Getting value from the annual review

It’s time to write annual reviews.
It’s that time of year again when workers everywhere write reviews of their work performance during the previous year. Most people I know don’t like the process. The reasons vary, but include the following:

  • The results of the review process don’t yield anything tangible such as raises or promotions. Early in my career the annual review rating was used in a calculation for merit increases. With my previous two companies this was no longer true as wage increases were frozen.
  • The review scale is misunderstood. Workers tend to equate the rating scale with school grades. Employers use the middle rating as “meets expectations” and “fulfilling the requirements of the job”. Workers see the mid rating as a C grade. I’ve explained this to workers numerous times but there is a negative psychological effect for many people when they receive a 3 rating on a scale of 1-5.
  • The review rating is subjective in many ways. I remember one review where my manager told me that I was a “cowboy” because I liked to push the organization into places where it was not operating (negative rating). My next manager told me that this same characteristic was a good thing because the organization needed change and I was thinking outside the box.
  • The review process requires thinking and writing. That’s hard work! It requires taking time to think about what was accomplished the previous year. It also requires writing and some workers are not accustomed to sitting and writing.

Think about it differently.
What if we used the annual review as a time to document our accomplishments for both the review form and our resume? Many professionals today keep their resume online in places like LinkedIn. Over the last several years, I ‘ve used the data that I gathered for my self-review to also update my professional profile on LinkedIn. As I see it, if I am going to keep an online professional profile that is publicly visible then it needs to stay current. Otherwise, what message does that send about me?

So what does that process look like? As I write the self-review I make a bullet list of accomplishments and then work those into the summary of my current job area on LinkedIn. I like to prefix each entry with the calendar year of the accomplishment. This technique accomplishes three things:

  1. Shows recency for anyone reading my profile.
  2. Creates a timeline on the profile which shows the progression of work responsibility and job assignments in my career.
  3. Documents my most significant accomplishments when they are at top-of-mind. If I’m updating a resume ten years after a job assignment I’m likely to miss key accomplishments.

Making Lemonade.
lemonadeI’ll be honest, unlike many people, I like the annual review process. What I enjoy is that it helps to create a conversation between manager and employee. As a manager, I also hold weekly one-on-one meetings with each employee. So the content of the review should not be a surprise. But the weekly one-on-ones are often filled with discussions about progress on tactical tasks more than a review of performance.

I don’t enjoy the ratings system. I think the ratings scale is a distraction to the conversation and content of the review. To me, the review scale represents the lemons in equation. The conversation with the employee is the lemonade.

As I think about it, lemonade is a great idea. I think I’ll serve myself a glass as I sit down to write reviews.

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