October 8, 2020 / Esther Choy

Ace your performance reviewEveryone dreads the annual performance review, especially those tasked with reviewing others. That manager you are nervous to meet with is likely dreading the meeting more than you are.

Can you make it easy, if not enjoyable, for them? Is this a pie in the sky idea? Not if you deploy this one leadership storytelling technique: strategically shifting your point of view. Shift your point of view, and you’ll notice the many biases that can plague managers. After all, reviewing a year’s worth of performance means battling a host of natural but detrimental tendencies, including:

  • Recency bias (evaluating only the past month or two, rather than the full year).
  • Leniency bias (giving everyone high marks, regardless of whether it’s merited).
  • Confirmation bias (seeking only information that confirms the manager’s preconceived ideas about that person).

Awareness of common biases allows you to look through the glasses your manager could be looking through. You can then structure your review in a way that helps them notice your strengths. These three leadership storytelling tips will help you highlight those strengths and use your performance evaluation as fuel for further growth.

How to structure your performance review

1. Mine the past year for stories.

Take stock of your past year, digging deep into the caverns of your memory for stories. As you unearth stories, inspect them as if you are your manager. Doing your job and even doing it well is not worth noting.

Use these questions to consider what you might have done that your manager didn’t expect:

What are my biggest contributions to the company or team this year? What makes these contributions above and beyond my call of duty? What is it about these contributions that makes them so unexpected that my manager will want to reward me?

What was the biggest investment I made this year (at work, in professional development, etc.)? How did this investment go above and beyond what my manager expected?

What new leadership skills or industry insights have I learned this year? Did I share them with my team? If so, what difference has it made to them?

2. Structure your stories.

You don’t have much time or space to tell a story, so structure is everything. The good news, though, is that by using the “IRS model,” you can craft a story with only three or four sentences:

I – Intriguing beginning (first sentence or two)

R – Riveting middle (next sentence or two)

S – Satisfying end (final sentence or two)

A client of mine recently structured a brief story about herself with the opening line, “I am not who I appear to be.” Talk about an intriguing beginning! No one could shrug and walk away uninterested. Oddly enough, this story was inspired by a quick passing remark my client made.

At first, she wasn’t convinced anyone would find her story meaningful. But when she tested it out on her mentor, it so impressed the mentor that she asked my client to teach her everything she knew about business storytelling. From that, my client was convinced she’d found a story worth retelling.

3. Tell yourself the right story afterward.

What if you get difficult feedback? After performance appraisals, over half of 1,500 U.S. workers surveyed said they were surprised by the results. Twenty-two percent cried, 37% looked for another job, and 20% flat-out quit, according to a study by Adobe.

When a manager’s feedback comes as a surprise, make sure you are telling yourself the right story about the news you have received, especially if it is difficult. Verbalize that story, trying to see the feedback from your manager’s perspective. How were they trying to help you, and the company, grow? Once you can verbalize the story, try running it past someone you trust. Do they agree with your perspective? Can they add to what your manager might be thinking?

For so much of the year, we are so busy “doing” that we don’t carve out time to reflect. The performance review forces us to reflect. We can welcome this chance to see our year in review—and to push our reflections even further by seeing our year through our manager’s eyes.

For more on how to ace your performance review, see my article on seeking input into your reflection process.

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Schedule a complimentary working session with Leadership Story Lab to find out how coaching can help you sail through your performance review. We provide customized services to help you succeed. Give us a shout! For more tips and insights on storytelling, sign up for our monthly guide. Also, Esther’s book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by HarperCollins Leadership), is full of storytelling advice, tools and templates!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
Karla Trotman and Robert Pasin

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"This is an amazing and insightful post! I hadn’t thought of that so you broadened my perspective. I always appreciate your insight!" - Dan B.

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