Have you heard this from a friend, or lived through it yourself? “My supervisor gave me a negative performance review, and I don’t know what to do. I thought I was doing well, but now I’m afraid of losing my job. Is it truly that my performance is poor, or is it really a personal problem between us?”
The first reaction to a bad review will usually be fear, along with anger or resentment. Ask for a little time to absorb the feedback – don’t do anything until you have had time to think it through, and consider talking with friends or family who will be honest with you and not just take your side. Negative feedback can be a huge opportunity to grow, and turning this into a challenge will show your supervisor that you are committed to improving.
One great thing to do is to write down what you are thinking. Writing helps you to organize your thoughts, so you get a clear picture of what’s going on.
An important step is to try to see yourself from your supervisor’s perspective. Be honest with yourself. Do you get things done behind schedule? Is your work sometimes inaccurate? Do you often arrive late to work? Do you clash with co-workers? It helps a lot if you can understand what is making your supervisor dissatisfied. Be realistic about where you need to make improvements.
Once you have calmed down and taken a good look at yourself, ask to talk to your supervisor. Don’t argue with the feedback – that won’t help. If you don’t understand what you were told in your review, ask questions until you do. Ask for help in making an improvement plan that is detailed and specific. Ask for examples of where you could have handled something better. It can be very helpful to ask for more regular feedback, or for coaching and advice. You don’t want to charge off energetically in the wrong direction. Ask for a little time to try new approaches, and get feedback from colleagues and your boss on how those are working. You need to know exactly what will be considered “successful.”
If you still believe that you have performed well, maybe it’s time to look at other sources of difficulty. Maybe it’s a generational difference. Perhaps it’s a cultural clash. Maybe you have communication styles that don’t mesh well. Maybe you are in a job that isn’t a good fit for you, and would be much happier with a different company. Of course, a bad review might be based on discrimination, and in that case, you might want to talk with your Human Resources Department.
If it is a personality, generational, cultural or communication problem, this is an ideal situation for trying mediation. In addition, if your supervisor is being vague about what you need to do to improve (“work harder” or “work smarter” for example) mediation can be very helpful.
JCMS offers FREE mediation to employees of Jefferson County and its municipalities, and mediation is a good way to discuss a poor performance review. The mediator won’t tell you what to do, give legal advice, or say who is right or wrong. The mediator will give you a chance to talk in a safe environment. Note that for employees of Jefferson County, if an employee requests mediation, the supervisor is required to attend.
The mediator can also help you and your supervisor pin down exactly what improved performance will look like. Does the supervisor want everyone to be in the office before nine, or by 8:45 at the latest? Does the supervisor expect to proofread your writing, and finding some typos is no big deal, or does the supervisor expect all typos to be gone before you submit the report? Does the supervisor like informal daily updates, or resent you for interrupting them every day? A mediator can help you sort out the details of expected communication and work standards. It may be that both you and your boss will see ways to change and improve your team.