How to Make Your Performance Review Work For You

Every company has some kind of performance review process, whether it is monthly, quarterly, bi-annually. I am not an expert in this space. But I do have experience in at least 4 different companies’ processes as an employee. And what I wanted to do today was share how I have made the process work best for my development needs over time and some new things I am doing this year with COVID-19 lockdown.

Tip #1: Be Clear On What You Want to Commit to and What You Need.

So many people write ambiguous things on their performance review, waiting to get the answers from their managers. Instead, take back control and be clear on what you want to sign up for and how you want to be evaluated, and have an open and honest conversation with your manager about it.

Regardless of the template and format I am asked to fill out, I typically take time to prepare answers to these 3 questions:

  1. What do I want to learn? Be specific and have an ask ready: is it funding for a class, is it mentorship from a leader in the org, etc. Choose wisely and choose something that you can commit to. An example of this would be learning how to be a better presenter. The asks could be that you get more opportunities to present to larger groups, you get coaching and mentorship from the company’s best presenters, and you participate in a learning program online. Any of those things would work.
  2. How do I want to contribute in my current role? Identify areas that are directly within the scope of your role that you can make a meaningful impact in based on skillset or knowledge. Name and claim it. Ask to get it prioritized. Agree to a cadence of providing updates on success so that your manager and others can see progress. And more importantly, commit to doing the actual work needed and prioritize your workload accordingly.
  3. How do I want to stretch? An example of this would be doing something that isn’t squarely in your day job responsibilities but an area that you think you can add value to. Examples for this would be easy innovation projects that have potential to scale, leadership development work, or employee satisfaction work. Google trademarked the 20% project concept, which allowed employees to spend 20% of their time on interesting side projects for Google. The key with this one is to ensure you have alignment with your manager and teams. Otherwise, it will be seen as a distraction and/or won’t have the right buy-in.

By the time you are having a performance review conversation with your manager, you should be very clear on what you are claiming. And of course, also clearly articulate what it is that you need from your manager and from others to accomplish these things.

Tip #2: Be clear up-front what success looks like at the end of the year.

For each of my performance review priorities, I add one line that says: “What success looks like: ##”. This can be a number or KPI, or it can be qualitative and emotion-based: e.g. the leadership brand that I want to create for myself, the way I want my team to talk about me by the end of the year, etc. By getting clear on what success looks like for you and aligning this with your manager, you are ensuring there won’t be any surprises of how someone interprets whether you are successful or not.

Tip #3: Add at least one goal for yourself and at least one goal for your team that has nothing to do with business.

This seems odd, but I think it’s actually really important to avoid burnout this year for yourself and for your team.

For my performance review, I have explicitly stated that I want to be held accountable for meaningful improvement in my self-care. I have a clearly stated list of self-care commitments, and I track my adherence score every week. I publish this score publicly in my weekly email newsletters, I share things I’m experimenting with to get my score up, and through this accountability I am able to really hold myself accountable to do better here. By the end of the year I want to have created a sustained baseline of 80%+.

In addition, I have a few stated goals for my team that have nothing to do with business. These include commitments on coaching my team, investing in shared learning agendas and education, and bringing inspiration, rest and recovery, and fun into the mix as well. These are all things that I want to be held accountable for as a leader, but more importantly these are things that I will prioritize just as highly as business goals.

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