The RIDGE Method of Performance Review

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For many of us in the professional world, the beginning of the year is performance review time. Personally, I finalized my self assessment yesterday! It doesn’t have to be a stressful time. I’ve found reviews are a time for honest discussion about progress and potential. My best bosses have always looked at both sides of the coin and assess everything for its opportunity. Your boss should be looking out for you, especially since your performance reflects not just on you, but them also as a leader, mentor, and trainer.

One key to remember is not to expect perfection. None of us flawlessly executed this year. My husband likes to (lovingly!) make fun of me for the time I had a good review with a raise yet still cried when I came home because it wasn’t 100% positive. We’re always improving and getting better with each days’ efforts. The good and the bad each come at their time, and sometimes we ride long waves of one or the other. The point is to always be driving for improvement. Be open about performance and desires with yourself and your manager, and you’ll see results both short and long term!

I have a five part approach to thinking about performance evaluations, referred to as RIDGE:

  • Review and reflect
  • Identify lessons learned
  • Dream about where you want to go
  • Goal creation
  • Exchange expectations and perceptions

 

Let’s take a deeper look into each one of these!

 

Review and reflect.

As you begin your self assessment, don’t jump right in. Make sure you understand where the goal line is that you are being measured against. Some good benchmarks to look at include your job description and your last review, or two reviews if you do biannual reviews. The purpose of this is so that you can look at what they key performance metrics are, and build your case around those. Another tool to review is looking at the job description for the position one level ahead of you. Are you performing at the next level? That will help guide some later steps.

Reflecting should include collecting moments of positivity. If you don’t do this already, take note of what people say to you with the date and some context if they are complimentary of your work. Bonus points if you can keep it all in one easy to reference place! Everytime someone says something complimentary of me, I always write it down in my notebook and highlight it so I can find it later. I save emails in a folder, also. This is great because on the tough days I can look back at the reminders that I am talented and successful, even if that day is difficult.

For maximum output and performance, keep reviewing and reflecting throughout the year. Whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly, you can’t expect to exceed expectations if you aren’t conscious of what they are. Lack of reminders make us often forget, so keep those benchmarks fresh in your memory!

 

Identify lessons learned

In your reflection stage, you looked for positive moments. The lessons learned are all about opportunity. It isn’t about what negative moments you had, but how you overcame the obstacles and made something work despite challenges. In failure, there is always opportunity. While lessons learned tend to stem from negative moments, errors, or omissions, take the opportunity to identify where you or your team did something different that had positive results. That improvement may be even more important to share.

Lessons learned should be tracked and communicated throughout the year. I track lessons learned on meeting minutes and we have both formal and informal processes at work to help share what we’ve learned amongst our team. I’m thankful to rely on my director and my and her counterparts on the east coast when questions come up. When I make a phone call to NYC or DC, it can allay some fears and even bring in some unexpected viewpoints that become valuable in defining approach. Whatever you do personally and what your employer requires, be consistent  in tracking and communicating lessons learned. Others may run into the same problems, and if you’ve already found a way to quickly solve, you not only create a resource for someone else but extend your sphere of influence to other teams. Keep track of these ideas and successes, both personally and in team or more open settings,  for later steps in RIDGE.

 

Dream about where you want to go

Maybe you are specifically asked about your 5 or 10 year plan, or where you see yourself going into the company. Last year I admitted that I would like to reach senior leadership levels in our company someday, and even reach the c-suite. This bold admission helped my director to guide me through what next steps I could take in the short term to set myself up for long term success.

Getting to the C-Suite doesn’t have to be your dream. Maybe you want to be an entrepreneur or move to a different division. The “Dream” portion of RIDGE is about digging deep into what matters most to you. Think not just about positions, but skills and knowledge you would like to have. Are you a leader of people or a technical expert, or some combination of both? The possibilities are endless, and there is no right or wrong answer.

 

Goal creation

I’m sick of hearing about SMART goals, even though for many they work. But I find that sometimes, they aren’t enough to challenge me to step up my game. What is most effective for me is to set reach goals that are achievable with dedication and resources. Goals shouldn’t be easy to reach. They shouldn’t be comfortable if we truly want to change and improve ourselves and our work. Goals need to speak to our innermost drive as much as they need to speak to business fundamentals, as it relates to performance reviews. My goals tend to be two tiered: the first layer is what the outcome needs to be, and the second tier is what it actually means to me and how I benefit. So, getting a proposal approved by Q3 is a first tier, and the opportunity to get to execution and transform lives in a positive way is the second tier. Even if you don’t capture the emotion in the second tier when you get to discussing and writing things down, keep it in a separate place and remind yourself of this. This second tier is the purpose and reason that motivates you. Dig deep, follow your dreams from the previous step, and understand not just what must be completed, but why it is important to you.

Goals can also be personal, even if for a professional review. Think back to the “Dream” step and what you want to do and be. During the first few years of my career, I wasn’t at a point to work on leadership development in my role, as I was more of a contributor per direction of my project managers. I had to look elsewhere to volunteer positions to meet my goals. Ultimately, by pursuing these personal goals, I was able to make strides in my professional career. Doors opened for me, and I realized that my life was in my hands. I changed my mindset that career is not limited to the “9-5”, but that fluidity of skills between personal and professional is a real opportunity to improve and progress.

 

Exchange expectations and perceptions

This part is all about the written portion of your review and the conversation with your manager. You need to fully and clearly communicate all of the thoughts from the first four steps. If you are a manager, this part applies even more so to you because what comes out of your mouth is essentially gospel to your employee. Be sure that the written and spoken word is truly your intent, and is representative of your dreams and goals. Be bold, brave, and courageous. These can be difficult of awkward conversations in the best of times, and questions with “how” and “why” can result in the most helpful suggestions.

A few keys here are to remember openness and honesty are best practices, from both the employee and manager. We don’t get better if we pretend all is a rose, but suggestions for improvement need to be carefully crafted. If you are the recipient of criticism, ask questions about the why and developing steps to improve and get to a better place as a contributor and leader. If your review is glowingly positive, ask for next steps and new challenges. Ask for areas of improvement, or what you need to get to the next level.

Continue these types of conversations throughout the year. It doesn’t have to be on a weekly basis, but certainly check in and communicate after key events, like a presentation or submission, or milestones. If you’re not continuously reflecting and reviewing and identifying your lessons learned as you go, the dreams and goals become more difficult to reach. By exchanging expectations and perceptions throughout the year instead of annually, you’ll always be in a position to make bigger and better contributions.

 

Good luck in your review! May you accomplish much in this year and beyond, and feel the rewards of your efforts!

What do you think of the RIDGE approach? Does this change the way you go about your performance evaluations, or similar to what you do already? How are you feeling about your performance review?

The Top Reads of 2017 in the Second Half

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Earlier this year I set myself a goal of reading 35 books. Given that I read only 11 in 2016, it seemed like an audacious goal, but attainable and worth striving for. Reading for me encompasses many needs and desires. In almost every situation, reading opens my mind in new ways, to new possibilities, no matter if fiction or nonfiction. I feel more creative, or develop skills, or end up laughing. All things I desire in life!

I not only met my goal of reading 35 books, I smashed it! The total as of today is 41, an increase of 17% over the goal! The goal was certainly helped by some books that were not only shorter than most, but also more of a booklet than you would consider a typical book.

Everything I read was on an e-reader (I use the Kindle, but ‘m sure you can find one you like!) and for me it made everything a million times easier because I knew it fit in every bag I use on a day to day basis. That made it easy to carry, and the sales on ebooks tend to result in a lower price, so it is more affordable and easier to buy more over the course of a year. Even if the average price was $5 for an ebook (and this feels high to me for what I actually spent), it compares to a typical $15 I might spend to purchase (non fiction) paperbacks and $25 that I might spend on hardcovers, which is rare. Over the total of all books, I spent $205 and saved $410 versus all paperback and $820 versus completely hardcover. Those savings are not small numbers! Of course, the library is cheaper than spending any money at all.

Since I shared my favorite books in the first half of the year, I thought I would share my best reads over the last six months. The books I read and found worth sharing are below, in no particular order.

Beyond the Label, by Maureen Chiquet: The former CEO of Chanel shared her career path and lessons learned in both the office and at home. She is a compelling storyteller and shares some good advice applicable to anyone. I’m not a lover of fashion and still found this book quite relevant. You feel like you are in the room during certain stories, because the people and situations are so well described. There were a few moments where I found myself wondering how she balanced everything going on, and Ms. Chiquet described several times when she was working through the imbalance of being not just an executive, but a person.

A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: This was part of the Alpha Gamma Delta book club and was perhaps the most insightful, eye-opening read in the past six months. The authors take a detailed look at what makes service, volunteerism, and most especially charitable giving work best. They encourage research and more attention to decision making, and highlight a number of causes that either haven’t worked well or have worked tremendously. While the authors stop short of promoting which specific charities you should support (they do highlight some high-performers), they note some objectives we should think through and work with what is most important to the individual donor. The important thing is to do what you are able to do to help! Anything is better than sitting back.

The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking: Knowing quite little about the Danish culture, this book was not only a great primer but a window into the lifestyle of what makes the Danes tick. I was enamored of the concept of Hygge (“hig-eh”) and would love to create a version of it in my own life – surround myself with good people, good lighting, good design, comfy clothes, and enjoy the outdoors when possible! This is a simplistic summary, as there are recipes and stories and details that make the “Danish secrets to happy living” meaningful to those of us outside Denmark.

How to be an Imperfectionist, by Stephen Guise: As a recovering perfectionist, this book was a great read because it captures everything I am missing about previous and current efforts, actively trying to not be perfect. The author stresses the importance of imperfection to anything, along the lines that any action yields us results that lead to success in some variation. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by perfection – life is better when imperfect!

Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman: This book is notable because it forced me to confront the fact that I still have to learn about and improve upon my leadership style. Everyone who reads it wants to identify as a Multiplier, but there are aspects of the Diminisher and Accidental Diminisher that seem to haunt all of us in one way or another until we take action to correct over the long term. Being that uncomfortable from self reflection and taking the hit to the confidence is not something I necessarily aspire to, but I do aspire to be an impactful leader. This book encourages honest reflection and provides the insight needed to make the improvements.

The Crossroads of Should and Must, by Elle Luna: This was the shortest book I read all year, and did so in an entire sitting of waiting for a doctor’s appointment that was running behind. The illustrations were what really made the discussion of considering a “should” versus a “must” and which makes the most sense for your life and what you want for your personal outcome.

In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honoré: This book impacted me so much I wrote a blog post earlier this year on it – check it out to see what it exposed me to and what my reactions and life benefits were!

The two books I was reading at the time of the posting of my mid year were put on hold so I could truly focus on them for a couple hours at a time. The Joanna Barsh book on Centered Leadership needs attention because of what look to be impactful introspective activities. That may be a good, low-key weekend activity and read.

I’ve already downloaded a half dozen books for next reading, and the genres are all over the map. Winter is a great time to cozy up with a tea or hot chocolate, maybe a soft blanket or a cuddly puppy, and a book or device that emulates a book, and escape reality. Maybe we learn ways to improve and gain inspiration for setting new goals, and perhaps we just gain a few minutes of peace. Whatever joy reading brings you, may you feel much of that joy this season in all areas of your life!

Why Fitness & Career are the Perfect Combination

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There are more factors that are within our own control affecting our careers than we realize. The more we can self-govern our actions and words, the better we can manage the perception of our ability to perform and the actual performance itself. Not everything can be controlled, but putting a best foot forward can contribute to increasing the odds of success in your favor. When you have the opportunity to influence your own situation, it is one that should be grabbed with immediate and meaningful action to follow.

One career-focused influence opportunity I’ve noticed is incorporating fitness and emphasizing health-based activities into life and the inadvertent impact that it has on how things go in the office. When I exercise, practice meal prep, sleep, and stay hydrated, I realize that I have more confidence, focus better, communicate better, and am in more control of my stress.  

In recent years, I let the worst of work get the best of my good habits. Instead of sticking to my routine of running or walking or the gym, I succumbed to the pressures of deadlines and the falsity that working longer means better results. I was (and am) smarter than that. With poor time management around work activities In combination with injuries, I went from running a half marathon to having to work my way back up to two slow miles. But I don’t have to stay stuck in that spot  – and neither do you, if you’re in the same trap.

It is disappointing to admit the reality of falling out of shape over the past six years. But along the way, I’ve become a mentally stronger person and have learned some tools and reincorporated practices that make fitness part of my routine and part of my career.  

Research shows that fit employees are paid more than their peers. It isn’t because of their athletic prowess is applicable to the workplace. Think instead about all of the personal improvement that comes from being dedicated to not just fitness, but any mission: commitment to a goal, dedication in the face of “adversity”, ability to push through when things get tough, and ability to prioritize what is most important. This is certainly an abridged list, and a list of admirable traits that directly translate over to the professional side of the table.

When I workout consistently, I find the following to be true:

  1. I focus better, and am able to be more productive
  2. I feel more confident in myself personally, inwardly and how I perceive my abilities
  3. I feel more confident in what I am able to accomplish, externally with others
  4. Sleep comes more easily, I am rested and ready to go
  5. I’m more energized consistently throughout the day – negating the need for the 2pm crash and coffee
  6. When I work out in the morning, I start the day with an accomplishment, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
  7. I’m happier, and that makes me a better wife, friend, daughter, colleague, and leader.

Knowing what the benefits of certain practices are always drive my willingness to adopt them. With full recognition of the advantages for my well being and potential impact on my career, what are the next steps for me?

  1. Build routine. This includes planning my days and weeks more intentionally.
  2. Find ways to up my game. In addition to a simple gym membership, I also have a rowing machine at home. This piece gives me the opportunity to change pace and work different muscles.
  3. Measure and track progress. I believe that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done, so I need to create and stick to methods of tracking what I’m doing and how I’m getting better – in one place.
  4. Find goals. Doing this will make it easier for me to get motivated and get going each day. Whether it is losing weight or new distances or a milestone number of workouts, having goals drives my progress and success.
  5. Make it social. What activities can I join with other friends doing? This spring, a group of my college friends and I are going to another city for a race together. It becomes a girls’ weekend on top of a fitness event, so benefits abound!

These next steps are largely what it takes at work to succeed as well – again, the crossover effect of fitness and work is clear! You can still be successful without fitness, but why wouldn’t you want to benefit your mind and body and create an advantage for yourself? Many of my colleagues are former college athletes at both club and varsity levels. Not only do most still work out, but you can see the competitive drive still alive, striving for excellence. Those attitudes flow in both directions in all of us, to and from work and fitness. Fitness is a way to get relief from the stressors of work, to build relaxation, to focus, and to reset the mind to be ready for what is next.

Have you seen your fitness impacting your career? How does the cross section of the two worlds work for you? Look forward to hearing your comments below!

 

Why Now is the Time to Reflect: 3 Questions To Improve Your Mindset

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Thanksgiving is a good time to get our emotional mindset in check to finish out the year strong. “The Holidays” are a challenging time because of formal and informal commitments, the amount of money typically spent or not had in hand, stressful interactions with family, and seasonal affective disorder due to less sun and the bitter cold in many parts of the country.

With craziness swirling all around us, now becomes a great time to take a moment and reflect about where we are and how we feel. With five more weeks in the year, for many of us in the working world, it gives an opportunity to finish strong and leave a good impression as annual performance reviews approach. As a former athlete, the importance of finishing strong and competing until the whistle blew or buzzer sounded was a big theme to remain competitive and avoid let downs. It’s where the best separate themselves, or a lack of effort becomes apparent.

If you need a little inspiration for your reflections, try the three self reflections below. Whether you are in the positive or negative on these, your reaction to the question will tell you a lot about how you feel. You’ll feel a change within you immediately – and recognize if you need to make a change. Be truly honest with yourself – no one is judging you, and if you commit to bettering yourself and follow through on the execution of where you want to be, that is what matters more than the past.

Have you been giving your best effort? If you have been slacking, it is easy to get off track. Maybe it is due to burnout and overwhelm, or maybe you aren’t doing what you love. Think about how much energy you’ve been applying, and if it is the right kind of energy. Energy management will be important to effort. What is the best time for you to work? Maybe you can make a schedule adjustment to help with focus and productivity, to work smarter instead of longer. If things haven’t been going well, maybe think about why you haven’t been giving the best effort. What is your motivation, or lack of it? Find ways that you can incentivize yourself for little successes. Sometimes, giving your best effort doesn’t even get you to full success or happiness.  Even despite the best efforts, you may be in a bad situation or poor fit . My husband is a dedicated researcher working to cure cancer, and a recent job wasn’t the right fit. Even though the best effort went into everyday, the desired results weren’t being achieved, and it created stress instead of happiness. Finding a new role that better capitalized on his talents and knowledge has led to dissipation of stress and more eagerness to go into work everyday!

Are you doing the right things for the right reasons? Taking action is paramount. How you take the action is equally important. Reflect with this question about whether you are being true to you and your inspirations. This question backs up the question above about giving best efforts. If your focus is inspired, it is easier to give your all to whatever purpose you choose. This question explores the essence of what is most important to you. You’re unlikely to be motivated to give it your all to something in conflict with your values or doesn’t bring you joy. Are there causes close to your heart? A type of work that utilizes your skills and talents to the full extent? Thinking about this, maybe by exploring your Myers Briggs type or other personality test results, can help you be happier and work in a more satisfying way. I used the Myers Briggs (MBTI) to help focus my skills and interests into a new career in real estate – I knew what I loved, but needed something to pull it all together cohesively to help make a career transition. Work is now rewarding and I feel more successful and that further success is achievable and worthwhile.

Are you waiting for life to happen to you? If you sit back and accept, rather than adventure out to seek and give, you won’t get what you want. Sure, life is no guarantee, but you’re stuck with whatever is on the menu instead of making your own way. Making your own path can be a key to happiness. When you take control of what is possible to control, whether at work or home or personal relationships, happiness increases. The important key to remember is to separate what you can and can’t control – think about the Serenity Prayer if you need extra motivation in separation! It is useful not just for sacred purposes but also secular. Whenever I think about it, I feel calm come back into my life because of its reminder to let go what I can’t control. When I was growing up and even through college, I sat back and waited for people to call me with plans for time with friends. I often felt lonely and left out, but I discovered it was my own fault when I started taking more initiative to call and text and create plans and make invitations.  The happiness in and around me grew, and I always had something and was with someone fun to pass the time. Take the first step always, even if it becomes an imperfect balance. Not only are you increasing your own happiness, but you are positively affecting others also. Following on to the story about my husband above, achieving happiness at work was dependent on him taking initiative to, first, try to problem solve and, second, find a new job. A job was not going to fall into his lap – it was a result of thoughtful action and continued follow up.

You don’t have to be thankful for everything, but do take the time to appreciate your efforts in all areas of your life. Think about the good around you, whether it is people, a job, a home, or anything big or small! Life is in your hands, and the more you take control of what you can control (and let be what you can’t control), the more you have to be grateful and thankful for. If you find yourself struggling to be thankful, the above questions can help you identify how you can help yourself to reset the mindset to finish the year strong.

What was your reaction to the three questions above? Were you answers what you thought the might be?

Happy Thanksgiving! Thankful for you reading, and hope you will comment and share!

 

Making In Game Adjustments and Why This is Important in Life and Career

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As a former three sport high school and varsity (DIII) collegiate athlete, I learned many lessons that transcended the field or court or track. The importance of dedication to your craft, that practice can make near perfect, victory favors the prepared, sleep and proper eating fuel performance, and that sometimes you need to make adjustments in game to stay on track to achieve the desired results (a win!).

Recently at work I hit a point of information overload – there was too much coming in and not enough time in the moment to react. There were a million thoughts rushing through my head – tasks I owed to some person at some point at some degree of importance. It was more than my to do list could handle, so I pulled my best Tom Brady and called an audible on one of my favorite and most helpful practices:

I abandoned my trusty to do list for a few days.

What!? Trust me, it was the right choice. And within 48 hours I was back to a routine with my to do list system that works for me. In the interim, I needed to get everything out of my head and onto paper so that I could focus on getting the tasks done. One of the 3M Post-It claims to fame is that, according to 3M, writing down your goals makes ou 42% more likely to achieve them. And yes, I did use some variations of post it note colors to make a rainbow of organization on my desk. I had three different colors of sticky pads, each correlated to a different project. For my blue project, I broke out into about eight different categories so I could see more easily where I could bulk items together. Had I put everything down on one sticky, or several without the organization, I would have been confused and lost about where I needed to start, just with a list with a million items instead of a million thoughts racing through my mind.

I used to be a rigid person, and it pained me, my relationships, my effectiveness, and my performance. Learning to be more flexible and make adjustments as I go has been a huge boon to not only professional aspects of my life, but my happiness in all areas.

The important thing to remember when making adjustments as you go is to look at changing methodology, not the goal. The goal should change only if it is no longer important or exciting or impactful to your life. As an example, when I was an engineer I had a goal of gaining the experience to apply and sit for the Professional Engineer (P.E.) exam so I could earn my license in Civil Engineering.  As my career goals changed away from designing towards being on the “owner’s side of the table”, I realized that a license wasn’t necessary to achieve my goals. If I wanted to work in the public realm, a P.E. license was going to be important, but not to the same degree in the private sector and not designing, where I wanted to be. In this instance, changing the goal made sense. Achieving the P.E. would still be an incredible career accomplishment, but it wasn’t a requirement to get to the places I wanted to go. My previous example in this post about going away temporarily from my to do list is a case where changing methodology is okay – but it doesn’t change my goals to redevelop multi-family apartment communities.

When I was learning about lean construction a few years back, one of the concepts that stuck with me was the importance of asking “why”, not just once, but at a minimum of five times. Asking “why?” is incredibly powerful and has the ability to help you focus on the true meaning of your motivations and actions. Simon Sinek wrote an enlightening book, Start with Why, that focuses on the importance of that one word question and explains all of the impacts that answering that question can have on personal goals and even corporate success, and everything in between. I’d recommend this book (not sponsored) if you are curious about changing your world and the world around you. This concept of “why” helps define when you are thinking about changing a goal or changing your methodology to reach that goal. If you can dig down into why you have your goal, is it still in alignment with what your overall plans and hopes and dreams are? Or is it getting hard to get there?

If your goal is truly something you want, make your “in-game” adjustments. If you determine that your life’s direction doesn’t jive with the goals you had set weeks, months, or years ago, set new goals with new ways to get there. A few weeks ago I finished reading Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter, Faster, Better (not sponsored) and there is a section on goal setting that I found fascinating. It explores how years ago at GE, the practice of setting goals was holding the company back, even though they were the best in the world at setting and meeting goals. With some help, they developed a hybrid approach of combining the easy and the impossible and it revolutionized the business to achieve even greater success. The key was to blend SMART goals with reach goals, and not pursue one or the other alone.

There are certain goals I know I have and have to constantly re-commit and adjust my approach – having a healthy lifestyle and losing weight, for example. This takes habit development, of which I am always re-setting and working on, commitment, and dedication. I can’t be perfect everyday, but the ability to have the freedom to do any physical activity I choose is a goal is something that keeps me going. Maybe calorie counting works some days, maybe intuitive eating is better on days I’ve got plenty of vegetables and fruits in front of me. Other goals, like the one I used to have about being a PE, are no longer relevant and getting rid of them created opportunity to pursue new goals, like more writing or making efforts to have a greater understanding of the financial fundamentals that drive the decisions made every day at work.

Knowing when to make the adjustment is a major skill, and unfortunately it takes both time and failure to hone it. Some failures may be minor, and even fewer will be catastrophic (depending what you are doing), but failure always provides an opportunity to learn. If something is truly important to you, you know that you can find a way to make it happen. Try adjusting your approach instead of giving up to see what happens. It may take a few different iterations, but keep exploring your whys and making the tweaks big and small to make it happen.

What goals do you keep and adjust your approach? How do you evaluate your why in deciding what it is you will pursue? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!