Ace Performance Reviews in a Down Economy

A raise is a reward, not a right. In the current economy, focus on ROI to get ahead.


If you’re expecting a performance review soon, understand that there’s no place to hide nowadays.

Over the years, the corporate performance review has been seen as the ticket to our annual raise or quarterly bonus. Perhaps so much that it’s become almost automatic in our thinking. This will be a big mistake in the 2009 recession and continued economic downturn.

This obsolete way of thinking will certainly net you less in compensation or bonus, if you receive any. It may also signal doubts by your employer about your continued viability, especially if corporate revenue is shrinking.

“A raise is a reward, not a right.” Executive recruiter Neil McNulty advises being careful about how you handle your performance review this year. Too often, members of upper management have perceived the performance review as a mere ritual to the next raise. This can be bubble-headed thinking as the economy continues to move downward, heading into uncharted waters. If sales are down in your company, expect cuts all across the board. As the principal recruiter with the McNulty Management Group out of Norfolk, VA, Neil advises his upper management candidates from the perspective of one who has seen the ups and downs of the economy over the past 20-plus years.

As a result, for the coming year, Neil advises that you not expect an equivalent raise for the same amount of output you might have received in the past. This is a time to let go of the old expectations when it comes to this year’s performance review. “Too many people think that if they received a 7 percent raise in the past, then that’s their right and they better get it.” That’s old thinking, and it will have no traction these days.

Think ROI

As an alternative, be prepared to think and talk return on investment. This means preparing ahead of time by developing a list of examples of how you have helped boost the company’s bottom line. If you’re in upper management, this may seem obvious and unnecessary, or perhaps you feel it requires that you be a bit self-promotional. If so, lose that attitude. Instead, use this as an opportunity to make sure that nothing is lost in translation. This can be your moment to nail it and re-emphasize those specific achievements and accomplishments that you can take credit for. After all, it can mean the difference between nothing and thousands of dollars to your personal bottom line, not to mention additional security and consideration for future responsibilities within the organization.

It may require that you do some additional preparation for your review. One strategy is to approach the review as if it were an interview. If you were a job seeker today, you would realize that skills and length of service are no longer selling points. Differentiating yourself in some memorable way by citing past accomplishments has become a ticket to success in today’s competitive economy. That means answering the “What’s in it for me?” question. In the performance review, it translates to, “What have you done for me lately?”

Apply yourself all over again

Think of the performance review as an opportunity to apply for your job as if it were the first time. Take nothing for granted, and get it on paper to back up your conversation in the meeting. If you’re a revenue generator in the company, be prepared to list the specific gains to which you contributed. If you’re not a revenue generator, then be prepared to bring to light instances when you’ve saved the company money. When you develop your list, be as specific as you can, and be sure to include the specific result in your example.

In today’s economy, be careful how you handle performance reviews. You can’t afford to take the same old mindset of entitlement. See your past performance as part of a bigger picture that has helped the organization’s bottom line. Arrive prepared to discuss specific examples to answer the “What have you done for me lately?” question.