Winning Back Your Boss After a Lousy Performance Review
(Illustration by Yann Bastard for Bloomberg Businessweek)

Winning Back Your Boss After a Lousy Performance Review

Good managers should always keep employees in the loop about whether there are issues with job performance, but sometimes problems don’t get addressed until evaluation time. If your year-end performance review wasn’t a glowing heap of praise, you’ve got about three months to turn things around and make your mid-year assessment stronger. After you’ve vented and fumed—hopefully to a friend or five outside of work—you should be a little more clear-eyed and ready to come up with a strategy. Here are some tips.

1. Stay humble. Tell yourself that the feedback is constructive, not negative, says Rue Dooley, an HR Knowledge Advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management, which has 300,000 members. “Maybe your boss doesn’t like you, and there’s nothing you can do about it—that happens,” he says. “Assume there’s something that can be learned here, even if you disagree with the feedback.”

2. Don’t catastrophize. You won’t address feedback constructively if you’re angry, hurt, dejected, or depressed. “Feedback always leads to emotional reactions,” says Cabot Jaffee, an organizational psychologist and chief executive officer of AlignMark, a job application screening company. “The key to moving forward is to get past the emotional reaction and turn the information into action.” Think big picture: One bad review is not the end of your career.

3. Realize that perception is reality. Regardless of how you feel about your performance, how your manager feels about it is what matters. (That is, if you plan to stay at your current job; a less-than-stellar review is only a problem if it’s blocking your path.) “You cannot recover and improve if you don’t agree on the perception of your performance,” says executive coach Robin Hendricks. If needed, ask for another meeting to clarify, and ask about your good habits and behavior, too, so you know what’s working.

4. Get granular. You’re going to turn things around by identifying specific, quantifiable goals and making a weekly game plan to achieve them. “Think it through: What happens if I do this? Or that? If you need help, talk to the same supervisor—you don’t want her later saying, ‘Why’d you go do that?’” says Dooley.

5. Check in. “Don’t wait!” says Hendricks. Don’t go six months without getting a status update from your manager on how you’re doing. The stealth way to get on her calendar is by establishing 30-day milestones—such as with increasing monthly sales—that require regular check-ins to assess progress.

6. Keep records. Maintain daily or weekly logs of what you’re doing to meet your goals. “It’s an administrative headache, and now it’s part of the job, even if it costs an extra 15 minutes at the end of every shift,” says Dooley. Bring a summary to your next review.

7. Boast a little. “Some of us come from backgrounds where the worst thing you can do is brag about yourself,” says Dooley. “A good third of folks get average to below-average appraisals because they wouldn’t dare say they did all the wonderful things they do.” At your mid-year review, be proud of the turnaround you’ve made from last year. Don’t be shy about articulating your accomplishments.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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