Your Annual Performance Review – 4 Tips to Make It Great

Your Annual Performance Review – 4 Tips to Make It Great

It’s that time again. We’ve closed one year and we’re unwrapping a shiny new one. This is the month where we collectively reflect on the year that has just concluded, take stock of what we’ve achieved, and create goals for the future. And, if you work for a company as I do, it probably means you’re about to go through the annual performance review process. For many of us this can be one of the most stressful work moments of the year – promotions, bonuses, ratings, references – all these things seemingly hang in the balance. So it’s no surprise I get asked a lot of questions about how to prepare for performance reviews and how to maximize the chances of success.

This week I’m publishing a series of blogs to answer the three most common questions I get about annual performance reviews. I’ll share my best advice for how to handle this pressure packed event.

Here are the top 3 questions I get asked about performance reviews. Today we’ll deal with #1.

  1. How do I make sure my performance review goes well?
  2. How do I ask for a raise in my annual review?
  3. What should I do if I get a negative performance review?


Q: How do I make sure my performance review goes well?

A: Let’s get the bad news part of this blog over with first. If you’ve waited until the week before your review to make sure it goes well, you’ve already left too much to chance. If you’re honestly unsure whether it’s going to go well or poorly, I’m afraid you’ve already veered off course. You haven’t done the right things throughout the year to maximize your chances of a good review. The reality is your annual review reflects on an entire years’ worth of contribution so there’s very little you can do now to fundamentally change what has already taken place. For those of you in this boat check out my blog later this week – I’ll share some tips for how to manage a negative review in the unfortunate event you get one.

On the other hand, if you’ve adopted an active career management strategy (and you should), preparation for your annual review actually started a year ago.  The performance review, when managed optimally, is actually a yearlong journey you undergo in partnership with your boss, that culminates and kicks off again at the annual review meeting. The meeting itself should almost be a formality – an occasion to celebrate the wins you had during the year and align with your manager on the new and exciting things you’re going to tackle in the year to come that will lead to your advancement and fulfillment.

Whether you’ve done all the right things to prepare for your review or you’re feeling completely unprepared, here are a few tips to improve your chances of having a great review this year.

4 tips to maximize your chances at a great review:

Align on next year’s review criteria at this year’s performance review. This is a critical step if you’re going to have a good review next year. You need to get clarity on your performance evaluation criteria so you can allocate your time and effort on the right things. You need to ensure there is no room for discrepancy between what you think your priorities are and what your boss thinks.

If you have you eye on a promotion, the performance review meeting in January is a great time to work out with your boss what you need to achieve and where you need to develop in order to get to the next level. Having this conversation now is the best way to get your manager invested in your journey to a promotion. Do not wait until next year’s review meeting to surprise your boss by asking for a raise or promotion. Set the table now, and enlist your boss to help your achieve your goal.

Check out my blog on promotions for tips on how to engage your boss on a journey to advancement.

Proactively meet with your boss every month to calibrate your performance. Don’t go more than two months without talking to your boss about how you’re doing with respect to your performance objectives. In the ideal scenario you will build a relationship with your boss that is informal enough so this is a continuous dialogue and not something that is confined to formal review meetings. But no matter what your relationship with your boss looks like, it’s your responsibility (not your boss’s) to track and manage your progress to success. If your boss doesn’t book career or review meetings with you – you need to do it.

Make sure you do at least one thing each day that advances your performance goals.  One of the great ironies I observe in the workplace is how so many people worry about their performance evaluations in January, but then spend so little time during the year actually working on the things they’re being evaluated on. What I see instead, are gaggles of people scrambling to check off some boxes at the last minute as they try to position themselves for a good review. We too often get caught up in day to day work and forget our performance objectives until the end of the quarter or year. Don’t do this.

Here’s a tip I use to ensure I’m always working towards the objectives that will secure me a great review. Like many people, I start each day by making a list of things to do. But I don’t stop there. Once I’ve made a list of everything I think I need to do, I go over it again and put a mark beside the ones that are directly aligned to my performance objectives. I do these first. I do these when I’m fresh. If you find that your daily list doesn’t have a lot on it that directly aligns with your performance evaluation criteria, then you need to rethink your list entirely. Your energy on a day to day basis must be spent on the areas that will actually score you points on your review next year. Just about anything else is busy-work and can be deferred.

Here are a couple books that will help you align your daily routine to your performance objectives:

Prepare a highlight reel presentation to seal the deal. I’ve read quite a few blogs lately about how to “prove your value” and “defend your performance” in the annual review. I never want to be in a position where I need to do that. If you’re coming to your annual review armed with metrics and data because you think you need to convince your boss you’re valuable, you’ve already missed the mark. That said, I do think it is important to be continuously creating visibility and promoting your great performance so your boss and others keep you at top of mind when career advancement opportunities arise. I talk about this type of promotion extensively in my book. This is something you should be doing all throughout the year, but the annual review is a great occasion to put a highlight reel together to serve as icing on the cake. A way of aggregating and curating your successes from the previous year to set a tone for the year to come.

The performance review highlight reel should have four sections:

  • 2015 scorecard (short summary of how you did against your objectives)
  • 2015 wins (highlights from the year. Key metrics, deliverables, major projects)
  • 2015 development (key learnings that increased your expertise)
  • 2016 keys to success (suggestions for 2016 objectives to align on with your boss)

Check back later this week for my next blog on performance reviews as well as an example highlight reel template you can use to promote your successes at your annual review.

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