performance reviewI was worried after my most recent coaching session with “Rina.” We had been prepping for her performance review as a top-level financial advisor, and I didn’t have much time to make a few key points. Rina was talking about her hard work and hurt feelings rather than about her accomplishments and comparative salaries, so in order to shock her into a productive mindset, I chose to use some untempered bluntness. Afterward I wondered, had I been a tad too blunt? And then I received this update from Rina:

“Hi Ann,

Just a quick note to let you know I had my review. It went very, very well. I am happy. My salary has been increased 11%, which is substantially above the stated 7.5% cap for the firm.

I spent a good amount of time preparing for the conversation, thanks to our talk together. You helped me get clear about what my goal was going into the meeting. I had a little speech written out for myself and rehearsed it well. I was ready with all sorts of numbers and facts on the firm’s growth and how I didn’t get to participate in it last year, although I had strongly contributed to it. I didn’t find real comparative numbers, but I did have relative internal numbers that I could have used, if necessary.

Also, importantly, I managed to have a relaxed and interesting conversation with my CEO. I was worried I was going to let myself babble uncontrollably. Instead, I forced myself to stop at the end of each point.

I came out of the review with much more confidence in my career strategy. We explicitly talked about the fact that I am involved in so many different initiatives and whether this might be perceived as a lack of focus. He reassured me that this “portfolio attitude” was actually the right way to go at this time of high uncertainty and volatility.

Tonight is the office party, and I am now ready to really celebrate. Thank you again so much!”

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The only reason I went for the blunt tool was that I knew Rina to be a really smart cookie and a quick study, to boot. She doesn’t get stuck in ego, and she is serious about her career. Let me break down the tools and techniques she used to get that 11% pay bump, so you can go get your own raise!

1.         Walk into the performance review with a clear goal.

As with any meeting, you share responsibility for driving the outcomes. What do you want to get out of the review? Literally, what do you want to walk away with? It might be a raise, which was Rina’s goal. It might be a cross-functional training opportunity. It might be P&L experience. It might be leadership development. Don’t squander this rare opportunity to focus your boss on how you see your performance, your value, and your future. Then suggest how she can help make it happen.

2.         Document your case.

A performance review is no place for feelings (i.e., what I “deserve”). Feelings, however strong, do not argue for the quality and merit of your performance. Facts and figures, on the other hand, do make for a convincing argument. It was a challenge for Rina to find industry numbers, but she came up with internal figures she could use. Research has shown that, in workplaces where career advancement is left to subjective criteria, women are consistently disadvantaged. So make your language as objective as possible. Organize all the information you have been gathering throughout the year (you’ve been doing that, right?) to demonstrate your accomplishments in terms of what is important to your organization. Not what you think is important, but what you know is valued and rewarded by your organization. You’ll want to provide documentation in two categories, depending on your goal: 1) your contributions to the company, and 2) comparable salaries.

3.         Rehearse.

A performance review is an inherently nerve-wracking situation, even for the seasoned exec. But what the seasoned exec knows is how to look cool, calm, and collected. That comes from practice. Rina knew from experience that her boss is quiet and awkward in one-on-ones, so she practiced how to deal with what was, for her, an uncomfortable interpersonal situation. So she did two things to prepare. First, she rehearsed saying out loud what she wanted. It gets easier and more natural every time you say it out loud, even if it’s to the mirror when you’re brushing. Second, she trained herself to restrain from rushing in to fill up the blank spots in the conversation. Make your point, take a breath, and give your boss the time and space to respond. (BTW, speaking strategically is a great power tool in any situation.)

4.         Ask for feedback.

Women tend not to get plentiful or comprehensive feedback. And that’s a significant impediment to advancement. The performance review is your ideal venue to get your boss’s feedback in as much specificity as depth as you desire. If the feedback is too vague to be useful, then ask clarifying questions. Ask for examples. Ask for more. One exec I know sat down with her boss and asked him point-blank to do a side-by-side comparison between her and each of her colleagues! She was not going to get left behind because she didn’t know where she stood in the pack. For Rina, getting explicit feedback on her “portfolio attitude” permits her to stop second-guessing its strategic value.

Give it a try. Turn your annual performance review from a necessary evil into a secret weapon. You have nothing to lose, and 11% to gain—at least, Rina did.

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