Performance Appraisals: The Starting Point for SMART Goals and Objectives

Apr 11, 2018 | Performance Management, Professional Development

After you get feedback in your employee appraisal, improve your performance on a daily basis with these 12 steps.

Congratulations, you’ve survived your year-end review! You might even have received some helpful feedback. The performance appraisal is just the starting point, though. It should guide your plan for the current review period – a plan that you make with your supervisor.

But let’s face it – sometimes supervisors have completely checked out of the appraisal process. Sadly, many bosses just do the bare minimum. If you’re like most employees, you’ve probably had a boss who thought she could spend all of fifteen minutes giving you feedback about the past year. You likely heard a few motivational phrases – “Strong work!” “Keep it up!” – and then it was back to the grindstone.


That doesn’t mean you’re getting a break. It means it’s time to take the reins! The review isn’t just something that benefits the company; it’s for your benefit too. Implement a self-improvement strategy that gives you the tools and guidance you need even if your boss is lax about check-ins and follow-ups.


Or maybe you have a great boss who helps you create a concrete plan and then follows up like a champ. In that case, you’re sure to impress him by taking initiative in these ways!


And hey, as you move up in the company ranks, use this plan with the people you supervise. Your employee retention will soar because they’ll know you’re committed to your people’s self-improvement!

1. Set Performance Goals

Hopefully you’ve done this with your supervisor in your performance appraisal. A good boss knows this is one of the most important parts of her job and relishes these conversations. However, too many supervisors are so honed in on the daily tasks that they completely forget the big picture.

If this is the case, you obviously still need goals. Here are a few tips for setting great ones:

  • Make sure they’re SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • Make sure they align with company goals – this is the “relevant” part of “SMART.”
  • Create “stretch goals” that challenge you to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Consider your career plan when setting your goals. If you want to increase your responsibilities to prime yourself for a higher-level role, share that with your boss.
  • Break your goals down into steps and review these objectives with your boss.


This chart from yGraph and InsideGood outlines what makes a goal a SMART goal.

2. Create Development Goals

Development goals are more focused on self-improvement than on the results you’ll get for the company. These are ideally created during the appraisal as well. A good manager will ask you if you’ve made any changes in your career trajectory, while a manager who fails to inquire about your hopes and dreams is demonstrating poor leadership. Today’s up-and-coming leaders expect to be taken seriously as individuals, and contemporary managers are responding.


Either way, check in with yourself on the types of self-improvement you want to make.
The same basic principles apply – they need to be SMART goals as well, and you’ll need to break them down into specific steps.

For example:
  • “I’ll take leadership in a project, showing I can supervise others effectively.”
  • “I’ll become known as an ‘ideas person.’”
  • “I’ll be more assertive at meetings, defending my ideas instead of backing down.”

Use the tools at your disposal, such as web-based performance appraisal platform where both you and your manager can track your professional growth.


3. Impose Order Over Chaos

To move toward your goals efficiently, get organized. A clean work-space and inbox will boost your mental clarity and reinforce the idea that you’re starting a new cycle. We’ve all experienced how a cluttered office leads to a cluttered brain!

4. Pursue Training

Many of us like to think we’re great at teaching ourselves new skills. However, formal training will help you learn more quickly and build confidence. If you don’t already belong to professional associations in your field, join one or two and find out what training they might be offering in your area. Attend seminars or workshops, which will also help you expand your professional network. (Keep in touch with new acquaintances – you never know when a new connection might help your career!).



If you can benefit from taking a course that will help you contribute more, ask your boss if the company will pay for it. A good manager knows that investing in people will boost employee retention–and depending on where you live, there might even be financial support for it. (In Ontario, the government gives employers grants for that purpose, for instance.) Plus, ongoing staff training helps each employee contribute more to the company’s bottom line. Training helps a company stay ahead of the competition on the latest industry changes, promote from within, and hone its team’s effectiveness. It’s a win-win!

5. Ask for Feedback

Ask for feedback often, especially if your boss ascribes to the outdated belief that you should figure everything out on your own. Proactively initiate open conversations about how you can improve. Good bosses welcome this dialogue (and they even want your feedback in turn!). They know today’s employees want consistent evaluation, in stark contrast to the boss of generations past, who might have expected you to forge ahead with zero guidance.

Keep these tips in mind:
  • Don’t just ask your supervisor; ask other people in your department as well as clients you’ve worked with.
  • Tell people about the improvements you’re trying to make, so they can help you gauge your progress.
  • Ask specific questions, not just “How am I doing?”, instead use “What can I improve about my working style?” or “What skills do you think I need to strengthen before stepping into a project manager role?” works much better.

Taking criticism can be hard, but it’s the only way to find out how you need to improve!


This chart from Globoforce shows that feedback from peers helps employees better understand where they most need to improve.

6. Cultivate Advocates and Mentors

Once we’ve found mentors and influential people who can advocate for us, we can start making big strides. An advocate can help you make connections with people whom others respect in your organization. A mentor can help you create a long-term plan, figure out if you’ve met your goals, or make more sense of that confusing comment from your boss.

A couple of tips:
  • Think outside the box. You might have a couple of coworkers who can each mentor you in certain areas. You might also find a mentor outside of your company who can help you with long-term strategy. Be open to the opportunities that arise.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for connections. If you’re seeking a career change, maybe your current mentor can pair you with the right person.
  • Meet face-to-face with your mentors and advocates regularly so that everyone stays invested in the relationships. (Pro tip: Remember important details about their lives, like birthdays and kids’ names, so the relationship doesn’t feel one-sided.)
Making more and stronger connections with others increases your influence at work. How can you do this?

7. Expand Your Network at Work

  • Collaborate more with others, as Fast Company suggests. High performers spend up to four more hours a week collaborating with others than the average employee.
  • Join or create a cross-functional team to boost your exposure even more.
  • Give at least two people a genuine compliment every day especially people you don’t know very well. For instance, after a meeting, go up to someone who had an insightful comment and share why it stood out to you.
  • Ask someone you don’t know very well to grab a cup of coffee or have lunch together once in a while. Tell each other about what you do at work on a daily basis. Then you’ll both know whom to reach out to when you need a particular skill set.

This will all help you build a coalition of folks who can serve as allies in the future – say, when you’re vying for your next promotion.

8. Grow Your Soft Skills

Ask yourself what soft skills will support you in achieving your goals. For example, honing your communication skills, ability to motivate others, and conflict resolution skills will help make you a stellar team leader. It could mean the difference between totally losing your cool and wigging out on someone, and guiding a conversation that leads the group to new insights. We’ve all had those moments, haven’t we?

9. Read More

We all need to look beyond our workplace to keep learning. Even if we have great colleagues, they give us a limited perspective. Find out what leaders in your field are reading – books, articles, reports – and read them too. Professional associations will probably have suggestions. Stay up-to-date on news in the field, looking at the latest trends on Twitter, in the newsletters of professional organizations, and in respected publications like Harvard Business Review. This will give you ideas for which books and studies to read.

10. Use Social Media Wisely

Social media makes getting ideas from thought leaders easy. Using social media platforms like Twitter also lets you promote yourself as an expert, sharing tidbits of information you’ve gleaned.


Plus, participating in an open conversation beyond the walls of your workplace will show you’re serious about success. Just make sure to read your company’s guidelines and policies for using social media as a company representative. (Then tip off your boss to your social media prowess!)

11. Schedule Check-Ins

Aim to have a monthly check-in session with your manager to make sure you stay on track. Prepare your thoughts and questions about your accomplishments and next steps before each session.


If your boss takes a passive approach to managing, ask for more direction. A good boss knows this is vital to employee retention and performance. In some cases, we might take our own development a little more seriously than our boss does, though – and we need to speak up about our needs! Having an open conversation on a regular basis is far better than a single annual review.

12. Create a Reminder System

Once you’ve created your strategy, give yourself reminders of your goals and priorities. Organize the info on your goals and the steps toward them so you have a handy reference. Post it on your wall where you can glance at it for clarity whenever you need to.


Then plug your priorities into an electronic reminder system so that you never forget a training session or lunch date with your mentor.


Follow this 12-point plan, and you’ll feel truly proud of your accomplishments over the current review period. By the time of your next appraisal, you’ll have increased your expertise, honed your leadership skills, and gotten the attention of key decision-makers with this guide to self-improvement.


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