Evaluation season is coming up soon. I recently received a question that might be paraphrased as follows, with identifying information removed: “I’ve had a difficult couple of years for reasons that are partly out of my control (a serious, but now resolved, health issue and a slowdown in the work available) and partly within my control (some mistakes that don’t reflect well on me even though none of them were tragic). What can I do to manage this situation?” Since this isn’t an uncommon question, I thought I’d share my answer here.
1. My first suggestion is to perform a realistic self-evaluation and to be clear with yourself about what has and hasn’t gone well this year, and why. Understanding what has happened is a step toward correcting any issues. It also gets you back in touch with the particulars of the year. That’s especially important during a difficult year so you’re prepared to respond to whatever comments the evaluator may make. If you’re expecting a negative evaluation, you probably know what the issues are, but this post may help you round out your own review of the year.
2. Ideally, you’ve already begun whatever corrective action is necessary and you have some track record to show improvement or reversal of a negative pattern. If not, identify the necessary changes and make them immediately. If you need input from someone to be sure the changes you’ve identified are the appropriate steps, seek it before your evaluation. Not only will you get back onto the right path sooner, you will show initiative and ownership of both the problem and the solution. Implementing your plan may be the make-or-break phase of this approach, and that’s why it’s so critical to start immediately. The longer you have to turn things around, the better the opportunity to succeed at doing so.
3. Next, prepare for the evaluation meeting. Each situation requires unique handling, so it isn’t possible to recommend a particular course of action without going much more into the details of the expected negative feedback and the corrective action underway. However, by setting your intentions for the meeting (do you want to acknowledge the issue and its solution? do you want to present evidence that you’ve turned things around? other intentions?) you’ll have taken the first defining step toward setting your plan. (And, of course, implicit in that step is deciding what you want out of the meeting. Your plan will be quite different if you intend to demonstrate that you’ve corrected a problem as opposed to if you’ve concluded that the problem is insurmountable and have decided to move on.)
And if you feel that the problem may be insurmountable, I urge you to seek guidance from a mentor or other knowledgeable outsider. Especially when a situation is emotionally charged, it’s sometimes difficult to get a good view as to whether circumstances can be satisfactorily resolved.
4. Decide whether you want to take charge of the conversation and if so, how. Again, your intentions will control execution of this step. If you do want to take charge, you might practice how you will start the conversation and how you will react if the others in the room try to take charge as well.
5. Decide how you would like the meeting to end. Of course, this is not 100% within your control, but knowing what you would like to happen may guide your presentation and your responses through the meeting.
If you’re expecting a negative evaluation, these steps will help to minimize the challenges you’ll confront. I strongly advise not waiting until the formal evaluation, though, to deal with the situation. It’s much better to get started as soon as you sense a problem.