It's no surprise that the recent financial crisis has finance professionals a bit worried about their careers. As if the roiling markets aren't enough, there is also constant performance reviews to contend with. For most employers, performance reviews determine job security and promotions. Because they can be extremely important, it is essential to manage and navigate the process appropriately. This becomes increasingly necessary if you've received a negative review.
That process is slightly different for professionals in the finance industry. "The evaluation cycle is a whole lot quicker than in other industries," says Daisy Wademan Dowling, a leadership expert, contributing columnist to the Harvard Business Review and author of Remember Who You Are. For example, if you're a product manager at Kraft you're likely to be evaluated on a quarterly basis or a new product launch which could be an 18-month cycle. "In financial services, you could have informal reviews as short as a day," she says. The upside is that if your manager has said that you're not delegating enough, you have a chance to begin to delegate more starting the next day -- and it will be noticed right away. "As a result of the quick turnaround time and short time horizons on which everyone works and the 'what have you done for me lately' mentality, you can make a dent on how you're perceived within two weeks," says Wademan Dowling.
Objective and Subjective Measures
First, you need to understand what the performance review addresses. It will be both subjective and objective. Aside from how well you get along with others, "there will be a great emphasis on whether or not you made your numbers," says Sheryl Spanier, an executive management consultant and co-author of the Portable Executive. For finance professionals, those crunch times are usually at the end of the month, quarter or year and that is the prime time to shine. "Typically they are asked to work extra hours at those times and employees that are able to work the extra time are seen in a better light than those that don't, says Daphne Batts, vice president of human resources for Bankrate, Inc.
Bracing for Bad News
But in these tepid financial markets, hard work may not produce the returns your manager wants. You might need to brace yourself for disappointing or negative comments. Right now, financial managers are under significant pressure. "Any individual receiving feedback from their manager should be prepared to understand that he or she may not be a good filter during times of pressure," says John Heins, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Spherion Corp., a staffing and recruiting company. "Remember that the overall company's performance may be influenced by the pressures of the economy and not necessarily your individual contributions to your job performance," he says.
Still, you need to manage and navigate the review process appropriately. In a bad economy, a bad review can seem insurmountable. But you can recover if "you're prepared to be open-minded, ready to accept feedback and don't be defensive with your manager," says Heins. The review is a communication tool for you and your manager to discuss your performance. Don't use the review to debate your manager's comments. Rather, use it as an information gathering opportunity. Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss your concerns if you feel it necessary.
Acknowledge Your Manager's Comments
While you're in the performance review with your manager, you need to listen and acknowledge what your manager is saying regardless of whether or not you agree with the comments. "Be respectful, take notes and try not to say very much during the review," says Spanier. Once you listen, without interrupting, and you understand what your manager has said, you can say "I appreciate your feedback and I understand the issues being addressed." Many employees walk away from reviews without really agreeing or even understanding what performance issues need to be addressed, says Heins. Without that knowledge, it's tough to improve your work. So be sure to schedule a follow-up meeting before you leave.
Reflect on the Review
Once you've left your manager's office, take some time to reflect on the meeting and review the comments. You might want to discuss difficult issues with mentors, friends or family. You'll need to ask yourself some tough questions. Even though you may not agree with your manager's comments, it may be wiser to make adjustments to your performance to avoid having to find a new job in finance. "The key here is not to spend any time wallowing in self pity," says Wademan Dowling. "Take in the feedback and turn [your behavior] on a dime," she advises.
Make a Plan
If you're intent on staying with the company, you'll need to be proactive about how to turn things around. "Create an action plan with your manager that spells out exactly what he or she would like you to improve," says Heins. Does something have to be done quicker or faster, or do you have to do better with how you interact with your colleagues? If you're having trouble making your numbers, ask for help and guidance on how to be more effective. Maybe you need to find new clients. See if there might be a colleague who can mentor you or inquire about additional tools that may make it easier to do your job. If you don't agree with your boss, then give specific examples of where you think your manager is wrong.
Schedule Periodic Follow-Up Meetings
Make sure you stay on top of the plan. "Many employees don't take the time or initiative to check-in with their supervisor to see how they're doing," says says Beth Carvin, CEO and president of Nobscot, a retention management consulting firm in Honolulu. Don't be afraid to toot your own horn, she says, and let your boss know what you're accomplishing. To that end, negotiate with your boss how to communicate with them and how often. "What manner and form (email, face-to-face, instant message, voicemail) would he or she like for regular updates and how often," says Spanier. The trick, says Spanier, is to try and stay ahead of the performance review. For example, if you've been working on a big investment banking deal, keep your manager informed of the process. "If you've managed your boss all year you're less likely to have to bounce back from a negative review."
A negative review is not the end of the world. Stay calm, positive and focused. If you know you're doing your best and you feel good about your work, that is what is important. "The idea that you're evaluated almost daily in the financial services field can be overwhelming, but it is also liberating because you can immediately make changes," says Wademan Dowling.
-- Toddi Gutner
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