New employees are often shocked when their first performance reviews are less than stellar because they had no idea they were underperforming. How is this possible? Most managers choose the path of least resistance when it comes to giving negative feedback in real time, and most employees are afraid to ask. To build goodwill - and good reviews - make sure you understand the points on which you are being evaluated.
1. How hard you work. There is no getting around it, the more you put into the job the more you will get out of it. Have some downtime? Follow up on an idea or research something relevant to your group’s goals. Leaving early or for lengthy periods of time does get noticed, even if it doesn’t get mentioned. If you think you are getting away with it because no one has said anything, you are incorrect. You are burning credibility. The first time you are asked a question you can’t answer, make a mistake or are late on a deadline it will be a much bigger deal than if you were known for being the first in and the last out.
2. The quality of your work. This is another area where you can build or lose credibility without realizing it. Minor errors can add up to mistrust of your work product without anyone ever giving you a word of feedback. By the same token, being the person that can be trusted on the details can make you the person everyone wants on their team. Always double-check your deliverable: run your numbers more than once and logic check your statements. Be prepared to explain the steps you took in your work, and if possible ask for peer review or other input before you deliver.
3. How well you understand how (s)he is judged. Your manager is not there to help you achieve your goals- it is the other way around. That said, it is a symbiotic relationship so the more you help the more likely you are to be helped. The key is to understand how your manager is being judged. Do you know how (s)he is evaluated? What metrics (s)he needs to hit in order to meet goal? If you don’t, find out. This is one of those areas that seem so basic to managers that they sometimes don’t take the time to sit down and explain them to you thoroughly, but expect you to know them.
4. What you contribute to the effort to meet goals. Once you identify how your work output supports your manager’s goals, you should be able to identify what MORE you can do. Anything that saves your manager time, money or effort will be appreciated. Be sure to ask once you have an idea so that you know you are on the right track, but don’t wait to be told.
5. The amount of time it takes for you to get up to speed. Ask as much and as frequently as you want- but only ask the same question ONCE. Keep a small notebook to write down the answers for reference later on if you need. Your manager is likely to be very interested upfront in giving you everything you need, but at some point (s)he is going to want you to have arrived - not going back and asking about basic things (s)he has already covered. This is an area where you can lose a lot of points and not even realize it. Most managers find it annoying, but don’t necessarily want to give negative feedback on such a basic skill. Get this one right, and you will benefit greatly from being known as a quick study.