Unlimited Perspective | How to prepare for your annual performance review
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How to prepare for your annual performance review

Close up of man writing in a notebook

01 Nov How to prepare for your annual performance review

When we apply for a new job, we always make sure we’re fully prepared and ready to tell our ‘story’ at interview. We go to great lengths to match our skills and experience onto the requirements in the job spec – giving solid examples of achievement in previous roles that demonstrate our suitability for the job.

But how often do we update that ‘story’ once we’re in the job? Taking the time to sit back, reflect on our performance over the past 6 or 12 months and properly plan for our annual performance review is something that often takes a back seat to the day-to-day demands of life as a marketer.

Now, there are some excellent line managers out there who take the annual review process extremely seriously, really taking time to consider your contribution to the team and wider business objectives throughout the year. But they’re only human. They’re likely to have a number of annual reviews to do, so you need to make it as easy as possible for them to see and understand the impact you’ve had on the business over the past 12 months. It’s your career, after all.

I’ve illustrated my top 3 tips using a legal metaphor, not to suggest that your career is ‘on trial’ during the annual review meeting, but it’s certainly a ‘hearing’, and needs approaching with preparation, structure and care. This post is intended to help you get your annual performance message heard.

Close up of man writing in a notebook

Gather your evidence

Ideally, and most likely according to your company’s HR policy, you’ll be regularly reviewing your objectives and progress towards them with your manager throughout the year. In the real world, however, this can sometimes get lost amongst the day to day pressures of working life.

It’s vital, though, to keep a note of your achievements in whatever way works best for you. One of my former team members had a ‘brag file’ where they’d accumulated positive feedback from project stakeholders as the year had progressed, along with detailed metrics and results from the projects they had worked on.

Don’t just focus on the ‘whats’, though. Are there any behavioural or attitudinal ‘hows’ that you’ve consciously worked on in the past year? What did you commit to in your personal development plan, and what successes or challenges have you had? How have you adapted these development goals as the year has progressed?

Ask the 5-10 stakeholders that have the biggest impact on your ability to succeed in your job (peers, team members and senior management) for their open and honest feedback about your performance over the past year. You can use simple frameworks like Stop/Start/Continue or even ask for some candid feedback over an informal coffee.

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Present your case

Even if you do have a significant ‘brag file’, don’t be lazy and include it all. If your firm has a template, use it. Be guided but not constrained by its structure, ensuring you address the key elements of the process. Be prepared to add selective supplementary documentation only where it helps illustrate your achievements.

Tackle your shortcomings head-on. If any parts of your year haven’t gone so well, or you’ve missed one or more of your key objectives, it’s best to acknowledge these and demonstrate that you understand why they happened, what you’ve learned from the process and what you’d do differently next time. If it’s highlighted a particular skill that you need to brush up on, now’s a great time to enlist your manager’s support in developing it.

Most importantly, consider the needs of your manager at this time of year. Sending a 14-page document is more likely to enrage than enthuse. And as for timing, I’d suggest you send the paperwork and accompanying evidence to them at least 1 week in advance of the review meeting- that is, assuming you want them to actually read and reflect on it ahead of your review.

Two men in suits having a conversation

Be prepared for cross-examination

This doesn’t mean that your review meeting should be in any way confrontational!

I’m simply suggesting that reading around your specialist subject (you and your performance) means you will be able to talk confidently and with structure around how you feel the past 12 months have gone. Be honest with yourself about the highs and lows- your stakeholder feedback will help inform this if you’ve asked a truly representative sample of those you work with.

Really take the time away from your desk to prepare for your review meeting. Step back from the process and the paperwork to reflect on the previous year and what you’ve contributed to the business (and to your CV). What are your goals and ambitions for the coming year? Share them with your manager- contrary to popular belief, they are not a mind reader!

Well managed performance review meetings are a two way process, so make sure you take this opportunity to ask your manager for their thoughts on your performance and to get any further support you need in setting and achieving your personal and organisational objectives for the coming year.

How do you communicate your achievements to your boss? Do you have a ‘brag file’, and what sort of things do you keep in it? What other ways have you seen to proactively manage the annual performance review? I’d love to hear your comments.

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