Approaching Your Next Performance Review? Read this.

Performance reviews are the norm for most 

For the majority of assistants who responded to my Weekend Poll,  performance evaluations are a cultural norm. That’s what 80% of you said. Sixteen percent said the process exists in theory, while the practice is inconsistent. For the remaining 4%, performance reviews don’t form part of performance management at work. 

Having been on both the delivering and receiving end of performance reviews myself, I asked about training. Forty-nine percent of respondents said the people responsible for conducting their performance reviews had received training from HR or another source on how to engage in performance management and how to conduct such reviews. While 39% of respondents didn’t know, 15% said those responsible for their performance reviews have not received such training. Yikes!

A number of you are also responsible for performance management and/or conducting such reviews. Six percent of respondents said this is part of their role, and another 19% contribute to, yet aren’t solely responsible, for others’ reviews. Of those assistants who said they conduct reviews of other colleagues’ performance, 45% said they’ve not received relevant training. Twenty-seven percent have received informal training, and only 28% have secured such training from HR colleagues or an HR-recommended facilitator. 

The majority say COVID has not impacted timeliness of their reviews

We know assistants have been carrying on during these uncommon times, and so have the majority of the principals who are responsible for conducting performance reviews. An impressive 72% of respondents said the pandemic has not impacted the timeliness of your performance reviews. Sixteen percent said their last performance reviews were deferred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an additional 2% said that, while the process was delayed, it was still completed.

More than half, 53% of respondents, said your most recent reviews were conducted digitally, over a web platform. Another 3% met by phone, and 2% held such conversations over WhatsApp or another app. Just over one in four, 27%, met the old fashioned way – face to face.

Opportunity or ordeal?

This varies; 41% of respondents accept performance reviews as part of the career, and said they’re comfortable preparing for and participating in the process. The same percentage said this depends on variables, such as the individuals involved and the process itself, yet they’re generally not nervous about the process.

Almost one in five, though, worry about or lose sleep over their performance reviews.

Do you treat your performance reviews as an opportunity to showcase and remind your principal of positive impacts you’ve had on stakeholders and the organisation? I asked, and 27% of respondents said they’re very comfortable highlighting accomplishments and positive impacts in connection with an “ask” they may have.  Another 27% said they’re very uncomfortable with such an approach, and the remaining 46% said it’s not something that comes naturally, but they can do it. 

My thoughts on this? I believe we should own and communicate our mistakes, failures, wins and kudos we’ve received in a timely manner. Just as the information we receive during a performance review should not come as a surprise, nor should the information we share about the positive impacts we have, and how we’ve added value since the last such review. Performance reviews represent opportunities to discuss and plan how we will build on our strengths and improve in aspects where we’re not as effective, through ongoing professional development.

Highlight accomplishments and impacts

Twenty-seven percent of respondents told me you’re uncomfortable with doing this. Another 43% aren’t naturals at it, but can highlight their contributions. Almost a third, 30%, are very comfortable with such conversations.

If you’ve found it challenging to look your principal(s) in the eye and highlight your accomplishments and positive impacts, practice. Start by maintaining a PD portfolio and a running list of acknowledgements, accomplishments, kudos, positive reputational impacts, quantifiable summaries of efficiencies, and so on that you’ve achieved on the organisation’s behalf. Thirty-five percent of respondents said you don’t do this at all, and another 35% do this to some extent, yet acknowledge you could do more.

I asked readers whether you let your principals know of your accomplishments and positive impacts as they occur. Many do so, either close to the occurence or during a regularly scheduled meeting. However, 19% of respondents said they save up such information for performance reviews. Ideally, there’ll be no surprises during performance reviews, not even good ones. Perceptions are built over time, and it’s to your benefit to share positive results and impacts in a timely manner. 

Another 8% of respondents said they hadn’t yet been tracking their accomplishments and positive impacts. We’re all busy and, if we don’t record something when it happens, we can easily overlook it when it comes time for a performance review.

Once you get in the habit of documenting and also sharing positive news in a timely manner, you may find yourself increasingly comfortable recapping the highlights when it comes time to meet for your performance review.  If you’re one of the 27% who have been uncomfortable with such conversations, you can change that. Build your comfort and confidence by practising in front of a mirror, and/or with someone you trust.

Identify goals, development objectives

Arriving at a performance review with proposed goals or development objectives in hand is a fact of life for 88% of respondents. Yet, there are distinct differences in individuals’ comfort level with doing so.

While 18% are very comfortable with the process, and another 49% find it sometimes challenging yet not a major issue, a third of respondents feel otherwise. Thirty-three percent of respondents find this process difficult, and don’t know what to identify.

    An opportunity to negotiate

    Ideally, all parties involved will have given careful thought to what they’d like to discuss and achieve as an outcome of the performance review. In addition to listening to and reflecting on performance feedback – none of which should be a surprise, when performance management is done right – this can be a good opportunity to negotiate. You may be focused on compensation, financial or otherwise, schedules, hybrid work arrangements or other considerations.

    I’ve asked assistants about negotiating skills in previous Weekend Polls. Not everyone is comfortable with negotiating, either in general or on their own behalf. 

    Some, though, have clearly developed such skills. Almost one in four, 24%, said they’re either good or very good at negotiating – in general, and on their own behalf.  If you’re among the 41% of respondents who said you’re weak at negotiating in general, or the 47% who are weak at negotiating on your own behalf, the good news is that this is a skill you can develop. As with most things that are worthwhile, we need to focus and practice to hone such skills.  

    Preparing for your next performance review

    In addition to the ideas you’ll read on this page, you may find some of my upcoming webinar courses, below, helpful. Whether it’s effectively asserting yourself, conducting yourself with executive presence, negotiating during the review, or overall prep for performance reviews, these may come in handy.

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    Identify and act upon your professional development priorities

    Once you’ve identified potential professional development (PD) priorities, it makes sense to research how you’ll achieve that professional growth. Depending on the goal and PD priority, this may involve registering for a college or university credit course, attending a conference, or participating in a webinar course.

    You’ll want to have proposals at hand for discussion during your performance review. Be prepared to make the business case as to why your proposal(s) makes sense, and how such undertakings will positively impact your principal, other stakeholders and the organisation itself. 

    Click here to explore upcoming courses, and decide which are most relevant to your PD priorities

    I’ve been offering courses by webinar for some time now, and each live webinar includes access to a recording of our session and a PDF companion workbook. In addition to courses related to traditional and pandemic-related aspects of the role, I’ve been building a series of additional courses for those who want to continually hone your business acumen. This includes webinars to build understanding of ESG (environmental, social, and governance, though people also refer to it in other ways), the strategic planning process, risk management, environmental scans as you shape your post-pandemic career, and more. Check the details and register for courses relevant to your professional development, at my Eventbrite page.

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    Suggestions from your global counterparts

    As always, assistants were forthcoming in offering suggestions for counterparts who are less than comfortable with the performance review process. I stopped counting the number of times people recommended documenting accomplishments, and that’s merely one of the helpful concepts put forth! You’ll find a number of ideas to consider as you scroll through the data below, where you’ll find your peers’ comments.

    The data

    1. Are performance reviews/evaluations part of the performance management process at your place of employment?

    • 80%: yes; they’re a cultural norm
    • 16%: in theory, yes. In my experience, the practice is inconsistent
    • 4%: no

    2. Which of the following, if any, best describes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on performance reviews at your place of employment?

    • 72%: no impact; reviews/evals are being done in a timely manner
    • 16%: my last performance review was deferred as a result of the pandemic
    • 10%: no impact; reviews/evals are done inconsistently, or aren’t the norm
    • 2%: it delayed my most recent review/eval, yet we still completed it

    3. How long has it been since your last performance review/evaluation?

    • 23%: within the last month
    • 23%: within the last quarter
    • 16%: within the last half year
    • 18%: within the last year
    • 14%: one – two years
    • 4%: more than two years
    • 2%: more than three years

    4. If you’ve received a performance review/evaluation since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which of the following best describes how it was conducted?

    • 53%: digitally, over a web platform
    • 27%: face to face/in person
    • 13%: other
    • 3%: by phone
    • 2%: digitally, via WhatsApp or other app

    5. Has the person/have the people responsible for conducting your performance reviews/evaluations received training from HR or another source on how to engage in performance management and conduct performance reviews?

    • 46%: yes
    • 39%: I don’t know
    • 15%: no

    6. On a scale of 1 (I lose sleep over it, or worry about it) to 3 (it’s part of the career, and I’m comfortable preparing for and participating in the process), how do you typically feel about the performance review/evaluation process?

    • 41%: it’s part of the career, and I’m comfortable preparing for and participating in the process
    • 41%: it depends on variables, such as the individuals involved and the process itself, yet I’m generally not nervous about the process
    • 18%:  I lose sleep over it, or worry about it

    7. In your role, are you responsible for performance management and/or for conducting reviews/evaluations of other colleagues’ performance?

    • 75%: no
    • 19%: I contribute to, yet am not solely responsible, for such reviews
    • 6%: yes

    8. If you’re responsible for conducting reviews/evaluations of other colleagues’ performance, have you secured relevant training from HR colleagues/an HR-recommended facilitator?

    • 45%: no
    • 27%: only informally
    • 28%: yes

    9. Are you expected to identify goals and/or development objectives as part of the performance review/evaluation process?

    • 88%: yes
    • 12%: no

    10. On a scale from 1 (it’s difficult; I don’t know what to identify) to 3 (very comfortable), how comfortable are you with identifying goals and development objectives in preparation for your performance reviews/evaluations?

    • 33%: it’s difficult; I don’t know what to identify
    • 49%: it’s sometimes challenging, yet not a major issue
    • 18%: very comfortable

    11. Performance reviews are opportunities to remind your principal (boss) of how you add value to the organisation, and to again highlight your accomplishments since the last such review. On a scale of 1 (very uncomfortable) to 3 (very comfortable), how comfortable are you with articulating your value/making your accomplishments, skills and potential known to your principal/others?

    • 43%: not a natural, but I can do it
    • 30%: very comfortable
    • 27%: very uncomfortable

    12. Do you maintain a PD portfolio, and/or a running list of kudos/acknowledgements, accomplishments, reputational impacts, quantifiable summaries of efficiencies, and so on that you’ve achieved on the organisation’s behalf?

    • 35%: I do some of this, but I could do more
    • 35%: no
    • 31%: yes

    13. If you do track your accomplishments and impacts, do you let your principal (boss) know of them at that point in time, or do you wait to discuss such matters during your performance review?

    • 45%: we have regularly scheduled meetings, so for the most part I will raise them at those meetings throughout the year
    • 26%: I let my principal know of my accomplishments/impacts close to their occurrences
    • 19%: I’ve been saving them up for performance reviews
    • 8%: I haven’t been tracking such matters, and this has made me think I should begin this practice
    • 2%: I usually let my principal know fairly quickly, yet these last 15 months have been unusual

    14. Performance reviews and evaluations, with their focus on development, goal achievement and the impacts you have, can serve as a springboard to proposing professional development funding, increases to compensation and more. On a scale of 1 (very uncomfortable) to 3 (very comfortable), how comfortable are you with negotiating in general?

    • 53%: not a natural, but I can do it
    • 36%: very uncomfortable
    • 11%: very comfortable

    15. How EFFECTIVE are you at negotiating in general?

    • 41%: It’s a weak point
    • 35%: I’m not a natural, but I can do it
    • 18%: I’m good at negotiating in general
    • 6%: I’m very good at negotiating in general; this is one of my strengths

    16. On a scale from 1 (very uncomfortable) to 3 (very comfortable), how comfortable are you with highlighting your accomplishments and the positive impacts you have on the organisation in connection with an “ask” you may have?

    • 46%: not a natural, but I can do it
    • 27%: very comfortable
    • 27%: very uncomfortable

    17. On a scale of 1 (very uncomfortable) to 3 (very comfortable), how comfortable are you with negotiating on your own behalf?

    • 47%: not a natural, but I can do it
    • 39%: very uncomfortable
    • 14%: very comfortable

    18. How EFECTIVE are you at negotiating on your own behalf?

    • 47%: it’s a weak point
    • 29%: I’m fairly good at negotiating on my own behalf
    • 20%: I’m good at negotiating on my own behalf
    • 4%: I’m very good at negotiating on my own behalf; this is one of my strengths

    19. Are you satisfied with the reputation you’ve established within your organisation?

    • 57%: yes
    • 41%: somewhat, though I believe some of my contributions &/or abilities go unrecognised
    • 2%: no

    20. Are you satisfied with the visibility you’ve achieved within your organisation?

    • 62%: yes
    • 15%: yes – and that’s because I like to keep a low profile
    • 15%: no
    • 8%: I was satisfied, yet the pandemic and remote working have made me think I need to focus more on visibility

    21. Which of the following best describes your views on self-promotion when it comes to your career?

    • 23%: it’s a necessary evil; I don’t enjoy it but realise it’s necessary
    • 15%: I’ve tried it and found it beneficial
    • 15%: it’s unnecessary; a person’s work should speak for itself
    • 13%: it depends on whether a person is able to do so without coming across as obnoxious
    • 12%: I think it’s a natural thing to do and have benefitted from it
    • 9%: I’ve tried it and it backfired
    • 8%: I’ve not considered it before now
    • 5%: I think it’s a natural thing to do

    22. Which of the following best describes you and your perspectives?

    • 6%: I’m an extrovert and am very comfortable with self-advocacy
    • 17%: I’m an extrovert and am fairly comfortable with self-advocacy
    • 8%: I’m an extrovert and have challenges with self-advocacy
    • 4%: I’m introverted and am very comfortable with self-advocacy
    • 15%: I’m introverted and am fairly comfortable with self-advocacy
    • 21%: I’m introverted and have challenges with self-advocacy
    • 2%: neither an introvert or extrovert and am very comfortable with self-advocacy
    • 8%: I’m neither an introvert or extrovert and am fairly comfortable with self-advocacy
    • 17%: I’m neither an introvert or extrovert and have challenges with self-advocacy
    • 2%: I’m not interested in such labels

    23. What brief advice would you offer an assistant who finds it challenging to come up with meaningful development objectives for performance reviews? A note from Shelagh: You’ll find some good insights below, including concepts I mention in my presentations. With thanks to everyone who contributed ideas to help their peers, I’ve not shown below every response that reflected common messages; the recommendation to track accomplishments is one example. In such instances, I showed some, yet not all responses in order to minimise duplication of messages. As well, I’ve made minor edits to some comments to present the comments in sentence structure; I’ve not edited the substance of readers’ remarks.

    • The more you do it the easier it becomes. My company has quarterly updates, which helps.
    • Ask and you will receive. Make sure you look after your own skills development.
    • Think of your career and how you see yourself in the future. State any training needs even if you feel that they won’t be offered.
    • The biggest problem in our profession has been and still is to find quantifiable objectives. I always make sure to have at least one quantifiable project as one of my objectives. Our work gets noticed mainly when something does not work/function.
    • (A) performance review is an opportunity. However, sometimes a PR is not affiliated with the role you are in. Thus the PR can be a burden to the person who needs to come up with goals. (I) suggest being prepared. Have your own set of goals – two or three; not too many. Mindmap and categorize your task/projects/ accomplishments or even (areas where you need) help.
    • Dig deep!
    • Keep a list of your accomplishments; it helps to remind yourself of all that you do to help your company be successful.
    • Take a step back and look at your skills/accomplishments as an outsider looking in.
    • Keep an ongoing list of accomplishments.
    • Keep track of your accomplishments and of your company’s major goals, and try to align you development objectives to those. Get feedback from the people with whom you work to become aware of some areas for improvement.
    • Think about your accomplishments and build from there or look at your executive’s goal and what can you do to help them achieve it.
    • Look at your executive’s objectives and try and align your own to theirs.
    • Benchmark with other admins of the same level or above. Utilize online resources.
    • Ask for help from fellow EAs, PAs, friends.
    • Chat with others in similar roles and perhaps pick up one or two objectives from them. Remember to set a stretch goal to take you outside your comfort zone – you may learn something new about yourself.
    • Look at the performance plan and individual development plan and assess the duties and objectives and time spent on each duty. Track duties you doing that are out of your scope. Check in meetings with your managers, if reporting to more than one manager.
    • I would say that you firstly need to identify what areas you’re deficient in before trying to start thinking about personal development, however it would massively help you to check out the variety of assistant-specific training that is available. I did not know what my toolbox was missing until I started attending webinars and conferences in 2020, which made this year’s goal setting much easier.
    • Check the websites of various admin sites and research articles on what/how they recognized how to decide what was important to use for performance reviews.
    • Write down what you do, what you enjoy doing, what you don’t enjoy doing or find difficult to do and what you can do to improve that area.
    • Be candid, especially with hiccups. If you must acknowledge errors, be prepared to describe how you will prevent recurrence. Be respectful and friendly.
    • Remember it is not the end of the known world if you get one bad review, and that some of the issues are not about you and more about them.
    • It’s not coming up with a plan, not even a SMART plan, it’s knowing that it doesn’t really matter. It’s words without value and basically a waste of time.
    • Find an objective around what do you enjoy most about about and make sure it’s in SMART format. Take the Strength Finders quiz and build upon your strengths! The book/quiz costs $20.
    • Look/think wider than the usual assistant type tasks.
    • Try and research what they could do to add knowledge and so value to the company.
    • Look outside the job description for areas (where) you can add value.
    • Make sure you prepare ahead and even practice role play questions if needed. (There are) a lot of great articles available to help prepare.

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