Question: What should I as an employee do when my annual appraisal comes as a totally negative surprise?
Answer: Never leave the room with any doubt as to the expectation required. In the short term this can feel rather over-the-top, but in my experience it is best to make sure you are working on the value-adding items that your line manager(s) have prioritised. Priorities change, people are not born good communicators, and the relationship with your line manager needs to be worked on like any relationship. If your line manager has not scheduled one-to-ones, then put them in yourself. Failing that, make sure you update him/her with your understanding of the expectations and priorities.
Use a 90-day cycle for writing your own value-adding deliverables and share them with your line manager. Ideally, this should be driven by the manager – but in the absence of that, it is up to you. Make sure you have at least three updates per year with your line manager on your performance – seek feedback and seek understanding.
Quite often, conscientious individuals will take on more and more work and they do this with entirely the right intent. They can often burn themselves out trying to please everyone. It is a very important skill to know where your limits are and provide that feedback up the chain.
It is perfectly okay to challenge with evidence if you feel the end-of-year appraisal hasn’t taken into consideration all your contributions from the year.
I stress Legitimate Leadership’s position is that the manager, not the employee, should be providing the clarity of expectation, and doing so regularly.