Performance Review Approaching? 12 Ways to Enhance Yours

“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white
so long as it catches mice.”

-       Deng Xiaoping

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: This newsletter issue does not start off with a “case history,” as most do, because there are so many “case histories” on this subject already known to our readers. Each year – and often twice a year – many employers engage in performance reviews of their employees. A significant amount of time, effort and expense goes into the performance review process. 

Ostensibly, the purpose of a performance review is, simply, to review performance. But for what reasons do we do that? A number of reasons come to mind: (a) to give feedback to the employee about those areas of endeavor that can be improved; (b) to determine who should be promoted or demoted; (c) to determine how much of a raise or bonus the employee should receive; (d) to keep everyone focused on performance criteria; and (e) to suggest specific objectives and goals going forward. There are many others, too. 

However, at times the higher purposes of any human endeavor can become corrupted when being put into practice. It’s just a fact of life that those whose job it is to serve us sometimes serve, instead, their own interests. That is why so many of us knowingly laugh at “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” After all, humans will be human. Anyone who claims that bosses and HR representatives are better – or worse – than all other humans is simply spouting foolishness. They are humans, period, capable of both noble and ignoble acts.    

In practice, sometimes performance reviews can get corrupted, and end up serving improper purposes, such as: (a) personal animosity; (b) retaliation against those who have reported wrongdoing; (c) denial to people of the bonuses they have in fact earned; or (d) to lay a false foundation upon which to fire people. There are others, too. Sadly, in our experience and in the experience of our clients, the frequency of “corrupted” performance reviews seems to be on the rise.    

Whether your performance review is based solely on your performance, or corrupted by improper purposes, there are things you can do to affect your performance review by ensuring that you are reviewed in the most positive light. We call them “Performance Review Enhancers.”  

LESSON TO LEARN: Whether your upcoming performance review will be properly conducted or improperly conducted, you can influence the light in which you are reviewed, thereby increasing the odds that you will be viewed in the most positive light, so that it serves your interests to the maximum degree possible.  

“But,” you might ask, “since my employer permits me to submit a self-assessment, isn’t that enough?” The answer is “No.” Self-assessments, when used as a part of the performance improvement process, are limited by design as to (a) the subjects you can address, (b) the ways in which you can address them, (c) what additional information you can offer, and (d) who will see your self-assessment. We always counsel clients to go above and beyond those limits.   

The basic idea is to ensure that the most positive information regarding your performance is known, and makes its way into your performance review, and that false, incorrect, and harmful information does not make it into your performance  review in the first place.

For this reason, about six weeks before your next performance review, we highly recommend you take the time to prepare and transmit to your supervisor, manager or department head what we call a “Performance Review Enhancement Memo,” which is simply “all the good news you can muster.”   

Remember that no one will promote or protect your interests if you don’t do so yourself. And remember, too, that the best defense is often a good offense. Preparation is the key. And please never forget this fact: more jobs are lost due to performance reviews than due to any other reason.  

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are 12 practical steps you can take to ensure the most successful performance review possible. Each is a step to take in preparation of your own “Performance Review Enhancement Memo.” While not all of our “Performance Review Enhancers” may be applicable to your circumstances, it is quite probable that at least some will be. Each step is a step toward job security and potential advancement, and is so in your interests.      

1. Keep in mind the old saying, “It’s easier to stay well than to get well.” One thing about performance reviews that you must remember: it is very hard to get them changed after they are written. At most, employees who disagree with their performance reviews are permitted to put a “protest” or “objection” into their HR files. If you take the steps necessary to ensure your performance review is positive in a proactive manner, you’ll be way ahead of the game. 

2. Use a copy of last year’s Performance Review as a “start,” but not as a “finish,” for your own list of “Performance Review Enhancers.” Chances are that your performance review this year will use the same form as did your performance review of last year. That means that each of the areas of review on last year’s form will likely be used again this year to evaluate your performance. Use that form as a “start” for the preparation of your “Performance Review Enhancers,” but don’t stop there. As you will see below, there are many things outside of the usual performance review form that might be of help to you.    

3. Assemble performance targets, goals and other benchmarks of expected achievement. Many employees are given performance criteria, goals or benchmarks against which they will be judged at performance review time. This is particularly true of those whose success at work can be measured using objective criteria, such as (a) amount of sales for sales people, (b) P&L for traders, (c) billable hours for attorneys, and (d) even retention of employees for HR representatives. If you have such “objective” performance measures, make sure you are aware of each of them, and you have carefully examined your performance relative to them, as part of your performance review preparations. 

4. Gather evidence that you achieved or exceeded your assigned goals or targets. Next, determine where you may stand relative to your assigned goals, targets or other measures of your performance. If the news is “good,” make sure you know how “good,” and that it cannot be ignored. If the news is “bad,” better you know it before going into the performance review process, because there is every possibility that it can be explained, placed into context, or even minimized in significance.   

5. Did you receive all promised resources of all kinds? It’s awfully hard to drive a car on three good tires and one flat tire; no one can argue with that. So, too, is it awfully hard for your 4-person group to attain targeted goals if one of the four of you was out of the office on a different assignment for most of the year. Likewise, it is awfully hard to meet sales goals if every salesperson has one sales assistant, and you never had one assigned to you. You may just assume that your boss will take that into account when reviewing your performance. Don’t be so sure; make it happen.    

6. Gather evidence of “outside influences” that may have impeded your achievements. Imagine, for the moment that it is your job to keep hotel occupancy up at seaside hotels in the states that border the Gulf of Mexico. We all know that due to last year’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico no one wanted to swim in the water or walk along the beach there. It’s really important that your performance review include that fact, and perhaps compare you not with your targeted goal, but perhaps instead with the occupancy rates of other companies’ seaside hotels. No one will remember the oil spill in a few years, but your performance review – if it does not take the oil spill into account – may just haunt your career and hinder your potential advancement for years to come.

Bad Review? We offer a Model Memo entitled “Model Performance Review Rebuttal,” to respond. It shows “What to Say, and How to Say It.™ To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

7. Make a list of assignments or projects completed that are outside your usual duties. It happens all the time: employees are given revenue, sales, new-customer or other targets to achieve, but in the middle of the year they are asked to also take on special assignments due to unexpected circumstances. Even if you are told, “Don’t worry; we will take this into account,” don’t rely on that. Any efforts, achievements and projects “off target” need to be brought to the attention of your manager or supervisor before – not after – your performance review.  

8. Consider who may be your advocates among (a) internal clients, (b) external clients, (c) colleagues, and (d) subordinates. Having “cheerleaders” available to vouch for your “soft” achievements, such as “leadership,” “employee development,” “collegiality,” and “teamwork” is one of the best ways to enhance your performance review. Your boss may think you are poor in these areas, or falsely claim that you are. Preparing a “Performance Review Enhancement Memo,” complete with names of people who have applauded your demeanor and style, and are ready to vouch for your success in these areas, is a wise thing to do.  

9. Build a digital file of expressions of (a) appreciation, (b) gratitude, and (c) support you may have received. Whenever you receive a note, card, email, letter or other expression of appreciation, gratitude or support, save it in a digital file for this very purpose. Bringing these to the attention of your Managing Director prior to his or her reviewing your performance can only elevate the ranking she will provide you.  

10. Ponder this: Have you received any indications of poor performance, misconduct or the displeasure of superiors? Is  it the case that you have not received any complaints from customers, notices of poor performance, “write-ups” or the like this year? If so, that in itself is something of an accomplishment, and something to mention. In fact, when a manager is advised that he or she has never brought performance or behavior issues to you during the year, it only makes him or her appear in error, inconsistent or negligent to now claim you have not done well. On the other hand, if you have received expressions of poor performance or displeasure, this is a great opportunity to either (a) explain what transpired, or (b) let your manager or supervisor know all of the steps you have taken to prevent a reoccurrence from taking place.

11. Prepare your “Performance Review Enhancement Memo.” If you have followed one or more of the steps outlined above, this is the easiest step. In a memo, preferably no more than two pages in length, call to your manager’s attention certain facts that he or she might not be aware of, but should be considered when preparing your next performance review. In an email presentation, tell him or her that you thought it would make his or her task a bit easier having this information at hand. Offer to answer any questions, or provide any additional data, that your manager may need. Keep it positive, upbeat and enthusiastic. Don’t sound boastful or defensive; instead, come across as helpful. In your email subject line you might call it “Information For Your Use,” or words to that effect.  

12. Then transmit your “Performance Review Enhancement Memo” to your manager, with a copy to your HR representative. Email is your friend. Always use email at work to transmit important messages, including this one. Email makes a clear record of (a) what was said, (b) who said it, (c) to whom, and (d) when it was said. As noted above, mention that this is your attempt to assist your manager in his or her upcoming performance review efforts. Ask that your  manager or supervisor acknowledge receipt of your “Performance Review Enhancement Memo” by a simple “received” return reply email. We suggest a “cc” copy be sent to your Human Resources representative to be placed in your HR file.  

We offer a Model Memo entitled “Performance Review Enhancement Memo” that you can use as a model for your own efforts. To obtain a copy, simply [click here.]

These 12 practical steps to preparing a “Performance Review Enhancement Memo” can help you build – and protect – your reputation and “internal brand” at work. The exercise is intended to help you build, and prevent risk to, your career. It represents a subtle – yet powerful – kind of navigation and negotiation at work. Putting together a “Performance Review Enhancement Memo” is a simple thing, yet quite a sophisticated thing, too. It costs nothing, but represents great value at low cost; isn’t that what business is all about?    

P.S.: Don’t forget a thing . . . we offer a “141-Point Master Guide and Checklist for Performance Reviews.” It’s got everything you should know, understand and remember. To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!


SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. A “Performance Review Enhancement Memo” is a perfect embodiment of the spirit and substance of that process. Now the rest is up to you.        

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about. 

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.    

Please Note: This Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™ 

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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