Most of us shudder when it’s time for our annual performance review. Not only is it time-consuming but it can also be stressful, since you don’t know whether you and your manager will see eye-to-eye on your performance.

You actually have more control over your performance (and your manager’s perception of that performance) than you think. Of course once you realize that, you will have to stop feeling helpless and make some changes. But never fear; we’ve identified 5 ways you can take an active role that will give you a better sense of control over your career.

The primary goal is to enlist your manager in your quest for success. Whether you are new to the organization or a veteran, your performance evaluation will be more satisfying to both you and your manager.

1. Set the stage for success.

Your manager wants you to be successful, but you have to tell them what you need:

  • Have an open discussion about management styles. Ask your manager about their working style, then explain your working style. Come to an agreement about how you’ll work together.
  • Share your definition of success in the job and ask if this is what is valued. If not, ask clarifying questions that allow you to adjust your definition.
  • Explain that because your goal is “no surprises” in the annual review, you want to schedule a quarterly review to gauge your progress. Your manager will be happy because they don’t want surprises either.
  • Write up your notes and share them with your manager to ensure you have agreement.
2. Deconstruct your job description.

Your job description is a somewhat unreliable road map. It’s written to be generic, it’s probably out of date, and it doesn’t describe the hidden expectations of your teammates and your manager. Your task is to get specific — to excavate the hidden expectations and fill out the job picture. The goal isn’t to rewrite the job description but rather to create a better guide to planning your performance.

Lena and I realized as soon as we started our jobs that the term “project manager” was defined differently by everyone at our workplace. Here’s what we did to get clarity:

  • Break down each job responsibility and determine what it means in practical, every day terms.
  • Ask colleagues what their expectation is for each of these responsibilities — and keep asking till you uncover their hidden expectations.
  • Document your understanding and share it with your manager and colleagues.
  • Negotiate unrealistic expectations and moderate them as necessary.

Here’s a true-life example from our job description. You can see we were able to uncover expectations that were not written anywhere but nonetheless expected.

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES (FROM THE JOB DESCRIPTION) WHAT DOES THAT MEAN IN PRACTICAL TERMS? EXPECTATIONS FROM OUR COLLEAGUES AND MANAGER
Develop and clarify project goals, objectives, and deliverables with stakeholders and team members.Ensure the establishment of sound measurements for each project to determine and demonstrate performance, success and completion.

Ensure compliance with applicable policies and procedures, sound financial management and business practices and achievement of performance objectives.

We make sure everyone has a shared understanding of:

  • Their role
  • What we’re delivering
  • Why we’re doing it
  • Business practices, policies and procedures
  • How we’ll measure success when we’re done
  • What defines “completion”
Flag issues of compliance with legal contracts and Service Level Agreements.Serve as a single point of contact to provide clarity and consistency.

Analyze the costs and benefits of decisions that are made.

Ensure the preparation and maintenance of appropriate documentation for assigned projects. We prepare, gather and manage project documents. Ensure there is evidence of how and why decisions are made.
3. Write regular status reports and review them with your manager.

We each write a brief status report every two weeks and meet with our manager to review it. This takes about half an hour to write and the same amount of time to meet. It encourages you to be specific about the value of your work and to keep your goals on track. Providing regular reports makes it easy to do a fast check-in or even skip a meeting; our manager is confident she knows what we are doing. Most importantly, you’ll avoid falling into the trap of believing you are working hard because you do lots of “stuff,” when in reality it may not be what your manager views as important.

Keep it high-level and focus on tasks that move you towards a larger goal rather than reporting on every meeting you attended. A secondary (but critical) goal of status reports is to keep your manager informed of critical developments so they aren’t blind-sided when asked for information by their own manager. Using simple bulleted lists, we report:

  • What I’ve done the past two weeks (and its impact).
  • What I plan to accomplish in the next two weeks (and why it’s important).
  • Where I’m falling behind and need help.
  • Risks and opportunities I want to highlight or discuss.
4. Schedule a quarterly review.

Meet with your manager quarterly to review your progress against your annual objectives. It’s sort of a low-stress mini-review. Are you on track? Where are your falling short? What do you need to change?  Where can your manager help you?  Perhaps you need them to negotiate with another manager, get you software tools, or assign additional resources. While no one wants to hear a litany of excuses, they do want to hear about those concrete actions they can take to help you.

5.  Create an annual summary of your performance and your goals for next year.

Pull out your regular status reports and select the most important accomplishments. You might think, “My manager should know what I’ve done; I shouldn’t have to remind them of my contributions.” But in fact, it’s to your benefit to control what’s recorded about your performance. An over-worked manager will be grateful for your initiative when you tell them: “I know how busy you are, so I’ve written a draft review that explains my performance during the year and my goals for next year. I’m eager to discuss this with you when you’re ready.”

Always remember, you own your career and everything that happens to it. Yes, the performance review cycle presents some special challenges and no, you can’t gain total control; you can’t mandate everything in your review. The important part is that when you enlist the support of your manager, you create an ally who will help you reach the goals you set and make your performance review more meaningful.

“Control your own destiny or someone else will.”  — Jack Welch

Now It’s Your Turn

  1. Next Friday, block out half an hour to write a brief status report of your accomplishments for the past 2 weeks and what you expect to accomplish in the next 2 weeks. Send it to your manager. Keep a copy for your performance evaluation file.
  2. Take a look at these resources:

What’s Your Experience?

Do you have tips for making your performance review a career-building opportunity? As a manager, have you found ways to make the experience valuable? Comment below or e-mail us at yourlifeatwork@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Read more posts from Your Life@Work.