The Unofficial Guide to Annual Reviews

The beginning of the year is not only a time of creating (and breaking) new resolutions, but also a time of assessment, for yourself, your peers, and those you manage. I’m unusual in that I enjoy the review process not only because it allows for an opportunity for feedback and reflection, but it’s also a reset of some sort. I’ve seen multiple types of review forms; mostly ones that have you restate the prior year’s objectives and then provide a status. Regardless of the formal review form your company uses, I apply an “informal” checklist that I incorporate into how I assess myself and others.

Before I get into specifics, I’d also like to mention that reviews shouldn’t be a time for major “surprises.” We should be providing our reports with feedback on a regular basis. Employees should have an overall sense of what they are walking into. If you think they’re underperforming and they think they’re overachieving, then you have a big disconnect that should have been brought up way before the day of the review.

Now back to the unofficial guide. What is the number one question you ask yourself each day? You know, that question that lingers in your mind as you commute in? The prevailing question I ask myself these days is, “How can I support my team in accomplishing their goals?” This is a slightly different variation of what I used to ask myself, which was more tactical, “What can I do for my team today?” This question always leads me to either micromanage or to think I can do things better than someone else. The new question assumes the following: a) my team has goals (a good thing!); b) my job is to support them in accomplishing these goals; c) I need to understand from them how I can best support them.

What is the question you ask yourself, and is it the right question? If you’re reviewing someone this year, ask her what her prevailing question is? Chances are she may not know or she may need to think about it; or, she may not want to disclose it because it’ll be way too telling (e.g., “How do I avoid dealing with the boss?”) By the way, if that is your question every day, then it may be time to start looking for a new job. There’s no way to be successful while spending all your time dodging the one you work for.

In addition to having people think about “the question” that drives their work attitude, I also have them create two buckets with no more than five items in each bucket. The buckets are broken out as follows: a) things I need start doing; b) things that I’m doing that I’m not sure of their outcome. The lists should be brief and focused. You don’t need to have five things per list, but you definitely cannot have more than five. If you choose the right things, they should be challenging enough. I used to have a list for “things you should stop doing,” but I found it too negative and the items seem to be addressed more positively in the first bucket.

Things I need to start doing. A list like this may include items like arrive on time for work or meetings, attend or speak at industry events, or become an “expert” on blah blah. The five items on this list should be those things that nag at you; that if you could tackle them this year, you would definitely feel like you’ve accomplished something critical in your career development. From this list, you’ll create an action plan to get there. There may be many critical steps that need to be managed to make these goals happen.

Things that I’m doing that I’m not sure of their outcome. This is a new list for me. The reason I included it is that I found I was spending a lot of time doing things that were not necessary and taking time away from the things I should be doing. For example, a while ago, I used to attend account meetings on a project I was not directly working on because I wanted to stay in the loop on what this other group was doing (complementary type of business to the one I was working on). The problem was that the status meetings were project-based and very detailed with the day-to-day. They were impossible to follow and get any strategic/campaign insights from. Although not a total waste, they were just not the best use of my time or the other party’s. Are there items like this in your life that are just not the best use of time? Sometimes we get stuck in a routine or take things for granted. Maybe there are meetings that in theory would work, but for some reason they don’t. Is there anything you can do to improve the outcome? Good luck with your reviews and remember, it’s not about being bad or good (sorry, Santa), but about growth and development.

Reviews image on home page via Shutterstock.

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