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.
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?