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Does your annual review work for you?

February 22, 2024

Do you have an annual review to take stock of progress and look ahead to where work is likely to take you in the next 12 months? If so, how do you feel about it? Mine have generally been positive and productive, but I know for others the prospect can induce eye rolling and even dread, so I thought I’d take a look at how you can get maximum value out of the process. If you don’t have a formal annual review, because you’re self-employed say, check out my 5 questions to help you stop and recognise the fruits of your labours instead.

What turns us off to annual reviews?

I hear three main issues with reviews:

  1. When the process consists of an isolated, once-a-year conversation providing vague feedback on long-past situations, learning, and the opportunity for improvement, is limited.
  2. A ‘done-to’ approach, rather than a two-way dialogue, where the employee hears just their manager’s assessment of their performance may feel unfair and far from motivating.
  3. Disconnected goals when managers set objectives without explaining how they align with the organisation’s mission or understanding the employee’s career aspirations.

Thankfully, many organisations are adopting ongoing performance reviews to address these issues. Regular manager check-ins, encouraging wider peer feedback, and an emphasis on self-assessment and joint goal setting feature as best practice.

The opportunities open to us in annual reviews

Sitting within a continuous process, the annual performance review becomes a pause to identify patterns in your performance, for example, what types of projects give you greatest satisfaction, and to reflect more deeply as to why that is. This leads to greater understanding of yourself so you can work to your strengths.

It’s an opportunity to build the relationship with your manager by being open about the things you find more difficult. Showing vulnerability builds trust, trust builds connection, and the quality of your connections is one of the biggest determiners of health and happiness.

Thinking about your future, it’s a chance to record your achievements, so you have examples to hand when applying for jobs; to get views from colleagues who may see qualities in you, and opportunities for you, that you haven’t; and to assess whether you’re still finding your role satisfying or it’s time to change job.

A tip to work out what you want from your annual review, and prepare for it

Like most things, the more you put in, the more you get out of it, so preparation is key. Identify what you want out of this conversation and think of good questions to ask to open the discussion.

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model is a useful tool to adapt for this, as I’ve done in this diagram. It describes four stages you might be at within your role depending on your level of competence and commitment.

Where you are on that journey influences what you want from your review, for example:

As an enthusiastic beginner (D1) just learning the job, you may want reassurance you’re on the right track, and small, clear, achievable goals that help build competence and confidence quickly.

  • “What are some small wins I’ve achieved so far and how can I build on them?”
  • “How have other people got up to speed quickly in this role?”
  • “What short-term goals can we set to help me see the progress I’m making?”

For the disillusioned learner (D2), the honeymoon’s over and you might be feeling overwhelmed by how much there is still to learn or the impact of organisational shortcomings. Pinpoint these concerns, ask for the support you’d find most helpful, but remember to look for evidence of the skills you’ve already acquired.

  • “I’d like to get your thoughts on some challenges, and see how we can work together to help me overcome them?”
  • “What have you seen me doing recently that shows my increasing competence?”
  • “Can we look at ways to more closely align what I’m doing with my strengths?”

If you’re a capable but cautious performer (D3), you’re poised to contribute more, and seeking recognition to secure your motivation. Autonomy, involvement and stretch goals may appeal here.

  • “What strengths do you see that I might be underusing and how can I do more with them to benefit the business?”
  • “How can I see and learn more about our strategic decision-making?”
  • “What expertise do you see I might share with others to benefit the team?”

Having reached the pinnacle of self-reliant achiever (D4), you may be happy to remain there if you get recognition and reward for your expertise and high performance, or you may be seeking opportunities for greater responsibility or specialization.

  • “What projects are on the horizon that I could contribute to, and how can we align my goals with those opportunities?”
  • “Where would it be useful for me to take on more of a leadership role?”
  • “I’m thinking of a future move into X, what new responsibilities might I take on that would help the team and prepare me to make that jump?”

Can you see where you are on that development curve? What does that mean for the topics you’d like to discuss in your next review?

If you want a more objective listener than your manager to consider your career development, feel free to get in touch to discuss whether one or more coaching conversations might be beneficial. Find out how I’ve helped others with their career development.

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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