Help! I’ve just had a really bad appraisal – what should I do?

Image by vectorlab (Pavlo Syvak)

Ouch, that’s a tough one. If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Yes really, many of us (me included) have had a stinky review or two.

Sending you a virtual hug now.
Take a few deep breaths.
Don’t do anything rash.
Stop and think – and consider these prompts that aim to aid your recovery.

How bad, really?

OK, if you were expecting a glowing, star-spangled appraisal because you just know you’ve been doing a wondrous job and then when the time came it fell short of your expectations, you’re bound to feel disappointed. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is ‘whoop whoop!’ and 1 is ‘Nooooo!’, how bad was the appraisal, really? If you think it’s a 4 or less, what’s your evidence for that? Highlight the points that stand out as bad for you – and then (ideally in a different colour) highlight the good points. Now you’ve got a more visual representation, revisit your 1 – 10 scale. Some of us can let a few critical comments sour the whole experience and that’s a pity – it’s essential to keep a sense of perspective.

A blip or a trend?

How does this appraisal compare to your previous appraisals? Better or worse? If it’s better, maybe not quite time to celebrate just yet, but nor is it time to drown in despair. If it’s a blip, there may be sound reasons for it. For example, if you’ve been promoted or transferred to a different discipline / area, it’s perfectly natural to see a temporary drop in performance as you learn the ropes of the new role. Upward career trajectories tend not to be in straight lines. If you’re in the same role and this appraisal is the latest episode of a downward trend, it could be time to ask yourself some uncomfortable questions. How well are you suited to this role – and how much is it likely to bring out the best in you? When you last had a great appraisal, what were you doing?

What’s the same and what’s different?

Same employer or a new one? Same stable family firm or large, post-acquisition corporate? Same boss or different? Same location or another country? Same job role or a transfer (that you may or may not have requested)? Maybe it’s your situation that’s changed. Do you now have the commute from hell? Or small children? Any combination of these things could affect your performance – and how others perceive you (rightly or wrongly). Explore what’s the same and what’s different; you may now be reporting to a ‘hard marker’ or working in a tougher organisational climate. A change in your personal circumstances (illness, caring responsibilities, divorce, to name a few) can shift where work fits in your priorities. To what extent is this tough appraisal down to external factors – or down to you personally?

Stick or twist?

Your instinctive first reaction to a critical appraisal may be “Get me outta here!”, “Right that’s it! I’m off!!”, “Screw you!” Easy tiger. If you simply rush for the exit you risk a few things happening:

  • You may find it harder to get another job than you thought.
  • Potential employers may be wary of someone whose reasons for leaving come across as entirely negative and ‘blame-gaming’.
  • Once the initial mutual enthusiasm drops away in the new job, the same issues could surface all over again.
  • Your next employer turns out to be worse than the one you left (in such a hurry).

I would counsel caution before writing that hasty resignation letter. Far better to face the situation and deal with it so that when you do eventually leave this employer, it’s on the best of terms.

What’s next?

Take time to carefully consider what’s been said in your tough appraisal, and how it’s been said (I once read between the lines of a shocker and found the writer’s frustration that I was falling short of what he saw as my potential). If there are clear suggestions for improvement, ensure you commit to acting on them. Draft an action plan and discuss it with your manager. If you’re unsure about this, seek the advice of a trusted colleague such as someone in HR who can offer a more impartial perspective.

Ask for support: you may need training to boost skills, a project to develop your knowledge, a secondment to broaden your experience or a coach to raise your self-awareness and ability to build working relationships. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’ve found this appraisal hard to take, but do be open to the possibility that there are aspects of your performance that can be improved.

It just might be the making of you.

You may also find this post useful: Tips for building your personal brand.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

Comments are closed.