It’s a new year and that can mean only one thing. It’s annual review time at work; the one and only time that Corporate America gets introspective.
The familiar process involves employees completing self-evaluations and sending them to their managers who use those insights and other feedback to write up a formal review doc to justify promotions, compensation adjustments and bonuses. It is a long process and a lot of work to get to numbers that you could just as easily have started with (and honestly your boss likely did).
This intense period of activity crescendos in March, when employees excitedly file into their manager’s office with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. Here managers carpet bomb superlatives upon the employees who aren’t listening to a word of it, their singular focus on the compensation side of the equation. Eventually the food pellets are distributed and we all head back to our cages in time for a few more spins on our wheels.
What is sorely missing from the annual review process, is the very part that used to be the main focus– actual feedback and dare I say…. growth? (!<gasp>!) Somewhere along the line, we scrapped these components, preferring “attaboys” and “good-jobs” to meaningful feedback.
And why not? As an employee, it seems foolish to assess yourself honestly and share that with a manager, and as a manager you are equally incented to water-down or completely bury feedback. So on and on it goes. This happens because we live in the era of participation trophies, easily hurt feelings, and lawsuits. This trifecta of twaddle has led us to neutered performance reviews, and in turn transformed us into stagnant employees.
So where does that leave us? How can we improve if our managers only seek to reinforce the status quo and avoid confrontation?
It’s time we took control of our own development. To do this we must divorce it from the annual performance review process and make it a discipline. That requires a focus on three things.
Honest level setting. External feedback is rarely honest or without agenda. Self-analysis is often the harshest and most difficult, but also the most valuable. You need to define where you are today before you can map a course to get where you are headed. To do this, take a moment to imagine your dream job. Then think critically about the daily tasks that job entails. Finally, assess your aptitude for each.
Which of these could you do today? Which would be a struggle? What do you hate to do, but may be required? Confront each category head on. At work and in your free time, consciously put yourself in situations to do the very things that challenge you most. Get some reps and fail. Remember growth is often uncomfortable. You don’t need all of your weaknesses eliminated, but strive to make your F’s into a B-‘s by working them.
Making development an ongoing thing. Annual performance reviews are a joke not only because the exercise is empty, but also because they are so infrequent. Would you weigh yourself only once a year? Why should you treat your career goals any different? You need to define the key metrics that will help you fill your gaps and then build in regular checkpoints that are much more frequent. How often are you assessing yourself and marking growth? Set a process and manage it.
Finding Accountability. Last but not least is a familiar one. Share your assessment and plan with someone you trust. Be that a therapist, a bible study group, a personal trainer or mentor, you need an external party to help you monitor your progress. There is a reason people lose weight before vacation or buff up before a high school reunion. We see ourselves differently when forced to do it through another’s eyes. Accountability to a support group, or support person can make all the difference. Pick one who is honest and persistent and give him/her permission to be critical.
We all know people who ‘get by’ or coast at their jobs. In fact many of us have been those very people at one time or another. The sad reality is that every one of them gets a decent annual review at work, likely not that much different than yours. So what?
We need to ignore the performance review process and chart our own path. True leaders are always growing. That growth has to be fueled from within by level setting, developing over time and holding ourselves accountable. Complacency is the enemy. If you are standing still, you are falling behind.
Surely your dream is worth more than a few food pellets.