Updated: Sep 27, 2022
Listen to: podcast with Mpho Mashita from Africa Career Chat on the topic of preparing for your year-end performance review.
Download: free checklist to help you prepare for your performance review.
By the time you get to your year-end review, you probably will have forgotten some of your achievements from the beginning of the year. Imagine what it's like for your manager who has several people reporting to her - she has probably forgotten everything except what you did in the last few weeks - so if you have screwed up recently, that's what she will have in mind.
So what does this mean for you if you want to get the best out of your year-end performance review? From my perspective, it means you need to take the initiative to do your own self-assessment so that you are well-positioned to provide evidence to your boss on how you have contributed to the business goals over the past year.
Build a portfolio of evidence
Whether your performance reviews happen once a year or more frequently, it can be pretty challenged to remember what you did more than a few months ago, so my first piece of advice is to develop a habit of regularly tracking your achievements, your lessons learned and your professional development in real-time.
Track your achievements in real time – I really like the practice of reflecting weekly or better yet daily on what I achieved and what I learned that week or day.
By tracking regularly, you make it easier to start developing a portfolio of evidence which could include things like:
commendations and emails of appreciation from clients and colleagues,
lessons learned reviews from completed projects,
a list of projects and assignments showing increasing levels of responsibility,
tangible evidence of your contributions to the organisations,
examples of where you have challenged yourself and grown in the process,
evidence of your investment (time not necessarily only money) in your own personal and professional development.
Developing your own portfolio of evidence in realtime is an effective way of collecting “data” that is more meaningful than "I have worked so hard this year" and replaces it with a diary of specific events and evidence of your achievements, contributions and professional development. If you build your portfolio of evidence in real-time it also gives you a very clear sense of how you are tracking against your goals... that is assuming you have set some goals.
Start with the end in mind
Achieving a good performance review requires you to be intentional in how you show up in your career. It also requires that your personal goals dovetail with the goals that the organisation has for you. So start the beginning of the year by setting out what you want to achieve in the year, schedule time with your mentor, sponsor, line function manager to discuss your goals and once you have a common understanding of these goals and how you can work towards them work out a clear plan of action.
Each month or quarter you can then reflect on your progress and course-correct quickly rather than waiting to the end of the year to see where you are.
The kinds of things that are useful to think about when setting your goals are:
Will this be a year where you are growing and learning new things or a year of consolidating and practising and becoming expert in what you have learned – (it can be both).
Setting goals around what experiences you need to achieve your development goals – do you need to work with different people?
Do you need to work on more complex projects? Or do you need a number of similar experiences repeated over and over so that you can really embed your learning before you move forward into the next step-change?
Do you need exposure to a different industry? or a different phase in a project development cycle, or a different function in your company?
What networks do you need to build and relationships do you need to establish?
Do you need to be identifying a mentor that can push your thinking? Or finding a sponsor who can introduce you and back you for the next promotion?
What additional knowledge do you need to develop? Do you need to study to upskill yourself? Or would reading lots of articles and researching to write your own articles be sufficient to hone your knowledge?
What sort of behaviours do you need to be working on? For example: Do you want to work on your assertiveness? maybe you want to overcome your self-sabotaging behaviours, or perhaps work on your public speaking skills?
Once you have set some goals it’s a lot easier to reflect on how you have done in the year. If you didn’t set goals this year perhaps reflect on the following:
What did I learn this year? About myself, about my industry? About my professional relationships?
What could I have done differently or better?
In which areas did I really push myself and grow?
In which areas did I coast along?
Are there any areas that I actually went backwards? What were the reasons for this?
Which of my behaviours limited me? Which of my behaviours supported me?
How am I going to use this reflection to direct me in managing my career as a business in the coming year?
Your achievements need to be business relevant
In a previous blog, I asked: "If what you are doing is not valued by someone, then how are you adding value?". If you want to get the best out of your performance review, you need to ask yourself this same question when you are reflecting on your achievements. If your achievements are of no value to the organisations' goals, then despite how impressive your achievements are, they are probably not going to be well received by your boss.
Also read: How are you adding value?
A really good way to stay relevant is to maintain an open line of dialogue with your boss/project manager/line-function manager to check from time to time that you are working in alignment with the organisation's / project's goals. You can do this by asking questions like:
How am I tracking in relation to the company's goals?
Where do you think I should be focussing my time and energy?
What can I do differently, better or more of to help achieve the company goals?
What are your expectations of me?
Seek out candid feedback for a broader perspective
So we often only look for feedback from our bosses. But getting feedback from a broader selection of people can be useful especially when you seek out that feedback in real-time.
The purpose of asking for feedback from other people is for you to get a different perspective on yourself - so try and ask for feedback from someone who won't necessarily tell you exactly what you want to hear. Note: That doesn't mean get feedback from people who will intentionally break you down. Seek out those that you trust to be candid and constructive.
If you are going to ask for feedback – be aware that you are asking for someone’s opinion – and that’s all it is. So take from it what is useful to you. We often tend to focus on the negative and get caught up in that rather than reflecting on what parts of the feedback are useful and moving forward.
A bad year doesn't mean you should give up
I had a really tough performance review once. It was a year I would rather forget and I had not been fully present in my work at all. I knew the bad review was coming, and having my suspicions confirmed really stung hard. But I firmly believe we often learn the most when things don't go smoothly. Failure can be just the catalyst you need to turn things around and make great strides in the next year - that is if you choose to learn from the experience and move forward.
If you know that bad performance review is coming, you can still prepare for it in a way that could turn it into a constructive experience:
What stopped you from performing at your best? Start by reflecting on your own behaviours, mindset and assumptions - own these before you start looking for external reasons.
If there were external forces that hindered your performance, look for a way to be objective about these forces and at all costs avoid criticising others.
Reflect on what you could have done differently, what you learned about yourself and what you can do to apply that learning in the next year to become a stronger contributor.
Use the outcomes from your reflection to plan for next year. You are going to be working hard to change perceptions about your performance. Aside from allowing yourself to feel upset about your review (for a little while) here are some other things you can do to overcome a poor performance review.
If you find you are not making the progress you wanted to make, then perhaps seek support from a coach earlier rather than later - in which case get in contact and let's explore how I can help you.
Have you downloaded your free checklist? Download: 5 ways to prepare for your performance review - free checklist
I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.
I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself. I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.
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