Missing the point, so you don’t have to

2493822366_14867181e3Having had a career of [ahem] some length, I have learned a few hard lessons along the way.  Today’s topic is the performance review.

Now, I’ve mentioned before about the need to think about what a performance review means for you.  What I left off was a good story about what can happen when you get it wrong

There was a point in my life, when I worked in consulting.  As can happen in that profession, the person responsible for writing my performance review was not the person who observed my work.

Being young, idealistic and very new to the concept of formal performance reviews, I managed to make a series of rookie mistakes that taught me some life lessons about managing my career.  Thank goodness this firm had bi-annual reviews, so the results of my lameness, only set me back for six months.  For, while I was clueless, I am a fast learner and am inclined to put a lot of energy into fixing things that aren’t working.

To be fair, I did not receive a bad performance review, it would better be described as a lackluster.  The problem was that, being a typical over-achiever, I was not at all happy with getting mediocre recognition for hard work.

So what did I do wrong?

  1. I assumed doing a good job was sufficient.  I knew I needed to be billing at a certain rate, complete my projects on time and keep my customers happy.  I did that.  What I did not do, was get any proof points that showed I was doing that better than average.   I did not think it was my job to prove my worth, I thought that was SEP.
  2. I assumed the person writing my review would have an interest in adding information to my self-review, vs. just using the material I supplied.  This was particularly clueless on my part since I also didn’t ever attempt to provide my boss with status or progress.  He never asked and I never offered.  I decided that no news was good news and left it at that.
  3. I left off the other things I had been doing that were unwritten and critical, to my success with the firm.  This included networking events, community work, etc.  I decided that those other things were small and unimportant (of course my peers did not take this narrow view).
  4. I failed to calibrate with my boss, using his thoughts as input to my self-review to make sure I was exceeding expectations.

In summary, I thought it was all about doing the work, and not about the process.  And as a result I got what I deserved in my review.   I made no attempt to distinguish myself.

Since then, I have a whole different attitude about performance reviews.  I take them very seriously and I consider them my job.  I now see the performance process as an ongoing focus not a once-a-year drudgery.  

Things I do today as a direct result of this experience.

  1. I keep a performance journal.  I regularly jot down things I have done that might be worth noting when I write my self-review.  I don’t always use them, but I am never lacking in material as a result.  I do not consider any accomplishment too small to note in my journal, since often it’s the sum of several small accomplishments that become meaningful.
  2. I regularly ask for feedback of others, in writing.  I use this to support my case when appropriate.
  3. I set quarterly goals for myself, trying to make sure I have a variety of things I’m attempting to do, across different perspectives and sizes (short term, personal, professional,etc).

I firmly believe that the bonus I lost with my lackluster review, has been made up from over the years as I learned a much more valuable career lesson as a result.   What about you?  What hard lessons have you learned about the performance process (and yourself) that others could benefit from?

8 thoughts on “Missing the point, so you don’t have to

  1. Interesting… my experience of performance reviews throughout my career is that they are a complete waste of time. That doesn’t mean they are it is just my experience. From what I have read in this posting and your previous ones I know you take the contrary view. Your posts also tell me that you get out what you put in so maybe next time I need to be more positive about what can be achieved and so put more effort into the process.

    It was the grading on the curve that was the final straw for me. I worked even harder (and delivered more) one year after getting a top rating only to be told I was not getting top grades again (despite explaining and giving evidence to my manager). This was very demotivating at the time and, although I momentarily thought “screw them I’ll sit back and just take the cash next year”, I knew that was not me and tried my best again but decided to ignore whatever the performance review had to say. Since then I have only given it lip service and consider it a “tick in the box” task.

    Next time I’ll give it another go. I’m going to recollect your writings on this subject, be more proactive, and see what results from it.

  2. @Lisa @Malcolm I suspect this is really a common problem

    @Pete Thanks for commenting as I am certain there are a lot of people who feel exactly like you do.

    I must be honest, my first reaction is to want to forehead flick whoever was your manager at the time, for doing such a lousy job. That said, I do firmly believe that we cannot let anything hold us back from managing our own careers. I look forward to hearing an update from you on whether or not it works so please do resolve to give an honest effort to the process.

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