Friday, December 30, 2011

Performance review 101 for in-house counsel – how to “receive” your review

Surprise manHate them or love them, performance reviews are a potent reminder that in-house counsel are corporate employees – mere mortals – and not just lawyers.  If your annual review is coming up soon, here are five suggestions for the recipient (laced with a few thoughts for the review writer).

1.  Good feedback makes us feel good.  Even the most humble enjoy a little positive feedback now and then.  A good source is your annual performance review.  If you know you are due some positive reinforcement, but not getting enough, you may want to remind your boss (gently) about how important feedback is to his/her team.

If your boss needs a stronger nudge, you may want to forward this article:  The Mighty Pen – Four Reasons to Write Positive Feedback Down (Kevin Eikenberry).

2.  Room for improvement.  It may not be the biggest room in our house, but we all have “room” for improvement.  If it’s not on your written review, ask for it verbally.  Make sure you understand what’s at the bottom of it (your boss’s perceptions, job implications, and how well you understanding yourself).

If you struggle with accepting criticism and negative feedback, then a suggested read is 7 Effective Ways to Deal With Criticism (Tejvan Pettinger).

3.  Hate Surprises. Hopefully there are no surprises and you’re in agreement with everything that's said.  If you’re hearing a negative for the first time, it suggests there may be a communications gap.  Either your boss is not providing you with needed feedback during the year, or you’re not listening to it.  Avoid future surprises by having the courage to make this “communications gap” a discussion topic in your review or post-review conversations.

4.  Minimize importance of self-appraisal. If you’ve been given the opportunity to provide a self-appraisal, great.  But don’t give it more importance than it deserves.  Its best use is in providing a list of accomplishments that your boss may have forgotten.  Then again, if your boss uses self-appraisals as a base for annual reviews, then by all means invest the time to write a good one.  For more on the topic, see Self-appraisals for in-house counsel – there ought to be a law against that.

5.  Have a good conversation.  Come prepared with a short list of questions that you would like answered, just in case topics important to you are not covered (and you're given an opportunity to ask questions).  Also be prepared with some observations about your boss, in case your boss asks you for feedback; be very careful if your boss is not particularly open to candid feedback.  And as time allows, and if your boss doesn't do so, look for a segue to change the agenda from the formal review to a more open-ended conversation.  See Performance review? Don't miss an opportunity for a good conversation.

Post-script (Jan. 2012):  After writing my blog post, I found another blogger with suggestions for review recipients.  See Robert Galford's easy read for dealing with surprises at How to Keep Your Cool During a Performance Review.

Suggestions for review-writers.  For those who write performance reviews, in addition to the reverse side of the thoughts above, here are some additional resources on the subject:

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