Annual Reviews, Part 1 | Evaluate Last Year's Performance

woman typing annual review for workIt’s that time of year again! When – amidst all of the other end of year deadlines and holiday party madness, your HR Department steps in and asks that you also partake in your own review to help them out a bit. The timing couldn’t be worse. But the mission couldn’t be more important.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, annual reviews are an integral part of your career progression and development. Most companies have some sort of formal review process. Some are great. Many are not. Most are shirked in some way by managers, employees or both. Even if you hate how your organization does them, taking your review seriously is worth your time and effort – even if no one else does.

A good performance review should evaluate your past work efforts against tangible results and focus your upcoming goals in a way that supports your organization’s upcoming goals. In short, it’s a sort of alignment check for you and your company – are you still doing what they need from you? Do you still want to?

Whether you have a formal process at work or not, below are tips to make the most of the retrospective portion of your end of year performance review. Check back next week for tips on the forward looking portion.

Dedicate time

Dedicate time to your review. When I worked in a corporate environment, I used to block an entire day in my calendar to work on my annual review. That might just be an indication that I’m in the right profession now, but whether you’re interested generally in professional development or not, hopefully you’re at least interested in your own professional development.

If you’re in a busy organization, blocking a whole day might sound impossible, but find a way to do it. Committing to a large, uninterrupted chunk of time to work on your review will keep you focused and ultimately be more efficient than breaking it up into smaller chunks.

Find a day that’s typically not very busy with interruptions for you already. For me, that was always a Friday, as Fridays in December were particularly slow. If you’re in an office where in person interruptions are common – either because you don’t have an office or because people know where your office is and like to just show up – try to leave your office. If it’s not acceptable in your company to leave the premises completely, find a quiet, uninterrupted meeting room or secret space to go. Plan to check your emails a couple times that day – but only within dedicated chunks – so you can focus on your review when you’re not managing emails.

Research and Reflect

Take some time to think about your year. A year can feel like forever, so it might help to look at old emails or files to remind yourself of what you worked on at the beginning of the year. It’s rare (but advised!) that people actually take time to reflect after a project is done on what went well and what didn’t, so do that now.

This is the time to remind yourself of the great work you did, challenges you had to overcome (and might still need work on) and everything you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy about your work. Pick 3-5 top accomplishments you had and focus on them in your review.

Regardless of what’s required of you in your review process, you should make a bullet point list for each major accomplishment. Your bullets should demonstrate what about you helped the project succeed (or if it didn’t, fail less hard), how your work on the project helped further your team’s (and your organization’s) goals for the year, what you could have done better and what you learned. If you’re having a hard time with the first point, consider why you were necessary to get the work done. This needs to be more specific than because you’re a hard worker. Think of what value you added to the project that no one else on the team was contributing. That’s how you set yourself apart.

Align with Company Goals

Once you’ve researched and reflected on your own performance, it’s time to align your results with your company’s goals over Woman completing annual review at workthe past year. Most large companies have strategic goals they announce each year. If yours doesn’t, try to understand what the company was working on based on how you and others spent your time. Ask colleagues what they think the company’s goals were over the past year and consider what you would have set for your organization knowing what you know about it.

Once you’ve identified broader company goals, align your results from your research and reflection with those broader goals. How did what you did last year further the company’s overall goals or growth? Consider what would or would not have happened had your top accomplishments not been achieved. How would your organization’s goals have been stalled?

And…General Tips

Writing about your own performance can be a difficult process for some people. If it helps, consider yourself a journalist looking into your life. What would you write about your professional life over the past year? How did it contribute? Consider this your annual professional biography.

Finally, treat this process as a negotiation. If your organization has a formal process, know that not everyone can be rated as “outstanding” for their performance last year. That’s why it’s important for you to come in high. Don’t be unreasonable – if you know it was a bad year for you, be honest about that and show your manager how you will use it as a learning opportunity going forward. But if you look back at your year and think you did a pretty great job, don’t be afraid to say that. It’s possible your manager will come in lower, but that’s why it’s important to start reasonably high. Try to look at your work over the past year in the best possible light and go from there.

Got additional tips for reviewing your past year’s performance? Speak up in the comments below! And check back next week for tips on how to set next year’s professional goals to round out your annual review.


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