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Review Time: How to Set Yourself Up for a Better 2019

People’s reactions to annual performance reviews run the gamut of emotions. Some dread and fear them, some are indifferent, and some find them exciting and rewarding. Regardless of individual feelings, most employees see annual performance reviews as the first time they’ll get real feedback all year, and many look to this moment to learn what their organization thinks of them. This means that even those who hate the process know it’s an important one.

Some progressive organizations have begun engaging formally multiple times throughout the year, but most still stick to some type of traditional year-end review. No matter what your company’s cadence may be, it’s likely that you are approaching some formal evaluation period; a key discussion that will encompass how you did this year and what you want to do differently next year. If you and your organization have been aligned in communication and goals throughout the year, nothing in your review should come as a surprise.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most employees.

What do you want from your annual review?

Part of this disconnect stems from unclear expectations around what will be discussed in a year-end review. In speaking with people around the country, I often hear two statements about the review process:

  1. I want my company to tell me exactly what I need to do to get to “the next level.”
  2. I am bought into the idea of my need to do the work, I just don’t know where to start.

Let’s take the first: I want my company to tell me exactly what I need to do to get to “the next level.” This statement implies an expectation of a career roadmap with a straight line drawn on it from point A to B. We’d all love to have such a resource for leveling up, but the reality is that advancing your career is a process that rarely follows a straight line. No matter how much you prepare, there will be twists and turns, and attempting to emulate someone else’s trajectory is not realistic. My generation, and those before mine, carved a path that was intentionally shaped to open opportunities for the generations that followed, and to ensure that they didn’t have to repeat the same challenges. Because of this, younger workers face challenges unfamiliar to older workers, which makes it hard for one person to tell another exactly how to do “it.” When an employee states that they want a formula or recipe or roadmap to follow, I know they will need help adjusting their annual review expectations.

On the other hand, when I hear I’m bought into the idea of my need to do the work, I just don’t know where to start, I get excited. This is a statement coming from someone who wants to have more control over their career destination! This employee recognizes that real change is driven by the individual. Having the conversations. Making a point to review collective goals. Driving career advancement. No matter what type of review system your company uses, YOU are the one who needs to advocate for change and advancement in your career, not your company.

So how do you shift yourself from mindset #1 to mindset #2 as annual review time approaches? You get serious about steering your career in the direction you want for 2019.

Ready to start? Let’s go.

Leverage curiosity in your annual review

If you’re entering your review knowing that you haven’t been given specific feedback or guidance leading up to this point, prepare yourself to get curious. Adopt an attitude that allows you to learn from what you’re hearing and use the information to your advantage for next year’s goals. The following statements may help you to open up the conversation to explore your review deeper:

  • It’s important to me to use our time together to learn your perspective so I can set myself up for success in 2019. Can you give me more specific examples around [this] particular piece of feedback on my review?
  • What suggestions do you have that would help me move [this area] of my review towards a higher score?
  • I was interested to hear your response to [this project/item] and understand your view, since it didn’t quite align with my own reaction to the results. As I set goals for the coming year, how can I be sure our expectations are better aligned?

Prepare by being proactive

Once you’ve looked back on 2018, it’s time to set goals for 2019. For many companies, these discussions happen simultaneously so planning is important. Use the following steps as guidelines to get yourself ready for this discussion.

  1. Reflect: Take time to reflect on where you want to grow your career next year. Is it a promotion? A lateral move to gain different experience? Enter into senior leadership?  Whatever it is, narrow it down so you have a specific target.
  2. Research: Before your meeting, do your homework. What do you believe this new-to-you role requires? Are you sure you understand the responsibilities? Ask around so that you have some initial knowledge, and can formulate informed questions.
  3. Review: Take time to lay out what you’ve researched alongside your goals. Highlight any skills you want to draw upon more actively in 2019.
  4. Refine: Now get some clarity by pulling together what you’ve done up to this point. Include anything you bring to bear against your 2019 goals that can’t be found on a job description. What is your “secret sauce”? What traits describe you? Where do you excel?
  5. Request: This isn’t just about stating your goals. It’s about requesting support, setting up regular touch-base meetings to measure progress, and inviting input in along the way. Ideally, your review should involve co-creating a plan that both you and your leader will be accountable for in 2019.

Above all, remember that you own the outcome of your career. It’s up to you to do the work and take control of your career advancement, and a great first step is ensuring your annual review is specific, honest, and goal-oriented.

Next month, we’ll give leaders some helpful tips on how to stay current and accountable to goals that are co-created with team members!

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