Leadership

Get the most out of your yearly performance review

What you say in your performance review is not all that different than what you would include in your resume. Here are some tips.

For many companies, it's that time of year again: Time to review employees' performance of the previous year.

For employees, how active a part they play in their reviews depends on how their company handles the review process. For example, some managers are tasked with keeping copious notes on employee performance during the year and then compiling them into a review template that an employee has little say in, other than to accept or reject the ultimate rating.

Others make the review process more interactive, including the use of self and peer reviews. If you fall into this latter category, here are some tips for making the most of your input as an employee.

Those who read this blog regularly know that I preach the concept of self-marketing in regard to resumes and interviewing; well, the performance review process is no different. Just because you are employed with a company doesn't mean that you stop marketing yourself to your co-workers and those who stand in judgment of you.

Your goal is to prove your value to the company by using specific, measurable examples. It's not sufficient to say that you "successfully managed two projects." You need to define what "success" means in the sense you're using it. Did you come in under budget? Did you save the company money? The more specific you are with the numbers, the easier it is to monetize your contribution. And in today's corporate spreadsheet world, monetizing one's contribution is vital.

One way to do this is to keep track of your accomplishments during the year. This free spreadsheet offers a structured way to keep track of your noteworthy accomplishments.

Ask yourself what you did do to further your career goals during the year. If you want to be a leader, what specific duties did you take on that fall under that category? If you wanted to be more proficient in a particular technology what did you do to achieve that goal? Did you complete training? Did you work on a hands-on project?

Good luck!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

43 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't have a problem with the process, but I'm not getting anything out of it. It's too late to do anything about this year, but maybe the template will help with next year. My problem is the majority of our self-review form doesn't focus on the previous year's tasks. It discusses what I consider vague topics like Customer Focus, Integration / Synergy, Project Management (I don't manage projects), Integrity, Commitment, Accountability. Each has bullet comments on the form describing characteristics of performance that exceed, meet, or fail to meet expectations. I'm supposed to rate myself on each of these and provide personal comments. I don't know how to 'sell myself'; I'm a technician, not a sales man. I know nothing about career management. I'm not interested in advancing. I don't know what to put down for these subjects, some of which don't seem to apply to me while others seem to be interchangeable. I don't know how to translate what I did last year into these categories, assuming it can be done. This is complicated by my having completed the same form with the same subjects for several years now. I didn't have much stuff to sling to begin with, and I ran out a while ago. As I see it, I have these options: 1. Copy the descriptive comments already on the form and paste them into the box for my own remarks. B) Dig up reviews from previous years and re-enter the old comments. (I actually did this the last two years, when we changed managers every four or six months.) III-Enter the same stock phrase for each topic, something like "I'm unaware of changes in my performance of this subject within the last 12 months." * Beat my brains out trying to come up with introspective new remarks. I don't have a problem with the part of the self-review that covers the previous year's assigned tasks and goals, but this warm fuzzy stuff runs me nuts every year. HR has been of minimal assistance, mostly of a cynical bent. I'm 100% confident I'll get an overall positive review; it's this apparently pointless exercise leading up to it that frustrates me almost beyond words. I'd love to get something beneficial out of the process, but I DON'T KNOW HOW. All I really get is another item checked off my 'To Do' list.

pghegseth
pghegseth

I've been targeted for layoff twice in the last three yers and both times the action was proceeded with a poor performance review. Prior I'd been receiving better than average to excellent reviews and wage increases / bonuses. Suddenly, out of the clear-blue-sky comes a poor review followed by a layoff. I believe HR required a poor review in order to justify letting me go. I still believe that the performance review has a purpose within an organization, until HR abuses it to justify a resource action.

BS Analyst
BS Analyst

I have to agree with blarman. This article wasn't helpful and the "free spreadsheet" isn't a spreadsheet!

blarman
blarman

If you want to know the basics of a performance review: its purposes, how-to's, etc., check out Harvard Business Review and pick up the Performance Appraisals handbook for about $10. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1422128830/ref=ox_ya_oh_product It walks through the how's and why's of a successful and beneficial performance evaluation in about 30 minutes. Overall, this author's "articles" need to be about 3x this long and actually provide content. She typically introduces the topic, then closes things off before really providing any substance. Very disappointing.

clare.smith
clare.smith

We do not have interactive performance reviews at the company I work for. Sometime between November 1 and December 31 we get called into the managers office, told our rating and our raise and bonus. We are not told how the rating is calculated. We do not set goals for the next year. I've been with the company 4 years and my rating has always been slightly above average. I'm told that's the best I can hope for because 'nobody's perfect'. While I'd like to have a more interactive/goal oriented approach, my raise was 5% last year with a $1,000 bonus so I'm not really complaining either.

wlportwashington
wlportwashington

Toni: I have to whole heartedly disagree with you. The annual review is just another chance for the employer to be-little you and to justify not giving you what you are worth. In my company, they used this to deny proper raises and give cost of living (3%) as an increase. In some cases the increase was only 0%. But managment pats themselve on the back and the money they saved only goes into their pockets. The review is also a method for them to use to belittle and be-rate you to your face and not acknowledge teh accomplishments that you have done. They totaly refuse to listen to your side of the story and just say do better next year. Maybe we as employees should review managmement and leave those reviews on their chairs anonymously. Maybe then we can be-little them as well. A little payback.

MumpsGuy
MumpsGuy

I keep a spread sheet and enourage junior staff members to do the same. But being a programmer the stuff we keep track of is the coding projects, bug fixes... These are then included when I do my self appraisal and certainly help me to get good ratings for the year. Of course with times being what they the raises aren't as high as any of us would like.

warren_fraser
warren_fraser

Your comments you spot on; however, your template fell below expectations.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's should I give you a pay rise. Only a total halfwit would wait a year to say something was wrong, so why wait a year to say if it was right? Given you are and should be reviewing performance on at least a quarterly basis. The one that happens near the pay round should simply be a formality. Waht we are talking here is they say you've done OK, here's two percent. You want a list to say no I've done brilliant, it should be four. How well that goes will be based on your percieved value now. Humilate your boss at golf, scupper a plan or help him do a rival up the back will all have an effect. The web site you designed last year, irrelevant.

james.atkin
james.atkin

great points, wish I'd read this yesterday before my review ;)

p.forrest
p.forrest

Your "Spreadsheet" (it's a Word file, but so what) sounded interesting, but Word crashes whenever I try to open it.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Its kinda like behavioural interviewing. You have to spoon feed the manager with something credible. Couple of suggestions. 1) Rate yourself well. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Most people underestimate themselves. 2) Note anything you did above and beyond this year, and try to fit it into one of those catagories. A good story is worth alot. 3) As for Project Management, while you may not manage projects, I bet you work on some. Demonstrate you understand the project process, and help contrinute to some successful projects, and you are all set. Committment - point out when you went beyond 9-5 to help a customer, or to help a project finish on time Integrity - no one answers this well. Its a stupid question, until you've been well and truly tested, you can't rate yourself. Accountability - this is the, "I don't blame others" stick - means you stand up and take responsibility - have you had a time when others said not my job,and you said, you'd do it? Synergy - have you improved a process? Worked with another group to smooth out a conflict? Customer Focus - have you examples of where you went out of your way to make the customer happy? Does that help? James

Beothuk
Beothuk

I have to agree with blarman. This article is very vague about how you should approach your annual reviews. It makes no mention of how to set yourself objectives for the year that your management (and you) can use to assess your performance. Where I work, we sit down with our managers (or the staff we manage) and discuss with them what we would like them to achieve and what they would like to achive. We are encouraged to set SMART objectives. SMART objectives are Sensible, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. For example, in my role a SMART objective might be to review the processes used by my team on the Service Desk. A sensible objective since you need to ensure that your processes are relavant. Setting a target of completing the review within say 3 months is realistic, achievable and timely. Setting a target of completing the review within say, 1 week, is unrealistic and very likely not achievable. Setting a target of completing the review within say 1 year is achievable and realistic but not very timely. All are measurable since you have set yourself a definite timeframe within which to complete the task - whether it is realistic or not. In our company, annualreviews were viewed very much like some other correspondents have indicated; a waste of time, nothing to do with salary; just something to make the HR look like they are doing something. Since we have adopted the SMART approach, the view has, in general, changed for the better. Salary increases generally do recognise the fact that you have met or exceeded your targets. They also recognise the fact that you might not have done. They are used to identify training needs and,where those needs are identified, training is provided. We do still get some people whining about the Performance Review being a waste of time etc but you have to accept that, no matter how good a system might be, you will always have someone who will complain about it.

JamesRL
JamesRL

At least if there was a consistent process, you can count on some consistency if you change departments, or if your supervisor changes. James

twalter
twalter

The guy that complained about the boss wasting so much of our (engineering) time was one of those that got canned when the company decided engineering wasn't putting in enough unpaid OT to get the job done on time. He was a top quality hard working guy. We were under-staffed to begin with. All were working on 2 or 3 projects. Four to eight hrs unpaid OT per week wasn't enough. This review, we all got bad reviews, no raise etc. because we still can't get things done even with the contractors that were hired to replace these high priced(?) engineers to get things done faster and cheaper(???). All the companies problems are the fault of engineering? When they figure out that you get what you pay for, it will be too late.

george_cabe
george_cabe

My first thought is that with an attitude like yours, its no wonder your performance reviews go so badly. My second thought is, if the employer is that bad, you should be looking for a new place to work. Good luck.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

With or without the 'u'? :-) I don't have any source material I can turn to. I don't know what I did 'above and beyond', if anything. Frankly, I don't consider much I do 'above and beyond', just my job. I keep a help desk log, but as source of problem solutions, not as a record of activity. If I work on projects, I don't recognize them as such. I think of a project as an one-time activity not expect to reoccur. Perhaps I don't know what is meant by the term in the annual review sense of the word. I think I'm resigned to glossing it over for this year, and focusing on what to do to make next year easier. This conversation has made it apparent record keeping is a part of the problem. I'd hate to take a 'keep everything' approach just to support this one exercise; I wouldn't know how to sort it all.

PhilYandel
PhilYandel

While a lot of comapnies have jumped on the SMART goal bandwagon and require all goals and expectations to follow the SMART guidelines, sometimes the managers are not given adequate time to develop these with the employees or theya re just cut and pasted from another document passed down from on high. A worker's SMART goals should be based on their manager's, that should be based on his manager's SMART goals, etc. But it just doesn't always work that way and this may become one of the lowest priority items that a manager has on their plate.

Peter9009
Peter9009

While I completely agree that reviews should include self-marketing and specific examples of your results that prove your value to the company, management of large companies often abuse the review process by not properly budgeting for salary increases. If the salary budget is only raised by cost of living or less and then managers have to give merit increases to employees that started at a low salary, then other more experienced employees end up getting raises of less than cost of living. Meanwhile, the company increased its cash assets from year to year. In my case, the company got bought out and those upper managers are thankfully gone now.

mjc5
mjc5

Performance reviews mean absolutely nothing. And it really isn't a digital "Go to a place with effective performance reviews, or get a different job". It is just that performance reviews in many places aren't really relevant to pay increases, promotions, or anything else but to satisfy someone in HR that a review has indeed taken place. Might be a fine place to work, just that once a year they make you waste 4 or 5 hours of time. That's all.

Snak
Snak

I know of at least one organisation that has recently adopted the PR tied to salary ideal. It's quite simple; get 1 diligence point and you go for training, get 2 and that is 'satisfactory' and you get a cost-of-living rise. Get 3 and you go up a notch on the pay scale. Get 4 and you either go up 2 notches, or 1 notch and a ?500 bonus (?350 when the tax man has had 'his' share). The system sounds good - we liked it, the union liked it .... until the rule from management came down to line managers: Only award 2's unless you really can't get away with it. For four years now I have presented the results of some quite outstanding work at a PR and in all cases (despite some of these things being in addition to my 'contract', and of a highter skill level than my contract insists) I got 'satisfactory' diligence points: 2 Is it any wonder my motivation is gone and this year, all they'll get is a list of my email 'thank you's'. It's a nice idea, but open to abuse by management. And when it is so abused, motivation/trust/loyalty all disappear.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Thanks to those who posted suggestions in response to both the original discussion and my recent revival. I went with the 'third-party' approach, reviewing myself as if I was doing a peer review on another employee. I then changed all the 'He' and 'him' to 'I' and 'myself', since I thought leaving it in third party was somewhere between precious and pretentious. I still question the value of the exercise as we perform it, but my manager and the local HR manager feel the same way.

mjc5
mjc5

Hey Palmetto, After reading some of your posts, how about this for a self review: I view each job as of equal importance,large or small, as s project that might not mean much to others is very important to the individual who comes to me for help with an issue. When small issues are taken care of well, it often mitigates lager issues. I believe in a professional approach without imposing my ego on the process, and prefer to temper this approach with good humor as the occasion mat present itself. Teh issue is what needs addressed, not the personalities of the players involved. That's just a quick adaptation of things that you have said in your other letters. It's perhaps a little bold, but not out of line. You can probably find more without too much trouble. I don't know about the frilly underwear part though.... 8^) Side note: I've taken to having a little fun with my self review. For the final comments, I've put in things like "In the final analysis, Mike should either be fired or promoted to his supervisors job, immediately", or "This employees exhibits severe mental issues, he should be promoted immediately." and "Wow, is this guy boring.Nice shoes though." The first time I did this, my supervisor was a little p***d, but now it's just a funny part of the review. And yes, we do strike that part before submitting it to HR.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

She doesn't think much of the form either, and doesn't really think much of the exercise between two employees who've know each other as long as we have. While I only recently began reporting to her again, I've done so briefly in the past and we've worked together over when I reported to others. She assisted two of her peers in my previous reviews. She's green lighted my choices of either copying the expectation descriptions already on the form or entering comments I've used in the past. However... I'm going to try something. I'm going to fill out the form in the third person as if it was a peer review. I usually take those more seriously than a self review; while I don't have advancement goals, I realize others do and deserve an objective assessment. I may leave it that way; I may edit it when I'm done and change the comments to first person; I may scrap the whole thing and go back to the copy-and-paste drill. Let's see how that works.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

were uncovered the first six or seven years I completed the form. It makes sense if they've never seen my scanties before, but by now it's the same old tattered pair.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Are designed to uncover your softer parts. Is that equivocation on my part? Yes. That is equivocation on my part.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Behaviour interviewing is where instead of aksing someone how they say, handle stress, you ask them to tell you a story about a time when you were under a lot of stress. In others words,use a real life example or two, instead of just BS. As for "above and beyond" is there anything you do that is not in your job description? Something you do to help other departments? All kinds of things are projects. Even a party is a project, in fact that was the example they used in PM class. Expected not to reoccur, thats true, but focus more on unique. The first time you install a new piece of software at a customer's site, thats a project. The second time you install the same software, its an ongoing activity. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, you can admit to them you are struggling, and ask them what they want to see. James

santeewelding
santeewelding

You will begin wearing frilly underwear. That should turn their heads.

blarman
blarman

This is a problem of priorities, is it not? It has to be a priority of upper management to adhere to the policy of SMART goals - which means that the identification and development of SMART goals is supported and encouraged (ie managers are encouraged to make time to support this). Anything else is hypocrisy which people will recognize and use as justification to ignore the policy.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Most large companies have salary bands, a range or payscale. What you get paid versus the median composes a number we call the compa-ratio (compensation ratio). If you get paid less than the median, there is more room for a generous raise, but as you get to the higher end of the scale, policies dictate you get a smaller increase. Of course if you are at the higher end, you may be qualified for a promotion. James

Beothuk
Beothuk

I can relate to the high performer being poorly rewarded. A few years ago, I turned in a very good PR. The pay increase offered was 2.5%. I sent the letter back to the pay office with a note saying that the company could keep it since they obviously needed it more than me. (They'd only turned a profit that year of about $6billion).

mjc5
mjc5

Glad you're working in a place like that. OTOH, here.... If you put in a lot of OT, if you perform to a high degree of competency, you'll reap some sort of reward. Which is to say an average performer might get a 2.5 percent increase, and a top performer might get a 2.51 percent.

spork66
spork66

It is a sad situation; and most of the writers I noted have said about the same thing; that PR really has nothing much to do with your actual increase in pay. Small companies can NOT afford to award pay increases annually like this and large companies won't - It makes the shareholders lose some profit in their pockets. Thankfully I have not been in anything worse then the "thanks and here's your cost-of-living increase" situation. A belittling case can especially blow the morale out of a workforce. Managers should take note of this and pass it onto their superiors.

JamesRL
JamesRL

But where I am, performance reviews do make a difference between getting an "average" and an "excellent" raise. That could be a couple of percent. Year after year that can make a big difference. James

jck
jck

I'll be ready. I got laid off in 2001, and I was one of the top revenue bringers for the H2 2000. But despite the fact that in 3 months I brought in almost 6 figures of revenue 12 less than 3 months, the company still cut me because management mishandled the contract and lost it (they stuck to the letter of the contract and expected the rate increase even in the Y2K downturn...dummies) and then didn't want to send me through any training for technology they did have work for. I'm also going to talk to 3 or 4 recruiters that I've dealt with in the past, and see what prospects they have.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If they decide that they want a brand new app for the same purpose, they may think they don't need you. When I was laid off, I had been Manager of IT Planning, a role that the CIO who promoted me to the position thought was critical. But that CIO was taken out of the IT organization, and the new one thought he could handle the planning role as part of his own job. Everyone thought I had done well, it had been reflected in my reviews and my pay increases, but suddenly when the are tasked to cut the headcount by 25% and my role is somewhat redundant, I could see the writing on the wall. Its always good to have some irons in the fire. Its not always a picnic for those left behind at a place thats undergone layoffs either. The people who remain are often under stress to try and continue to produce even without the staff they once had. James

jck
jck

I don't get whacked because of a lack of it. If it came down to unique experience, I am the only one who actively fixes and updates the app that does the HR, Finance and Asset management. I got handed that after my 1st week here. I'm the only real expert in it, and I only know about 80% of the application. 4 other programmers have had the responsibility for it, so it's a hodgepodge. Oh well, hopefully I'm enough of an asset that I'm not expendible. But nonetheless, I'm surveying all my options right now. If the right thing comes along, I'm going somewhere that I'm assured (in writing this time) of circumstances, pay, and what not.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I had to make a cut a while back and had to chose between juniors working on a strategic project and a senior who was a jack of all trades. The strategic project won. Sometimes it a "scarce skill" or knowledge about a certain product or other factor that you want to preserve. Seniority comes into play if you have a large number of people doing the same thing, but even then you factor in productivity. If I have two programmers with the same skills and I have to cut one, its not automatic I pick the one with seniority. The productivity, attitude, fit with the team would all be evaluated. Unless the two salaries are very different, I wouldn't look at that as a factor. James

jck
jck

Where I work, there is going to be another spurt of layoffs in about 5 months. I'm preparing for the worst. I figure the fat cutting happened in the first 2 rounds. I figure the next round is "layoff by seniority", and I'm the next to the newest person. C'est la vie, huh? ;)

JamesRL
JamesRL

My employer has a system that ensures some level playing field. Each department is given a "budget" for increases. The manager has to assess performance and award increases based on a complicated but fairly objective set of criteria. The manager is not given a raise out of that pool, but out of their supervisor's pool. I've never seen a manager fail to award 100 % of the budget they've been given. We obviously can't rate everyone at the high end or everyone at the low end. There are times when companies can't afford to provide big raises, or even any raises at all. My company was faced with greatly reduced revenue as a result of the recession, and we had both layoffs and a wage freeze. I was happy to get a freeze as opposed to being asked to reduce our staff again. James

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