Many people think performance reviews are all about the year-end rush -- writing them, delivering them, and reviewing them. What is key about the year-end rush, though, is not the rush. It's the content that goes into the performance review during the rush. Great employees know that their self-review is an important tool to help solidify their performance review with their manager. But if your year-end communication about your job performance is all you do, including your self-review, you are missing two types of communication that will help that performance review rating.
Let's take a look at those two types of communication.
Impressions about your work performance dance in your manager's head at the end of the year. Did Mary do well? Did Joe do better than Mary? Did Mary do well enough to get that coveted "outstanding" rating?
Not that performance facts are not important -- they are. But many managers start off with general impressions of the work performance. I know I have. It's easy to take that general impression and then build the facts around that impression for the review. They are facts, after all -- but not the facts you want on your review.
How your manager gets a perception of your work is based on repetition. Or the absence of repetition. In the absence of repetition, any general perception will do. That's a big risk for you -- having a manager pick an impression of your work based on "anything will do."
Building a perception based on repetition is your best shot at influencing your perception the right way. Consistently demonstrating good performance -- and then reporting good performance -- is the key to getting a good impression of your work into your manager's head. And, managers -- your manager too.
There are a couple of ways to consistently report on your work performance. One is through your individual meetings with your manager about your work. The key in these meetings is not to just do the "logistics" or status of your work. You need to find some time during the meeting to move up a level and summarize your accomplishments since the last one-on-one meeting with your manager.
"I think the biggest accomplishments for the last week were closing the XYZ account, getting the extension signed by ABC company, and resolving the service problem with EFG." Accomplishment. Accomplishment. Accomplishment. Every meeting.
Another way to consistently show your accomplishments is through the lowly status report. Every week, you start the status report with the accomplishments from the previous status report. Every time there are accomplishments waiting for the manager.
What happens, then, is that your manager hears or reads your accomplishments in every single meeting and/or status report. You're getting stuff done. By the time the performance review rolls around, all your manager has heard is how you consistently get things done. That sets the right impression going into the performance review rush. Your coworkers won't do this -- but Cubicle Warriors will.
The other key communication is to ruthlessly focus on your goals and your goal attainment.
What happens here are the assumptions around which your goals were built change. Something gets delayed and you can't start work on your goal -- now you can't achieve the planned benefit from it. The management decides X is no longer important to work on, but X is still your goal. That department that was going to support you achieving your goal gets reorganized and will no longer support your goal.
Now, do most of your coworkers go and bang on your manager's door and help that manager modify their goals to reflect current business conditions? No. What happens at the end of the year when the performance review is written? The goals are still there, just like they were when they were set. What does the manager do with that goal that is no longer attainable, relevant, or timely? At worst, gives you a fail for not achieving it. At best, an "average" rating because, well, business conditions changed and you did some work on it, but clearly, it is not in the outstanding category.
And your entire performance rating goes down because the "average" in your goals.
You, on the other hand, work with your manager to consistently look at your goals and the assumptions behind them. You modify the goals based on the current business conditions -- including throwing some out and substituting better, current goals based on business conditions. Then, at the end of the year, your goals are current, crisply attained with no hanging chads out there waiting to drag your rating down.
Never leave your review to chance. You have to have the work performance, of course. But use that performance to ensure you get the performance rating you deserve.