TCG 411: Picking Up From a Poor Performance Review

Picking Up From a Poor Performance Review  

By Donna Farrugia, Executive Director of The Creative Group

It’s performance review season for many companies, in-house teams included. While these meetings can bring positive news for some employees (in the form of promotions, bonuses or kind words), they can feel quite devastating for others. Let’s be honest: Hearing your manager tick off a list of “areas for improvement” can be disappointing.

But no matter how harsh the critique you receive, understand that you can use the feedback to your long-term advantage. Here are five tips for making the most of a less-than-stellar performance review:

  1. Don’t act in haste. Because criticism of your work can feel very personal, it’s natural to become defensive, try to divert blame onto others or dispute your supervisor’s assessment entirely. But a performance review isn’t a debate, and lashing back at your boss can quickly turn a challenge into a crisis. If you’re upset, ask to discuss the matter again once you’ve had time to digest it; for now, just listen to the feedback and attempt to understand it. If you are at a loss for words, a simple “thank you for your feedback” will do.
  2. Put it in perspective. Never lose sight of the type of feedback you received, whether it was a concern about a specific aspect of your job, commentary on your overall performance or an ultimatum. When an employer discusses your performance in terms of how you can be even better at what you do, it usually means he or she wants to protect the firm’s investment in you, not abandon it.
  3. Seek clarification. Make sure you fully understand any criticism, whether or not you agree with it. Probing for more information may be painful, but it’s a necessary step toward improving. If any of the points were vague, such as “poor communication,” ask your boss for examples. Be careful to frame the discussion as an effort to better understand the comments, not to question your manager’s perception, which is often subjective.
  4. Devise a plan. Try to translate each criticism in your review into specific actions you can take to improve in these areas. For example, if you were called out for missing too many deadlines, look for ways you can prevent this in the future, such as establishing a different daily routine or being more careful about overcommitting to projects.
  5. Follow up. If you were surprised by the criticism, that’s a good indicator that you and your manager haven’t been communicating well enough. Suggest a brief, regular check-in to discuss your progress on key issues. The more closely you work together, the better chance you’ll have of avoiding a replay of the negative review.

An honest performance review that includes “the good, the bad and the ugly” can help you identify and overcome obstacles that have been holding you back. If you accept constructive criticism and work to address it, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of receiving a stronger review the next time around.

Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design and marketing professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and The Creative Group’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at

2 thoughts on “TCG 411: Picking Up From a Poor Performance Review

  1. Eula McPherson

    I once had a performance review held up for weeks because my supervisor wouldn’t put in more “areas for improvement”. After the review she confided in that her manager wouldn’t allow the performance review to go through unless she found more areas for improvement for me. She said the manager went so far as to “threaten” her ability to advance if she didn’t go along with it. I was grateful for the “heads up” and now I know to keep all performance reviews in perspective.