For many, the approach of the end of the financial year also signals the approach of annual performance reviews. If you want to make the most of your appraisal with your boss you need to prepare for it. I recommend the following 4 steps:
- Collect evidence of achievements
- Review your job description
- Review last years appraisal
- Consider your mindset
Collecting your career achievements
To be well prepared for an annual performance review you need to know what you have achieved. If you have not been keeping tabs on your achievements through the year don’t panic – I’ve got a strategy for that.
The Continual Approach to Recording Achievements
I have a monthly appointment in my calendar to record achievements. I spend 20 minutes looking back over the last 4 weeks to see if I have done anything noteworthy for my performance review. If I have I capture it in a document called my “evidence log”. As a manager, I also do the same for my staff so I have a collection of achievements to bring out in their appraisals.
I have a sister document to the evidence log: my career history document. Each time I start a new job, or role, or project I capture some key data about the role. Over the years I have developed a table template that prompts me for key data: title, the number of people I am managing, the budget I am responsible for and so on. All this lives in a word document which I can easily add to. Each time I add something to my in year evidence log I consider if it also worthy of entering in my career history document.
I started this practice when I got my first proper job after university. I was capturing the evidence required to apply for chartered engineer status. I found that it was really powerful in preparing me for annual appraisals (performance reviews). It was also a key resource in preparing me for promotion applications and interviews.
I need my evidence log because it’s not the sort of stuff I remember. This is my external memory aid.
It is good to capture specifics. My early entries are sadly lacking in the specific data that makes CV or an appraisal pop: increased sales by 23%, reduced customer complaints by 47%. It is much easier to crunch the data at the time than it is to try and add that specificity later.
It’s good to capture quotes too. I have a special folder in my email tool where I file all the “thank you” and “well done” emails I get. I review this as part of my monthly review. Sometimes these emails sum up what I have done better than I ever could so I make good use of it. I also have a read through this folder anytime I need perking up.
I don’t worry about prose, grammar or style in my evidence log. It’s just raw data. I find the act of capturing the data prompts me to reflect. This might be the nudge to get the specifics to make it stand out. It might be the reminder to recognise that one of my team has helped me achieve something special. It might be a prompt that this good bit of evidence would be even better if…
Even better if…
A number of years back I entered to my log “Communicated effectively the schedule risk to key project stakeholder using an expected utility style calculation over the risk log. Gained customer appreciation of technical complexity as the source of schedule risk and showed value from my Management of Risk practitioner qualification”.
This is an ugly bit of prose but serves as a reminder that I can show I get value from training, that I can use my risk knowledge to communicate effectively and that I can merge techniques from different disciplines.
The real power was the reflection this prompted. I considered what my manager would say if I used this in my end of year assessment. I thought he might say “That sounds like a great technique – who else have you shared it with”. So I got proactive and organised a lunchtime session for my area and I presented some risk techniques for them all to benefit from.
Had I not reflected on the achievement I would not have taken that extra step. In my annual performance review it was the presentation, not the customer engagement, that was remarked on.
If you’ve not collected your career achievements
All is not lost if you are in the process of preparing for your appraisal and you have not kept a log of all the good stuff you have done. You will need to create your evidence repository by other means. I am assuming you don’t have a photographic memory that you can sequentially work through so let’s look at other techniques.
Create a document or a mind map and start populating it with what you do know. Use timeboxing ** LINK ** to keep this short and focused and avoid staring at a blank screen for 4 hours (yes I’ve been there too).
What roles or responsibilities have you had this year? Don’t worry about specifics and details on the first pass just look to capture the breadth.
Once you have the structure it is time to fill it in. What are the data sources you could use to populate your log? Stepping through your calendar is a great memory trigger for the things you have been working on (you do schedule your priorities on your calendar right? ** LINK **)). Searching through email can provide added details.
Review your job description
Your job description, role specification, performance objectives or whatever they are called will determine what you should be doing. Couple this with your company competency framework, if there is one, for another view. Are there areas where you have exceeded what is expected? Are there areas where you could improve? How would you self-rate against what was expected of you?
This is not a detailed analysis of your performance in your role. It is an honest self-evaluation. This will help you to be ready to talk about your achievements and any shortcomings.
Review last years appraisal
Your previous performance reviews can be a mine of useful information. This is especially true if you are in the same role or with the same manager.
What were the main comments in last year’s review? Have you continued to do well that which you did well last year? Have you made any improvements within the year? Have you acted on any feedback you got?
If your self-review of your performance identifies themes for improvement in common with last year’s appraisal… consider what support you might ask for to improve next year
Your state of mind when you have your review with your boss will greatly influence the value you get from it. Consider any negative feedback as the potential for improvement, not criticism.
Managers find performance reviews just as hard as staff do. Managers who don’t give regular (daily/weekly) feedback on performance to their staff can struggle to articulate clearly the points they are trying to get across. If they only do these types of conversations once a year they don’t get much practice. So consider that your boss could be as nervous as you are.
It can be hard not to get defensive when your boss points out areas for improvement. Hard not to offer an explanation as to why you did whatever is being criticised. If you can’t impartially evaluate the feedback and spot the growth opportunity in the moment then park it. Ask your boss if you can reflect on the suggested weakness or improvement and discuss it next week. Then schedule that meeting and explore it with a calmer mind.
After the performance review, you need to capture some notes on what went well and what could be improved. Were you suitably prepared for the review – if not what will you change? Did you agree on any actions in the review – if so how will you track progress against them? Did your boss comment on achievements that are not in your evidence log – if so add them in. Did your boss highlight unknown strengths to you?
By reviewing how the appraisal went (in terms of the process, not the outcome) you can put measures in place to make it better next year.