How to Bounce Back From a Bad Performance Review

It happened. After many years of glorious reviews and praise, I just received my first bad performance review.

My boss sat me down, looked over the review he had written for me and said,

This review isn’t going to be easy. I don’t want you walking away from here discouraged, but you’re simply not meeting the expectations I had for you this year.

To be honest, I kind of knew it was coming. Almost every time my boss wanted clarity on the financials, I felt like I had to pause, think for a minute, or even get back to him later in the day. I wasn’t confident in the work I was doing and it was frustrating the heck out of him…and me.

How to Bounce Back From a Bad Performance Review

After the review was over, I realized that I could react in one of two ways:

  • I could get angry and blame my situation on everyone else
  • or, I could do everything in my power to improve and never receive that same review again

If you’ve ever met me, you know that I already chose option number two. While I could have received much better training for my role coming in, I now know what was expected of me and if I ever wanted to advance to another position in the company, I’d have to put my big boy pants on and figure out how to get better.

So how does one bounce back from a bad performance review?

bad performance review1) Don’t Be Defensive

Some people cry, others get angry, and some people even storm out. In a culture where every child receives praise for doing absolutely nothing, this is becoming more and more common. People just can’t handle an honest criticism anymore.

If you want to bounce back from a bad performance review though, you can’t be defensive. Understand that your bad review is almost certainly your fault. Acting defensive will only make the situation worse. Keep yourself together. Nod your head and keep your listening ears open.

2) Understand it

During my review, there were a few things that I honestly didn’t understand. My boss mentioned something about “not going the extra mile” in a given situation. Without being defensive (remember #1?), I kindly stopped him and asked what he meant by that. What was it that you wish I would have done in that situation?

He gave a few examples, boom, got it. I now had a specific action item should that scenario ever arise again. Beyond that, I could use this understanding for similar future situations as well.

bad performance review 23) Brainstorm How to Correct It

Your boss might not have all the answers around how to improve your performance. Mine didn’t. He knew he wanted me to understand more about my work and have more confidence in my answers, but he didn’t necessarily know how I could achieve it. That, apparently, was on me.

If you have a bad performance review, don’t expect your boss to tell you exactly how to correct it. Block out some time on your calendar and start jotting some notes on the marker board.

  • Where were your shortcomings?
  • Why did you fail in those areas?
  • What could you do today that would make your job easier in the future?
  • Who could help you get better in a specific area?

These are all great questions to ask yourself when you’re trying to get back on track.

4) Develop a Plan to Improve

After your brainstorming session, put together a plan for yourself to improve in the next year. Make it look professional, and add some short-term goals along the way.

Present this plan to your boss and see what he thinks. If it’s off the mark, get some more clarity around what he’d like from you instead. While you’ll probably have to come up with most of these ideas on your own, your development plan should be a collaboration between you and your boss. This way, once the year is over, you both can gauge your progress from the specifics that both of you came up with together.

bad performance review 35) Work Your Butt Off

You had a bad performance review, and now you’re in the hole. Your boss has a negative perception of you and your work. If you want to change that perception, you’re going to have to go above and beyond every.single.day.

It’s not going to be easy, but if you can impress your boss day in and day out, then he’ll most certainly notice and give you raving reviews the next time around.

6) Schedule Regular Mini-Reviews

After your bad performance review, you’d probably rather avoid all future reviews for the rest of your life. Buuuut, you likely already know that running away from your fears is hardly ever a good idea. If you want to grow and succeed, then I suggest that you set up mini-reviews with your boss every month to see if you’re starting to meet his/her expectations. The last thing you want to have happen is you work for a year, think you kicked butt, and then find out that your boss thought you sucked the big one again.

Take your medicine in small doses each month so you can achieve a healthy review (and maybe even a promotion!) a year from now.

7) Track Your Successes Along the Way

If you’re at all like me, you can get through an entire year of work, feel like it flew by, and remember very few specifics about your work. I’ll let you in on a little secret….this does absolutely nothing for your future performance review.

My company has a software system for performance reviews. To make sure I keep track of my successes, I blocked out time for myself each month to quickly hop into the review tracker and write out all the things I’m working on (both successes and challenges). By the end of the year, this is going to make it so much easier to speak to all the great work I accomplished during the year.

If you have a software performance review system that’s similar, I’d recommend that you do the same. If you don’t, then create a file where you can record your monthly comments. If this is a challenge for you, then keep a piece of paper at your desk and be sure to write on it each month! No matter how you decide to track it, you owe it to yourself and your future to record your major accomplishments throughout the year.

Bonus: Have a Sense of Where You Want to End Up

What do you want to be when you grow up? At your age, the answer is probably no longer an astronaut or professional basketball player. For most adults, the answer is, “I have absolutely no idea.”

People get caught up in their work day in and day out and get trapped in survival mode. Ask them what they want and they’ll only be able to tell you what they need – money for all the bills at the end of the month. If this is your mentality, then you’re probably not slated for the next promotion.

Always keep the end in mind.

If you don’t know what position is your dream job, keep looking. It’s only once you have that on your mind that you can work toward that end goal and likely achieve it.

I plan to have a better performance review next year and I hope you do too! What will you do to bounce back from your bad performance review?

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