand where you’re coming up short. As painful as it may be to delve into what you’re doing wrong, you won’t be able to improve if you don’t know exactly what needs fixing.

This may require asking your boss some uncomfortable questions. For example, if your boss is concerned that you’re not being productive, make sure that you understand exactly what she is referring to. Are you missing important deadlines? Spending too much time chit-chatting with other employees? Is your boss unhappy that you’re the first to go home on busy days, because you didn’t quite pick up on the unspoken rules of the office about when you need to stay late? Once you know where the problem lies, you can start to fix it.

Of course, sometimes, a performance review can leave you so flustered that you forget to ask these important follow-up questions. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to approach your boss again in a week or so and ask for clarification or for a meeting to further discuss her concerns. You’ll get the info you need to improve, and your boss will be impressed by your commitment to becoming a better employee.

2. Make a Plan

Having a plan is a critical part of achieving any goal. Think of it this way: If you want to lose weight, you don’t just announce it to the world and expect the pounds to start falling off. You formulate a workout routine and start researching healthier meals. The same is true if you want to improve your work performance. Don’t just say that you’re going to be a better employee—create a step-by-step plan to make sure you achieve that goal.

Let’s say that you were docked on your performance review because you’re always late to work. While you can pledge to be on time from now on, your best bet is to identify the cause of your tardiness and make a plan to be more punctual. Are you late because you can’t decide what to wear? Try picking out and ironing your outfit the night before. Do you tend to sleep through your alarm? Get two alarms, and set one across the room so that you actually have to get out of bed to turn it off. By determining what’s causing the problem, you can figure out a solution.

3. Ask For Help

Sometimes, improving your job performance might require additional resources. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to ask your boss or colleagues for help. For example, if your reports are often late because you’re always waiting on someone else for information, approach that person about getting her part to you sooner. If she continues to cause delays, let your boss know. You don’t want to be a tattletale, but if you explain the situation to your boss, she may be able to help streamline the process or adjust your deadlines to be more realistic.

On the other hand, if you find you just can’t get your work done fast enough, you might think about enrolling in professional development classes that could help you hone your skills. If, for example, each report you pull together feels like an uphill battle with Excel, a little investment in your own training could go a long way to help.

Keep in mind that your boss probably doesn’t like giving a negative performance review any more than you like receiving one. She’ll likely be open when you reach out to her for help, especially if the end result will help you work more efficiently.

4. Follow Up

Once you have all the resources you need to improve your performance, it’s time to get to work. You’ll also want to track your progress so that you can make sure that you’re headed in the right direction. You may want to set aside five or 10 minutes each day to evaluate your own performance and make sure you’re moving toward your goals. It’s natural to let good behavior slip as you get further away from your upsetting review, but taking time for daily self-evaluation will make sure that you’re not falling back in to bad habits.

You may also want to track your progress with your boss. Check in with her a month after your evaluation, let her know what you’ve been doing to rectify the situation, and ask if she thinks your performance is improving. Getting periodic feedback is much better than waiting until your next annual or semi-annual review, only to find out that your boss still isn’t pleased.

A poor performance review may be hard to swallow, but it gives you a valuable chance to make improvements before you have to face worse consequences. By understanding the problems at hand, making a plan, asking for help when needed, and tracking your progress, you can make sure that your next job evaluation is one that you—and your boss—are happy about.

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