Annual Review Season: Time to Ask for Honest Feedback

It’s review season.

“Said no one ever to their boss... You know, I didn’t have a great year. I have more to learn and need to become more effective, so I don’t think I should receive a pay raise and I’m not ready for a promotion.” 

In my new CommPRO article, Annual Reviews: If You Really Want to Succeed, Ask for Honest Feedback, I write that even though this may be an accurate assessment, most of us are wildly optimistic and selective in our own evaluations of performance.

To succeed we really need honest and direct feedback on how we have performed. But, because this generally means noses get put out of joint, the review process often becomes a dance around what we would like to say but don’t. The stakes are high because money is involved and egos are in play.

Although we expect managers to provide feedback, more often that we’d like to admit, managers hold back from telling truths we need to hear in order to make progress in our careers.

“Employees are more responsible for this cycle than they may want to admit. We all may say we want the truth, but a barrier for many managers looking to provide honest assessments of performance will be, to quote Jack Nicholson in a Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth.” 

If we really want the truth we need to ask managers for it in a way that encourages truth telling. Conversations framed by giving and asking permission to provide an honest evaluation is key to receiving actionable feedback. It is a take the red pill moment.  


Annual Reviews Do You Want the Truth

In the article I relay a story from my own experience. “One of the most important moments in my early career at Ogilvy & Mather PR was when I went to a mentor and said, ‘I want you to tell me what I can do to do a better job. I want to know, no matter how personal.’ As a result, I was told the truth: I needed to listen and respond more slowly, wear suits that fit, and socks that were longer!”

By saying I really want to know and not being defensive, I received valuable feedback while also communicating that I had a learning/self-improvement mindset. 

At many high-performing companies, asking for feedback is built into employees’ DNA. A senior executive at Facebook shared with me that after every presentation the question was what could have been better?

The willingness to ask this question is based on a willingness to hear the truth. This requires self-confidence. “Not the type that stops you from listening. Rather, it’s the self-confidence of knowing that every bit of feedback and insight can be applied to personal and professional growth.”

Honest and direct feedback provides a path to success because we learn more quickly about the strengths and weaknesses others see in us. Although it may feel brutal at times, the truth should inform career choices and prevent us from hanging on to jobs that may not be a good fit. 

And, I point out that being open to feedback must also include being ready to take action based on that information.

I argue that careers are marathons. “Seeking and getting honest feedback from our managers or people who are willing to help us in our careers, is an investment. The benefits may not be realized until the 10-mile mark, or close to the finish line, but the rewards will come.” 

Without honest feedback we risk running blind. When we ask for it, we increase our chances of success. 


Simon Erskine Locke is CEO of communications agency and professional search and services platform, CommunicationsMatch™. He is a regular contributor to CommPRO and trade media. He is a former head of Corporate Communications at blue-chip brands, a founder of agencies, a writer, and VP of the Foreign Press Association.


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