What to do When Your Performance Review was Just “Fine”

By September 1, 2017Career, Leadership

Annual performance reviews are one of the most anticipated events of the year. They can be exhilarating or nerve-racking.

After a performance review, spouses, friends and colleagues will invariably ask, “how’d it go?”
The answers range from “It was great!” to “It didn’t go well,” to “It was fine,” or “It went okay.” The reviews we might describe as “great” are, many times, reason to celebrate. For sub-par reviews, there are many resources available to help individuals recover and move forward. But, what about the reviews that were simply “meh?” Little is written about those, yet these are the ones requiring the most reflection and planning.

Let’s translate “just fine” into something we can work with. Depending on your organization, “fine” may be quantified a few different ways:

– Meets Expectations
– 3 out of 5
– Average
– Good

In the comments section, it may be wrapped up with a bow, such as, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”


You want me to just keep doing what I’m doing? For how long? Until next week? Next year? Five years from now? And, what exactly am I “doing” that you want me to keep doing?

What if you don’t want to “keep doing what you’re doing?” What else is there for you? It’s exactly the reason why “fine” reviews can be concerning.

If you’re satisfied at this point with your job, company, and leader, you may be happy to keep going in your current capacity. For many reasons, both personal and professional, it may be the best course for you in the short term. Only you can make that determination. That said, I don’t recommend you keep the status quo for too long, say, more than a year, to avoid becoming disengaged or stagnant.

If you were expecting more from your performance review and/or wanting to take the next step in your career, and you’ve got “fine” hanging over your head, here are some suggestions:

  • Take a week or so to digest your review and feedback. Review it closely to see if there were any pieces of information you may have missed during the meeting. Often, there’s a lot to take in during a short period of time. If it’s been more than a few weeks since your review, the time to act is now. Pick up the pieces and re-start the dialogue.
  • Look for the feedback themes. For example, are there improvements in overall communication you can make? Is there more leadership you could be taking within your current role? How about strategic big-picture thinking? Where’s the opportunity?
  • Think about where you’d like to head within the organization or in your career. Do you aspire to lead a team and haven’t yet? Would you like to spearhead a key project or initiative within the company? Do you want to tack “Director” or “VP” on to your title? Think about what’s most important to you.
  • Reach out to a few trusted colleagues you work closely with to see if they have some thoughts on areas you could improve. Are they looking for you to be more strategic? Take leadership on projects? Be more vocal in meetings? Where do they see opportunity for you to make strong contributions and take things to the next level?
  • Identify and reach out to a sponsor within the company, a senior-level individual other than your boss, who can also provide great insights on your contributions and perceptions of you within the company. The reason a sponsor is so important to your cause is they can also advocate for you in key meetings where you may not currently have a seat. Where do they see opportunity for you to improve and grow? This is a key relationship to develop.
  • Once you’ve analyzed your performance review feedback, your own thoughts on your direction and feedback from your colleagues and sponsor, line it up side-by-side to come up with the 2-3 areas where there’s opportunity for improvement and growth. Then, reach out to your boss to schedule a time to meet. Be as descriptive in your outreach as possible so your boss has a very clear understanding of the purpose of the meeting and time to prepare.You could say something along the lines of: “I’ve taken a few weeks to think about my performance review feedback and I appreciate the insights. I’d love to meet with you to talk about the key learnings I took away, how I can apply them to my current position, the areas I need to tweak, where I’d like to head within the company, and whether I’m on to something or not.”

Taking this action shows you take your professional development seriously. It also demonstrates that you understand and appreciate that your growth and progression is up to you to take into your own hands. Meeting with your colleagues and your boss provides opportunity for you to open up to potential blind spots you may have otherwise been unaware of and make key change happen.

An unspoken professional truth is that it’s our responsibility to lead our boss. While it may not be written in our job descriptions, the most important thing we can do every single day to advance our career is to lead our boss in the direction we want to go and open up a consistent dialogue to help us get where we want to go. Every. Single. Day.

I’d love to hear how this approach worked for you.

In next week’s post, we’ll take a look at how best to emerge from an excellent review (hint: even if it was excellent, you have work to do).



– Jackie Simon

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