I continually hear from employees who have just had their performance evaluation that it wasn't a valuable developmental experience. I then ask, "Did you learn what you do well and should continue doing and find out at least one thing you could be doing that would help you be more effective"? About 10% will answer yes to that question.
Formal Reviews Don't Always Surface the Most Important Information
Part of the problem is that most managers will avoid discussing performance issues that are related to behavior. It's more comfortable to talk about tangible job responsibilities, skills and goals. There may be a critical issue that is never brought up because the manager is afraid of your reaction or may lack the ability to translate it into a the right words.
When it comes right down to it you should be walking away with at least one clearly defined key developmental area needing additional focus.
An All Too Common Story
An employee approached me after one of my all employee workshops on how to ask for feedback to tell me this story. He had a rough time with his 2009 performance review. There were many things he needed to work on. About 4 months into the new performance cycle and diligently working to improve he asked his boss, "So, have you seen any progress, how do you think I'm doing?" His boss said, "You're doing better". End of conversation. Fast forward to 8 months later; time for the 2010 review. The employee said he was worried about another bad review. Of course he is. He received zero valuable feedback from his boss about what he was on track with and what needed additional focus.
If You Really Want to Know
If you really want to know where you stand here is my advice for how to get the most out of your performance evaluation.
Ask two key questions:
I'm really interested in what I should keep doing and that one thing that will help me be more effective in my role:
1. "Tell me one thing I'm doing well and should continue with."
2. "Tell me one thing that I could do that will help me be more effective."
What you are doing when you ask the "tell me the one thing that will help me be more effective" question is giving the feedback provider your permission to share what they otherwise might not feel comfortable talking about. Notice I didn't ask, "tell me about my greatest weakness". Why; because I don't want to hear about my deficiencies. I want to know what I can be doing for future. Phrasing the question to be future focused makes it more comfortable for your boss to be honest about what he/she really wants from you.
Ask these two questions more than just once per year. Ask monthly or quarterly or whenever you feel you need the information. That way you have time to work on any areas for development well in advance of a formal review. Equally important, you will know what you are doing well and build greater confidence.