Taking Charge of Your Performance Review
How did you fair on your last performance review? Does the thought of going through that process bring on hives? Most people don’t look forward to reviews—no matter how well they perform their jobs or how well last year’s review went. Somehow, there’s always the fear that your manager will have nothing but negative things to say, even if it turns out not to be the case. Performance reviews don’t have to cause you angina—if you use a well-prepared strategy to prepare for them throughout the year. In this month’s column we’ll take a look at performance reviews from the manager’s perspective and provide you with some strategies for preparing for your next review using some very simple tools.
The Theory Behind Performance Reviews
People perform better when they receive honest and timely feedback on their job performance. In an ideal job environment, feedback is a part of the day-to-day interaction on the job, especially after each major accomplishment or project completed. Just-in-time feedback allows you to reflect on a job well done or not so well done so that you can adjust your behavior or performance in real time. Performance reviews formalize the delivery of feedback. They are typically performed on an annual basis or, if you’ve just joined the company, at the end of the first 30 or 90 days.
As you’ve probably experienced, some managers are better than others when it comes to performing and delivering appraisals. To add insult to injury, most companies organize performance reviews to occur at the same time each year across the entire organization. Though this might help increase the response rate of the reviews, it certainly doesn’t help motivate managers to do a good job in evaluating their employees. Unfortunately, the task is often seen as a chore and has no quality checkpoints built into it to ensure that the feedback is well thought-out and appropriate.
Then there’s the matter of how performance appraisals get used. Unless there’s a salary freeze going on within your organization, most performance reviews are used to influence performance raises or rather, to justify your percentage increase or lack thereof. If this isn’t enough motivation to ensure that you get the kudos you deserve, I don’t know what is.
Another thing to remember about reviews is that they are indeed added to your permanent record. (Yes, one does exist.) In the event of a reason for termination, past reviews can either help or hurt your case.
Your Role in the Performance Review Process
Despite your company’s and manager’s attitude toward appraisals, it will work out best for you in the long run if you decide to take charge of your review. The review process is intended to be two-sided. Many employees don’t take the process seriously enough and forfeit the right to get a great review. They don’t take the time to complete the review forms adequately and simply accept the feedback provided by their manager without bothering to include their own self-assessment.
Keeping Track of Success
The hardest part about any self-appraisal is remembering all your accomplishments. Most IT pros also have a hard time talking about themselves and their accomplishments, which makes the review process more uncomfortable. The trick to success is to keep a running record of your successes. This can be a printed file, a special e-mail folder or any other way that works for you. You’ll want to track:
- Customer praises.
- Peer kudos.
- Management commendations.
- Customer surveys or evaluations.
- Compliments from users in other departments for solving problems.
- Empirical data that you can collect on your performance.
Though it’s considered bad form to attach a book of praises to your performance review, it is a nice touch to include two or three firsthand kudos in the form of e-mail or letters.
The Performance Tracker
One of my favorite tools for tracking accomplishments is a tool called the “Performance Tracker.” This is a simple approach to keeping a running tally of accomplishments to make it easy at review time. It’s a spreadsheet that you should keep updated on a monthly basis. See Figure 1 for a sample.
It’s a simple enough tool, so let’s focus on the most important of the columns—results accomplished. Results are what managers look for and what they reward. From a manager’s perspective, positive results equate to:
- Dollars saved.
- Tasks completed ahead of schedule.
- Great customer service reviews.
- Increased revenue.
The key is to link your performance with your company’s profitability. When presenting your accomplished results, you want to focus on hard numbers. Sometimes you may need to think hard about what impact your accomplishment had on the company’s bottom line. Other times you may have to track down quantifiable numbers. Go the extra mile.
PAR stands for Problem, Action, Results. It is a technique often used in resume writing that can be effectively applied to performance reviews as well. Using this formula, you can easily identify a problem or challenge within your department. You then describe the action you took to resolve it. Finally, you talk about the results of your actions. The following is a sample PAR statement: “Reduced the cost of purchased computer systems by 40 percent by finding alternative suppliers.”
The following questions can help stimulate recall of some of your accomplishments and can help you translate them into powerful statements using the PAR formula:
- Did you solve a recurring problem for your department?
- Did you suggest new procedures?
- Did you make your job easier or more efficient?
- Did you train anyone?
- Did you do the job with fewer people?
- Did you help increase sales or reduce costs?
- Did you take on more responsibility?
- Were you asked to lead a project?
These are all great techniques to supercharge your performance review. My recommendation—with this much potential for greatness, you want to make sure you don’t overdo it by laying it on a bit thick. Provide a balanced perspective of your accomplishments and your areas for improvement. Everyone has some areas for improvements. Even the best of us.
Paula Moreira is vice president of e-learning for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest computer training company. Paula is also author of “Ace the IT Resume” and “Ace the IT Job Interview” (McGraw Hill).
Other Questions to Ask Yourself
Looking for other questions to help jog your memory for your next review? Try these:
- Did you assume new responsibilities?
- Did you receive awards?
- Did you exceed your goals?
- Did you do anything for the first time?
- Were you promoted?
- Did you receive perfect scores or industry recognition?
- What does your boss always count on you for?
- What problem did you solve that had everyone else stumped?
- What’s your best “trick of the trade”?
- When did you go above and beyond your job description?
- If you were to go on a six-month vacation, would your co-workers’ jobs be tougher?
Performance Tracker for Paula Moreira Next Review Date: March 2004