Heading into those year-end reviews…

Every year around this time, I read articles about how companies are moving away from annual performance reviews. Yet a lot of places still do them. You sit down with your manager (or if you’re in charge, you sit down with your direct reports) and talk about the year’s successes and “opportunities for growth.”

This exercise serves a purpose. It’s good to have a dedicated time for discussing career trajectories, and what’s working and what’s not. Everyone craves feedback.

The issue: people have short memories. An annual review in November or December will inevitably give more weight to a big win or a big screw-up in October than it will to a similar event in February.

If you know this, though, and your company does annual year-end reviews, then you can take advantage of this fact. October presents a major opportunity to set the narrative and set yourself up for success.

Over at the Before Breakfast podcast this week, I offer some suggestions on how to do that. Among them:

Remember that everyone likes numbers. Even when misused, numbers seem like objective evidence. So look back over the year, and see what numbers you can generate to show impact. These don’t have to be profound, and you don’t necessarily need P&L responsibility to find them. For instance, maybe you managed to get rid of a pointless recurring meeting in April. Five highly paid people’s salaries for an hour a week over 7 months adds up.

Collect testimonials and feedback. In theory, your manager is doing this too. But no one will do as thorough a job as you will, and most managers aren’t going to have these conversations too long before the deadline. This gives you an opportunity to speak with people first and more thoroughly. Why? Candid conversations are good in general, but the real upside is that if you’re talking with everyone before they officially provide 360 degree feedback, you can shape the narrative. Most of us are stuck in our own little worlds. People might have no idea what you’ve been doing. If you talk to them, you can remind people of what’s awesome about you, or at least what you’d like the powers that be to know.

Solve any glaring problems. Maybe your conversations with team members will surface issues that are hindering productivity. If you think about these issues now, you can address them in the window before your annual review. This is true for even tiny things for this reason: in generally positive performance reviews, people tend to seize on small problems to show they’re being thorough. Rather than be upset about this phenomenon, you can do something about any small complaints you learn about. If you can show progress, that’s a good story.

Figure out what you’d like to ask for. While managers are supposed to be thinking about your career progress and compensation, they can’t know exactly what you’d like if you don’t tell them. So if you’d like to be promoted in the next year, say so. If you’d like to get a larger raise, ask what you’d need to do for your manager to be comfortable with that. Propose some ideas. Everyone loves solutions — so think through options ahead of time, and you just might come out of the year-end review feeling very happy.

In other news: Before Breakfast, my every-weekday-morning productivity show, has been downloaded over 6 million times since its launch in March. If you haven’t checked it out, please give it a listen! And please consider subscribing on Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.



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