Fast Company

Careers: Pain-free Performance Reviews

Thanks to those of you who shared your thoughts on some of the drawbacks of creative resumes and cover letters. Many of you commented that, because of the sheer volume of applications and the fact that readers prefer that they fit into a neat little box, instead of getting noticed by a line manager or someone who would appreciate your creativity, there’s a pretty good chance creative applications will get bounced by HR. Good observations.

But let’s move on. Performance reviews sometimes sneak up on us without much advanced warning, showing up as an unexpected Outlook meeting request in our inbox. If you’re anything like me, then you probably start to rack your brain to think about the things you’ve done over the last quarter or half of the year (depending on the boss), so you can make sure you have your ducks in a row before that big meeting.

Something a public relations professor once told me has proved incredibly valuable and is something I use to this day to take the pain out of performance reviews. His sage advice? Keep track of what you accomplish on the job as it happens. Back then, before he had one of those “new fangled computers,” he kept a tablet in his right top desk drawer for the sole purpose of keeping track of projects, accomplishments, and anything else he might have to refer to later. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather do that than to try to pull everything together on short notice.

I created a simple Word document that I maintain throughout the year. It contains my performance objectives outlined during my previous review, my accomplishments, my personal development goals and strength and development areas, and a snapshot of what’s working and what’s not.

I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great bosses and they have done a great job of capturing my accomplishments, but there’s always a chance something could get missed. And that something could have an impact on my review. To keep that from happening, I usually make note of anything that I think could add value and then go back and delete anything I feel isn’t relevant. As you keep track of accomplishments, note what you did, what that involved, and what the outcome was—the more specific the better.

If you’re lucky, your boss will work with you around your personal development goals and strength and development areas. Put some thought into opportunities to expand your existing skill set and how that might benefit not only you, but your team and your department. Think about your strengths. Are there things you’d like to get involved in that would play to those strengths? Just remember to keep your “wish list” manageable and realistic: this isn’t the time to add 42 new projects to your plate just to impress the boss.

Finally, come ready to talk about what’s working and what isn’t. I say this with one huge caveat—only discuss what isn’t working if you trust your boss is open to that feedback. “What’s working” is the easy part. Your answer will likely be a combination of what’s working for you, the team, and what your boss is doing that he or she should continue to do. The “what’s not” is often the one that will make you a little nervous. Don’t be afraid to give some constructive feedback but, when you do, try to focus on things that don’t involve individual team members. For example, if you’ve noticed a little friction between staff, it might make sense to mention it without going into specific details—more of a general observation. And, if you’re offering your boss supervisory advice, refer to specific actions, not personality traits. Also, leading with a compliment never hurts: “I really appreciate the way you open our staff meetings with updates from last week; but, it might help if the updates tied a little more directly into what you’d like us to do in the future.”

Whether you use a legal pad, Word doc, or a cocktail napkin, keeping track of your accomplishments, development areas, and what’s working and what isn’t can make prepping for your next review a lot easier. And it can likewise make your life easier as a manager if you use a similar approach with the accomplishments of your staff.

What are some things you’ve done to take the pain out of your performance review?

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

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4 Comments

  • Rosie

    I'd be interested to hear views on how people achieve and track goals. If notes are being tracked in a Word document throughout the year, then how will you or your manager know if you've achieved your goals before the year is up?

    If it is only discussed at the end of the year then that could mean that up to 1 year of important data for your business is not used.

  • Rosie

    There's one thing taking notes as you go along, however these notes (unless used properly and quickly) are of no use to anyone, but yourself. Surely it would benefit you and the business if they had greater knowledge of what staff were doing on a daily/weekly basis. This way they would be able to make informed decisions, right?

    There has also been no mention of personal work goals. Until the actual performance review how do most of you know how you are standing up to your 'goals'? How many of you have quick access (ie. click of a few buttons) to previous performance reviews?

    I'd be interested to hear any experiences people may have had (good and bad!).

  • John Bourke

    As an Organizational Development consultant I have an additional perspective that relates to the author's statement: "Finally, come ready to talk about what’s working and what isn’t. I say this with one huge caveat—only discuss what isn’t working if you trust your boss is open to that feedback." I would recommend that any situation that impacts results or relationships be addressed promptly with candor and respect and with "new skill" that distinguishes you from those whom have not been able to confront issues with safety. Two related resources that provide such skills for high stakes situations where opinions vary and emotions run deep are the pair of NY Times Best Sellers - Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations by authors Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan et.al.).

  • Business Writing

    As a business writing consultant, I have seen too many poorly written performance reviews. Most often, they lack specificity, concrete recommendations, and clarity...of course, HR is left to interpret and manage the misunderstandings that inevitably result.