Monday, January 10, 2011

Putting the "perform" in performance reviews

I got a performance review at the end of 2010, which was nice since I hadn't had one since 2008. Overall, I like performance reviews, and when they're done right, they can be very useful (or even enjoyable). First of all, they serve as a great opportunity to have some uninterrupted time with you manager(s) to just talk about work: what's working, what's not, and what are some ways to improve. If you take a moment to prepare for your review, it can be a conversation that works in your favor.

Note that I said "conversation". It's true: a good performance review is a conversation, a back and forth between you and your manager(s) about your job, your career, the company, and even your manager's job and career. It's a chance to ask them for their perspective on the company and the economy as well as how they've handled the kinds of challenges that you're facing now. By making this a true conversation, you can learn things about your boss' point of view that might help you do your own job better: does she see work as something that permeates every aspect of her life? Does she buy into the "work hard, play hard", or is she interested in just putting in her time and going home?

Before you go into a performance review, have ready the answers to some basic questions:
  • What do you most like doing and why?
  • What were some tasks or experiences you really enjoyed or at least valued in the past year?
  • What would you like to learn more about in the coming year? What do you still need some experience in (CDs, code study, CA, etc.)?
  • What are some tasks you've struggled with in the past year?
  • What are some problems or gaps in responsibilities/tasks that you've noticed in the office? How would you fix them?
  • What were some achievements you had this year that you could point to as being positive?
As you're wrapping up, ask about doing this again in three to six months. Performance reviews are supposed to help an employee know what they're doing well and what they need to improve, and it can be hard to know how well you're doing on both of those fronts if you only get feedback once a year. Touching base more often--even if it's over lunch or a mid-morning coffee--can help you know if you're on the right track. Performance reviews are also supposed to protect companies, by the way: if you get fired for a performance problem that no one ever brought to your attention, you could sue your former employer for not giving you a chance to rectify the problem. that being said, if your manager gives you some ideas on ways to improve your performance, then you need to act on those suggestions or expect to have problems with the manager later. (If the suggestions are things you're not sure you can do for whatever reason, then now is the time to discuss them, up front with your boss, not later at the bar with your pals.)

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