Nailing Performance Reviews

Fall is not my favorite season but I’m coming around to a few things it has to offer (though not a one of them is pumpkin spice). I am loving the smell of fall, both inside and outside. OK so I’ve always loved the ‘inside’ smells of fall. Cooking is a passion of mine so a change in season brings a change in menu to include things like apples, cranberries, spiced pork, roasted veggies, whole chickens, squash, and seriously all the things. The outside smells don’t sound quite as nice to describe but are every bit as endearing, the crisp leaves, cut corn fields, and warm breezes that seem to bring with them all of smells of the woods are starting to get to me. I’ve always been the biggest fan of lush and healthy greens that you see outside all summer but this year the mix of yellow, oranges, and vibrant reds with my greens peppered throughout, are starting to catch my eye.

Sunset over a freshly cut corn field.

So yeah, this year fall is growing on me. That said, there was always one thing that made me excited about fall, preparation for review season. I know, that one really is just me. I hear all the time that it is nerve wracking, frustrating, and full of negative anticipation from the recipients and that it is nerve wracking, time consuming, and difficult to do from the leaders. There was a time that I felt that way, as a recipient, too. I would get myself all wound up worrying that I hadn’t progressed enough throughout the year or that maybe I had but my manager wouldn’t have seen all of the great work that I did. I had fears like,

  • What if I forgot about one of my goals?
  • What if my manager forgot about these things I did or these compliments I got?
  • What if all of the work I did on this other project isn’t recognized because it wasn’t planned for?
  • What if the ‘numbers’ don’t tell the whole story?
  • What if that one mistake I made dominates all of the other accomplishments?

All of these fears and doubts would surface without warning in December when I was already having a hard time balancing work, production goals, Christmas shopping, time off, and family expectations. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to add another stressor. (To this day I still don’t know why these are run on calendar years.) I needed to make a change for myself to make sure I had some sanity left for the Christmas season.

After reflecting on all of the things that stressed me out in prior years I realized that I have control over all of it. I don’t need to be worried about those things because I can own my own performance review and not in a head down just work really hard and of course all will turn out right but with preparation and strategic communication that will allow me to walk into that meeting in the right mindset.

First, the preparation, if you’re working for a midsize to large company you very likely have access to your goals all year. Dust off that login information and take a look at them and determine what you’ve done to meet it. If you don’t have access to them, you can ask your boss if they have a copy and just explain that you want to ensure you’re doing everything you can to meet your goals by year end. I have yet to meet a manager who would be anything but pleased to get this request. List everything you can think of that you’ve done to meet, or progress toward the goal. Do not include excuses or reasons why you couldn’t meet the goal but if there are clear and objective challenges that got in the way (if you’re wondering where time and too busy fit, those are excuses). I like to make a document with each goal and add a few bullets underneath. These are just your notes for now so don’t worry if they aren’t perfect, just get your ideas out. Make a final category of ‘wins’ and list out compliments, recognition, and projects/work you positively impacted under it. Start this list now so you have time to have your memory jogged and you can add to it.

Don’t assume you know (and will remember) everything you did and accomplished either.
Write it all out.

Then comes the communication; you need to start passing this information to your manager. I do not recommend emailing them your document, rather be more intentional and subtle about it. As topics come up share what you really enjoyed about adding to them. If production or timelines are discussed you can tout that you’re ahead of schedule as a noted ‘win’ or add comments about what you’ve done to drive or support them (remember no excuses if the goal isn’t met just what you did to advance it). If the work you did focused in the early part of the year find ways to relate back to it. ‘This project feels a lot like X that I worked on back in March. We did Y and it seemed to work well.’ Your goal here is to organically and naturally communicate the bullet points that you took for yourself all in this last quarter of the year. Keep that great work in your managers forefront. Finally, if you have the opportunity to write your own self-appraisal use your bullets to write it out. You’ll be better equipped to word-smith everything because you’ll have the meat of what you want to say already documented.

When you walk into that performance review you’ll be poised and ready for the discussion. You’ll be confident that your manager is aware and up to speed on everything you’ve been working on. Also, you’ll have that list in the back of your mind to ensure that everything is called out in the review and if it isn’t, bring it up in the conversation. That could be something like, ‘I didn’t see that there was mention of the work I did on X. I advanced that project through Y/worked extra hours to meet goal/served as a resource for Z. Is there a reason it isn’t included?’

This post is meant to inspire and equip you to go from nervous and frustrated to prepared and confident in your performance review. You could then take the next step. You could go from prepared and confident to owning the review process and using your skills to negotiate the things you want in your job and career. If you’re interested in some simple steps to bridge that next gap, click here. However you choose to have that discussion, you’ll have the objective detail in your back pocket to support you in the next step, whatever that might be.

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