As the end of the year approaches, it’s coming to that time we all love to hate. The day your manager is required to call you into a room and have a somewhat awkward conversation. Yes, I’m talking about the annual performance review.
As you look through notes, try to recall the goals you set months ago, feeling the need to justify your actions to continue getting a paycheck. But when was the last time you benefited from the review process?
We’ve all been there. And a small percentage of you actually enjoy the process. So if you are in that small group, I’m going to let you off the hook. You can stop reading now. Move on to another article, Medium’s homepage is a great place to start.
OK, now that it’s just you and me, let’s talk about why so many companies fail at the process.
Your manager, like a coach, needs to provide direction and criticism. If you were playing a sport, how would you do if the coach only gave you feedback during the last game of the season, and that feedback was to tell you how bad you played during the first game? How relevant would the information be if it was 20 games old? or 50 games?
That’s what most of us feel like is happening. By the time we get the appraisal, the issues are ancient history. The problems have either been resolved or are far in the past, making the feedback feel like an afterthought.
It often seems even before we go into the process, the organization has pre-determined the ranking we’ll get along with the pay increase. Managers have even admitted to me; this is the way it works in their organizations. It’s no wonder we feel so disenchanted.
Then there are the reviews themselves. The responsibility is put on the employee to evaluate themself. There are indeed better ways to determine a person’s value than having them recall every detail from the past year. To give themselves a ranking from 1 to 5 on their proficiency, then writing a justification why they deserve that rank.
We know there are problems with the system, and companies are making some headway in changing, or even removing, the performance review. But I’m sorry you will not escape it this year. What can you do to better prepare for the assessment? Here are a few tips to help.
Working the system
Much like the American education system, the performance review is an antiquated measure from a different time. The workforce that it provided feedback for has long since left the US. But we still “grade” employees through its use.
Like the education system, we adapt to how it works in practice, instead of how it should work in principle. And unfortunately, that means you will have to play the system to get the desired output.
Talk yourself up
Consider making yourself look as amazing as possible. Expand on the work you have done, have it sound like it was the best outcome for everyone involved.
This can be difficult for many of us. We feel that our jobs aren’t as crucial as other members of the team. We think of what we do as a skill that anyone has. We often don’t consider how those items we know well are going to benefit our coworkers. Take the time to consider this and document that in your review.
If you aren’t currently doing it, consider starting a journal to write down accomplishments as the year progresses. Your future self will thank you for it.
Give yourself 5 out of 5
If your performance appraisal has a ranking system, give yourself the highest score and make management talk you down. This is a common psychology trick to negotiating called anchoring. It creates a cognitive bias in a person that they will refer back to in future judgments. Set the bar high, and they will be more apt to work from that bar.
Unless you sit at your desk and surf the web all day, your job makes a difference to people. Your leadership manages multiple people, remind them of the things you do for others. Ask people you work with on projects to give you feedback. Most people are happy to provide you with input. Use those in your justification.
Prepare as a team
One of the things we did as a team was to work through our reviews together. We blocked off time and met without our manager, and went through the review process with each other. We helped one another out by recalling specific situations where other team members excelled during the year.
Team reviews can also be a great way to find the strengths and weaknesses, leading to better dynamics and better separation of duties. It might also suggest an area of training that people may need in the coming year.
Review your manager
Consider putting a few comments together to give to your manager. They should be kind and constructive. You could list a few areas they excelled during the year and a place or two they may need to work through.
Some people are receptive to it. Others aren’t. You will need to use your judgment on making this call. I would challenge you to consider that if your leadership isn’t open to feedback, consider making some changes at your job.
Writing this piece made me feel a little discouraged. I believe that most of us want to do good work and get rewarded for it. But the review system in many companies is created to do the opposite of inspiring people. We then have to find the cracks in the system, the gray areas to work in, to create a review that reflects us at our best.
If you are like the majority of workers, you are probably doing a fantastic job. Unfortunately, the review process has failed so many of us to the degree that the annual review is a time for anxiety and stress. Suppose we could look to a new leadership method, one where you are evaluated regularly and consistently receiving feedback. Consider how that would change the manager/employee dynamic.
In the end, it’s up to you to take those first steps. There is no better person to be in charge of your career than you. Take the initiative to set up a regular meeting with your manager. Build up the dialogue, trust, and feedback loop. If you’re lucky, maybe next year you can be the one to skip reading this article.