How to add goal attainment to your performance review — when you have no goals

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There is a paradox when it comes to writing your performance review. You are supposed to write about your goal attainment, but your manager never gave you goals in the first place. Before you discount the paradox, consider that not having goals happens frequently, either through urgency or poor management practice.

Consider, for example, a time when I was pulled from my regular position to work (for a year) on a critical project replacing the entire software suite of products that ran operations in our division of the company. When I subsequently asked what my goals were — because goals are a part of the performance review — my manager was emphatic: “Don’t worry about the goals. Just get the damn thing in.” He said something different than “damn,” but you get what I mean.

Then it came time for the performance review and staring me in the face was my goal attainment. What to do? There are a couple of strategies you can use to get goals in the performance review when you don’t have goals.

Use the job description to create goals

Presumably, your job description will match what you are doing on the job. That’s a big assumption, but you can often use the job description as a reference point to construct goals. Since you should be doing most of your work based on the job description, you can use your accomplishments to put into a performance review.

Say you are a project manager and your job description says that you should be able to “manage project completion in a timely manner.” That’s not a goal, but a description of what you do. So you take that description, apply a little SMART Goal shine to the description, and come up with a workable goal that fits plausibly into the performance review:

“Complete five projects on time, on budget with a 4.0 or greater customer satisfaction score.”

You didn’t get that specific goal from your manager, but that’s what you did on the job. So that’s what you write.

Write your goals based on your accomplishments

If your job description doesn’t match what you do on the job, you are left with looking at what you accomplished while on the job. You do this by reviewing your status reports or your work journal.

The key to this type of goal is that what you did had a starting point and an ending point that you can show an accomplishment.

Say you worked on a special project. You define the project completion as a goal and then show that you accomplished it.

Or, if you handle repetitive work (like handle escalated tickets to solve hardware problems…), you can state the number of tickets you handled, resolved and the time frame for resolution. A body of work, if you will, rather than a specific project or event.

Show your work in the best light

If your manager didn’t give you goals to accomplish, the manager isn’t driving the performance review. If you have to “make up” goals to put into your performance review, there is nothing wrong with you showing your work in the best light, cherry picking your work for the best stuff.

You just need real accomplishments backed up by real numbers, just like in any other performance review.

Now, I’m a goals guy. I like goals in performance reviews that are well constructed and drive actions to accomplishments. But there are times when you don’t get goals.

There are others who love not getting goals to work with and then writing their performance reviews. Why? When management abdicates goal setting, they get to choose their best work to go into the performance review — and end up with higher ratings because of it.

Have you ever had to write your own goals for your performance review? How did you go about doing it?

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