What to Do When Your Annual Review Is Less Than Stellar

Joe Weinlick
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A negative performance evaluation can trigger your panic button, especially if you did not see it coming. What if the next step is losing your job? The worst thing you can do is overreact to the situation. Realize that your supervisor has given you an opportunity to improve your performance before he takes any drastic action. A poor performance review is not the end of the world, so keep your chin up and try to improve in a few easy steps.

Examine Your Feelings

No matter what happens in the performance review, stay calm. If you start to feel anxious or angry, your manager may feel that you do not respond well to feedback. Instead of getting upset, take a few moments to reflect on what your supervisor said. View the negative criticism as a growth opportunity that could take your career to the next level.

Make Sure You Understand

You cannot improve on facets of your work when you do not fully understand suggestions for development. Ask for concrete examples of ways that you can do things differently. Acknowledge your manager's concerns with your work, and ask follow-up questions if parts of the review are unclear.

Accentuate Your Positives

Always come into an annual review with a list of your positive accomplishments over the past year. This reference material can keep you in an upbeat state of mind, and it can remind your boss of your contributions to the firm. If you feel your manager is harping on you too much, redirect the focus to the results you delivered.

Get Regular Feedback

Some of the feedback on your annual performance review might surprise you. Request your boss to give you feedback on a more frequent basis instead of just once per year. Tell your supervisor to let you know right away when you need to improve your performance. This prevents any future misunderstandings and protects you from being blindsided with unexpected criticism.

Come Up With Detailed Plans

Create a detailed action plan with your supervisor that tracks your improvement. Set weekly or monthly goals to discuss your progress. In addition to this formal action plan, create an informal plan for yourself to work on away from the office. If you feel your computer skills are lacking, take some time to get to know the latest software your office uses. Consider finding a colleague at work who can help mentor you as you learn new skills.

Schedule a Follow-Up Review

Make sure you schedule a follow-up review with your manager sometime in the future. This might be 30 days after your performance review or six months in the future. This mini-review can help you get a reading on your performance without waiting a whole year for a formal evaluation.

A negative annual review doesn't necessarily mean you should start looking for another job. Instead, see it as a development opportunity. Many people learn from negative experiences, and you can turn a bad annual review into a positive outcome in just a few short weeks.

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  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    At the beginning of my career, I received a less-than-perfect annual review. Immediately, I questioned if I went into the right field. I feared I might be fired. Luckily, new employees were assigned mentors to help them through the two years. My mentor was awesome - she reassured me that mediocre reviews were common (especially among new employees) and that I needed to review exactly what was said so I could make improvements. With her help, my work did improve. Finding another person to talk with, even if just to vent feelings of insecurity, can help ease the sting of negative reviews and help employees get back to work.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jacqueline thanks for the comment. I would think that, even though he is busy, you should be able to sit down with him on a scheduled date and time. It would be a meeting - just like any other meeting that he has scheduled. But don't just go to the meeting expecting to hear atta-girls. Go prepared with how you think you are doing and why - maybe take along with some proof that you are working above and beyond expectations. If you are having issues in the workplace, bring it up along with a real life solution and ask for his opinion. But my question to you is why do you need regular feedback? Are you unsure of yourself in your job? Do you need additional training? To me, unless something really serious is going on in your workplace, why would you need regular feedback? If you are doing your job and projects are getting completed - then you don't need the feedback. From your end, just keep track of the tasks you completed so that you have a document that you can take with you to your yearly review. Managers are busy and they will more than likely not remember what you have done throughout the entire year so it's in your best interest to have proof of your accomplishments. I am not saying that you shouldn't request regular feedback - just that you should examine yourself and ask why you need it.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    Many managers are busy or even overwhelmed in their own spheres. What are some ways to keep the lines of communication open with your manager if he is frequently busy? Does anyone has suggestions on quick and easy ways to get more regular feedback from an overworked manager to avoid surprise bad reviews?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    As we plan ahead after bad review results, I think it's very important to keep things in perspective. Over the grand course of life, there are ups and there are downs. A bad review is a down, for sure, but with appropriate planning and steady determination to excel, things will turn around again.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    This articles makes a great point in bringing up the necessity to form a plan with measurable results for performance moving forward. Make sure that any managers with oversight of your work, not just your immediate supervisor are apprised of the plan and the need for feedback to help quickly rectify what had become a poor situation.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I disagree that a negative performance review doesn't mean one should start looking for a new job. Unless the employee desperately wants to keep working there for some reason, I think it almost surely means that. Unless one's review was negative due to some kind of situation that is unlikely to repeat, my feeling is that the employee will be marked for downsizing and might as well start looking for a position elsewhere.


    @Duncan Negative annual reviews can be a condemnation of your work effort. If your bosses are planning on firing you or laying you off, the first step in the process may be a negative annual review, which provides HR with documentation of your inability to meet your job requirements. I'll am saying is that an poor annual review could mean that you will be fired soon.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks @Duncan for putting this into perspective. @William I would think that, if you refused to sign, you would be given the opportunity to state why you refused and that you could add your statement along with the review. You can certainly request to go over your manager's head and discuss any issues further up the chain but, as we all know, there are always consequences when we do this. They may not be blatant but your manager is not going to be happy because you made him look bad. I don't think you can be "fired" but your manager can make your life so miserable that you can't wait to find another position and resign from there.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    What happens when you don't sign the review? Every time I've had a review, I saw a space on the bottom that says to sign here if I agree with the performance review. What does your supervisor do if you don't agree? Does an action plan kick in at that point? Can an employer fire you if you don't sign it?

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I believe that taking that negative annual review more as a challenge than a condemnation will serve to sustain your self esteem. I personally believe that it is very essential in helping you to maintain a good relationship with your work mates and seniors. You will be surprised when you receive the award of best improved staffer the following year.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Hema wouldn't you think that a manager would jump at the chance to talk to an employee who really wants to implements changes to improve performance? I know I would. If I had an employee who was struggling and got a less than stellar review but who wants to change - I would schedule a follow up meeting right then and there. After all, my manager is responsible for getting the most out of me that he can. If my performance is sub par, it reflects on my manager. I agree with @Shaday that you need to request a follow up meeting to discuss your improvements. Honestly, if my manager gaffed me off or didn't appreciated in a follow up meeting, I would probably start to question whether or not I wanted to continue working for that manager.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    Some managers may not be open to scheduling another performance review within a month or two after the first one. This can leave an employee feeling anxious about his work and position in the company. What are some good ways to ask for feedback without asking for a complete performance review?

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    It's definitely wise to ask for specific examples on how to improve. An employer is more likely to help you grow into the position if you genuinely misunderstood what was expected of you. It also makes sense to take your own personal notes. The feedback stays fresh in your mind, and in future evaluations, you will be better equipped to explain what steps you took to improve and why. The most important thing is to make it clear that you are willing to work hard and learn from your mistakes. Take initiative, and ask your supervisor for feedback every few weeks or months, so you are less likely to be blindsided at the official review.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments on such a touchy subject. @Shannon sometimes it's hard to prove that the feedback is false. If so and so says that you did this or that, how can you prove that you didn't? His word against yours? I think that all you can do is stand tall, look the manager directly in the eyes and let them know that the information is not true and then calmly and professionally tell him why. From personal experience, I was once brought up on charges of discrimination and prejudice. Of course I wasn't told about these until after the fact. What the company did was to initiate a board to hear the facts. They interviewed other employees, etc. and then, after the fact, came to me to let me know what happened and that I was exonerated as I knew I would be. What started all of it? One of my workers got a less than desirable annual review and was angry about it. So she started spouting off a whole string of lies and then proceeded to file charges. In the end, I was cleared and she was transferred - far away.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Shannon, I'm curious about how this type of situation should be handled myself. Negative feedback could stay on a permanent record, and limit opportunities to progress. So I guess I'd want to know some options to remedy this. Maybe the detailed action plan section touches on ways an employee can bring performance back up to par and get it also noted in future performance appraisals.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    Negative feedback is definitely difficult to swallow. But, the article doesn't address how to counter feedback that is false. I'm not advocating for employees to pick a fight or act unprofessional, but there are instances in which the feedback should be refuted, especially when it is false and documented in your employee file.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey it is a great idea to have a list of positive accomplishments with you when you have your annual review. Honestly do you think that your manager is going to remember what you did a year ago? Probably not but you would because you kept a running tally throughout the year. This helps to bring things back to mind for your manager and it shows organizational skills as well as dedication to the position and the company. Don't wait until you get into crisis mode because it could be too late. It's always best to keep track of your accomplishments so that you can toot your own horn in your annual review. Could be a nice raise is awaiting you after the review. Do you think that you would be in the running for a raise or promotion if you didn't have anything to offer during your review?

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I don't think anybody likes receiving negative feedback, but it is a part of life. Getting this feedback allows us to grow and get better. When coming into an annual review, the article suggests having a list of positive accomplishments. I wonder what this will really do for you. Is this something you should reserve for when you think you might actually be at risk of losing a promotion, raise, or even your job?

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