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How to Deal With a Bad Performance Review: 9 Tips

Learn how you can implement constructive feedback you receive during a performance review to grow and improve.

By Brier Cook  •   October 24, 2023  •   7 min read

Performance reviews provide an opportunity to deliver positive and constructive feedback and discuss how employees can grow professionally. On one hand, these reviews can motivate employees to improve performance, increase employee engagement, and help individuals create a plan to achieve their goals.

Receiving a less-than-ideal performance review, on the other hand, can be difficult to process. Constructive feedback can negatively impact your confidence and make you feel angry or embarrassed. 

However, there are several ways to use critical feedback to your advantage. Let’s take a look at some effective strategies for dealing with a bad performance review and explore how you can transform constructive feedback into positive action today. 

How to deal with a bad performance review

1Take time to process your feelings 

It’s okay to feel stressed or disappointed when you receive negative feedback. Before getting defensive or upset, take a step back and look inward. Determine whether the poor review is a one-time occurrence or whether it’s a sign that you’re not the right fit for your position, team, or company. Ask yourself questions like: Do I agree with what my manager said? Is the review typical or is this the first time I’m receiving these comments? What should I begin working on to improve?

Give and get feedback as work happens

A healthy and strong culture starts with feedback. Fellow enables your team to share real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance.

2Ask for feedback from other colleagues 

Sometimes we view ourselves differently than how others view us. Ask colleagues you trust for honest feedback. You should ask open-ended feedback questions so that your teammates can give detailed answers that prompt a larger discussion. Be prepared to ask follow-up questions such as: Do you have an example so I can reflect on my past actions? Can you tell me more about that? Their advice should help you develop a plan to improve your skill set.

“Without feedback, after all, there wouldn’t be any possibility for growth”

Sheila Heen, Author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

3Establish clear career goals

Career goals refer to the ideal state that you aim for in your professional life. After a performance review is the perfect time to reevaluate your career goals and establish new ones. Consider where you want to be in six months, one year, and five years from now. Then, develop a plan for how you’ll get there. Your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. You should also develop objectives and key results to identify targets and the metrics that will help you stay on track. 

With Fellow you can stay on top of your team’s goals by clearly recording, defining, and tracking the progress of your OKRs in Fellow’s Objectives tool. The best part? You can quickly review those objectives during your team meetings!

4Maintain a growth mindset 

Having a growth mindset means believing that any of your abilities can be improved through effort, learning, and persistence. After a bad performance review, strive to maintain a positive attitude. Remind yourself that failure happens occasionally but that you are capable of changing any future outcome. Growth is a process, not a destination. 

“Always getting a glowing review means that you’re not challenging yourself.”

Sheila Heen

5Schedule a follow-up meeting

After you’ve taken some time to process your performance review, schedule a follow-up meeting with your manager to discuss your progress. Use this time to ask your manager clarifying questions and share any improvement plans you’ve developed for yourself. Using Fellow, create a meeting agenda with prepared talking points to ensure your conversation is meaningful and demonstrates your willingness to grow. 

6Write down your response 

After a bad performance review, it can be tempting to send a reactive email or say something you might later regret. Instead, it’s best to carefully think through how you want to respond and draft a thoughtful follow-up message. Give yourself enough time to objectively process the feedback. If you disagree with parts of the review, jot down a response that outlines specific examples and supporting points to bring to your next one-on-one meeting or send in an email. If you believe you received valid feedback, acknowledge it and create a performance plan outlining what steps you will take to improve professionally. 

“If you disagree with the review, prepare a response with specific examples and supporting points. On the other hand, if you decide that the feedback is valid, acknowledge it and create a performance improvement plan for next year.”

Carolina Castrillon, Senior Forbes contributor

7Create a performance plan 

A performance plan is a formal or informal document that explains goals for a particular employee. Your performance plan should establish clear professional goals that are ambitious but achievable and help you turn a negative performance review into a positive career move. Within the plan, identify performance or behavioral issues you wish to improve, explain the level of performance you expect from yourself, and set several goals with a timeline. Use this performance plan to motivate yourself to be a better employee and teammate during stressful times. 

8Don’t take it personally

Take criticism seriously, but not personally. Do your best to maintain your composure during and after a bad performance review. Waiting a few hours or days before speaking about the review can help you maintain a healthy and professional relationship with your manager. View any constructive feedback you received as an opportunity to learn. Look at the big picture and ask yourself questions like: “What am I meant to learn from this?” Know that it is always possible to bounce back as a stronger and more resilient individual and employee.

“Hold your emotions in check. There’s nothing to be gained by lashing out or putting down the system or the person delivering the review.”

Mitchell Marks, Professor of management at San Francisco State University and president of the consultancy JoiningForces.org

9Implement a feedback loop 

A feedback loop is the process of using feedback to improve processes, systems, and behaviors. Use the feedback you receive from a performance review to initiate change and improve your habits. Once you’ve developed new skills and implemented the feedback, continue the feedback loop by asking for new feedback or offering some up yourself during team meetings and one-on-ones. 

Fellow makes it easy to create a strong and healthy feedback culture. Our tool can help you incorporate opportunities for feedback into your day-to-day experience by normalizing feedback. With our feedback feature, you can also ask and provide feedback seamlessly. Finally, you can keep a history of the feedback you exchange and visualize your growth.

Tips for transforming feedback into action 

1Set up feedback sessions for clarity

After a performance review is the perfect time to transform feedback you receive into action. Ask your manager to schedule recurring feedback sessions. Before each feedback session, prepare questions to guide the conversation. The goal should be to improve your self-awareness and ensure you’re on track to succeed. These recurring conversations can also help you clarify your expectations and goals as well as explore your development opportunities. 

2Craft a development plan based on the feedback received

After each feedback session, develop a plan based on the feedback you receive. Each development plan should assess your current skill set, help you develop career goals, create strategies, and uncover new resources to help you achieve them. Break your vision down into several smaller goals. Throughout the process, ask yourself questions like: What do I need to learn? How will I measure my progress? What is my ideal timeline for achieving these goals?

3Seek mentorship and support

It’s important to have mentors who are there to support you, cheer you on, offer feedback and advice, and help you reach your objectives. Seek out mentors who can offer you the knowledge you need to become a better employee and leader. After a less-than-ideal performance review, the right mentors should be willing to help you face impending challenges and motivate you to improve.

Parting advice 

Picture this: You leave your performance review having received a lot of constructive feedback. During the meeting, your manager provided you with a list of skills they want you to improve and even gave you some examples where they felt like you underperformed. However, having recently learned how to act following a bad performance review, you feel prepared to move forward. In the past, you would have taken constructive feedback personally or felt discouraged, but now you’re ready to maintain your growth mindset and use it as motivation to grow and improve. You can’t wait to work on everything and view the feedback you’ve received as an opportunity to better yourself rather than a challenge to overcome.

The next time a performance review doesn’t go as planned or you receive constructive feedback from your manager, follow our tips to transform feedback into action!

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