It’s time for the end-of-year review and you are thinking about how to make sure that conversation serves you. You’re right to think about it because recent research in the Harvard Business Review finds, yet again, that women are 1.4 times more likely to receive subjective, critical feedback than men, and that women’s performances are more likely attributed to characteristics rather than skills and abilities.
In this month’s blog, I’ve given you a few pointers on how to make your review work for you.
When you are receiving your review, pay attention to whether or not the feedback you are being given is based on your performance or your style. In one study, researcher Kieran Snyder collected and compared performance reviews given to men and women in the tech industry. She found that women were more likely than men to receive negative feedback based on perceived personality traits rather than objective performance criteria. A similar finding came from a study at Stanford Graduate School of Business. According to the Stanford study, the big problem is that managers, when evaluating people, are not just documenting successes– they are also forming opinions about someone’s behavior. As a result, a “bias'' is created and attached to the value of those behaviors, and how you assign rewards based on whether you think someone’s behavior is good or bad. Bias can enter into any of those processes.
While you won’t have the benefit of comparing your end of year review with that of your male colleagues, it’s worth noting that the same feedback gets characterized differently for men and women. For example, you might receive feedback like, “you sometimes seem like you have analysis paralysis and struggle to act decisively,” while your male colleague might hear, “you are hesitant in making decisions, yet you are able to work out multiple alternative solutions and bring them clearly forward for a decision to be made.”
The best way to combat bias is to call it out skillfully. Lead with curiosity and keep linking your questions to business outcomes. Watch for words like “abrasive”, “aggressive”, “emotional” and “irrational.” Notice also when assumptions are being made about your behavior. When you notice them, be prepared to ask questions: “What specifically did you see or hear that makes you say that?” “How did it impact my ability to achieve business goals?” “What would you have done differently and how do you think that would have had a different impact?”
If your manager is open to it, share the research that shows the difference between how men and women are reviewed. Ask your manager, if you were a man and had done the same things, would it make it into your performance review?
Research from Shelley Correl and Caroline Simard shows that women are systematically less likely to receive specific feedback than men. For example, you might hear, “you lack strategic thinking,” rather than, “in the product roadmap you created, you considered X, but in not accounting for Y from the engineering team, the strategy was unworkable.” Similarly, when the feedback is generally good, if it does not identify specific actions that are valued or the positive impact of those accomplishments, it often doesn’t lead to a promotion.
With each mention of what you did well or could have done better, ask questions until you are entirely clear on what you missed and how you could have done it differently, or what went well and the impact it had on the business. It’s just as important to ask about what went well as it is to ask about what could have been better.
If your end-of-year review includes a place for you to contribute, make sure you note your accomplishments and successes, and what specific business outcomes you accomplished. Look for technical accomplishments that demonstrate experience and expertise, and be sure to cross-reference them to your job description or the organization’s career ladder system.
Where possible, ask your manager if your end-of-year review can include input you’ve received from clients or customers, cross-functional colleagues, or other stakeholders. It is often the case that these inputs are more specific, they offer broader context, and they are directly linked to business outcomes– particularly if they are client success stories. Your manager only sees one aspect of what you do and is influenced by their own impressions.
Doing this can also help to avoid the recency bias, meaning that you are only being reviewed on what you’ve done over the few months prior to the review. If you have data from the entire year, this will better help position you for a comprehensive review, and one that tracks the advancements you’ve made over the course of the whole year. One simple practice that I do is to keep a folder marked ‘celebrations’ or something like that in my inbox. Anytime you do receive positive feedback, simply file it there and bring it out at the end of the year.
End-of-year performance reviews are a time to ask for what you want to advance your career. Share with your manager your career aspirations and how you see yourself getting there. Then, ask what skills you need to develop to get there and what opportunities can the organization provide? If you don’t know where you are headed, I suggest enrolling in my CLEAR career program for women. In that course, we have an entire module devoted to helping you figure out what you want for your career.
This is also a time to ask for introductions and connections to help you develop your network. As you advance your career, you will need others to mentor, advocate for, and sponsor your promotion. Get clear on who can help you– start by asking your manager who can help you and then ask for introductions.
Finally, this is the time to talk about titles and salaries. It is the right time to ask what you can expect for raises and promotions. I covered these negotiations extensively in my last blog post, which you can find here.
Remember, you are the best advocate for your success. And I’m here to help you along the way.