How to Prepare for Your Annual Performance Review   


The end of the year means annual performance review time in many offices.  If your review is coming up, here are some ways to set yourself up for success. 


First, let’s just assume you haven’t been keeping your review from last year in the center of your attention.  If you have, great – this will be an easier process for you.  But let’s assume that the year got away from you, resolve to do things differently next year, and focus on where you are now. 


Start by reviewing last year’s review.  As you do, take notes on what items you improved on over last year, and what items you may need to spend more time addressing in advance of this year’s review. 


Specifically, were you given or did you set goals for 2017?  Were you given skills to develop or improve?  If so, did you?  If not, you likely have at least a month to do anything you haven’t been able to do yet this year.  Make a plan now for what items you can address, and schedule them into your calendar if they are tasks (“write article”) versus qualities (“be more confident in meetings”) or skills (“become a better public speaker”). 


For tasks that seem insurmountable at this point, think creatively.  If you are a lawyer and were told to get on a trial team this year but no cases in your firm went to trial, you can’t check the goal off, but you can take steps to show that you wanted to and are working to improve your skills anyway.  For example, you could attend a CLE on trial practice, take on a pro bono case that is likely to go to trial next year, write an article on an aspect of trial practice for a bar publication, speak on a panel, or guest lecture to a trial practice class.  (It’s easier than you think – just reach out to local law trial practice faculty and ask if there is a topic they’d like a guest speaker on.  You may need to do some research to get up to speed, but you can then use that research to write an article.  Before you know it, you’re an expert.  And don’t forget ethics classes – there are plenty of ethical issues related to litigation that you might be able to speak about.)


The same advice applies for other professions; if one of your goals was to cut costs in a particular division but a supply shortage prevented success, research additional suppliers and start building relationships with them now so you have other options next time. 


For items that are qualities or skills and that you may not have fully addressed or improved on yet, make a game plan.  Would getting additional training help?  Or is it a matter of being aware of an issue?  Resist the temptation to lament not addressing an issue in the last 10 months and remember that the recency effect means we often remember recent events more clearly than older events.  In other words, if you need to speak up and be more confident in the weekly department meeting, just focus on the next ones between now and your review – they’re the ones you can address at this point and the ones your supervisor is most likely to remember anyway. 


Once you’ve gone through last year’s review, noted what you’ve already addressed, and then made plans for the rest, make a list of your accomplishments over the last year – the big and the small.  We often focus on where we fell short, so making a list of your accomplishments will enable you to keep things in perspective (and will be helpful both for your review and to update your resume).  In order to come up with a list of accomplishments, it may be helpful to go back through your calendar to be reminded of the client presentation you handled, the last-minute project you pulled together, etc.  This will take some time, so set aside at least an hour to come up with your list, and then plan to add to it as you are reminded of additional achievements.  When this seems like a hassle, add a recurring calendar item now to repeat this process at the end of every month next year – you’ll save yourself time, and have a more complete list.  In that same monthly review session, plan to refresh yourself on your goals for the year, both the ones set in this year’s review and the ones you set for yourself.      


After you’ve made your accomplishment list, look at this year’s review form.  That might or might not be the same as last year’s; some employers use a different form based on seniority, and some offices change their form regularly.  Sit down with a blank version, and fill it in honestly based on this year.  Include goals for next year.  Walk away from it and then review it with fresh eyes tomorrow.  As you review it again, do you feel that your self-evaluation has been fair?  Were there things you overlooked?  And are there things that you wish you had addressed earlier?  This is the time to do it.   It’s better to be able to say in a review, “Yes, I recognize that’s an opportunity for improvement, so just within the last month I’ve ______.”  Far better to be able to show self-awareness and efforts to improve than to be stuck stammering.


All of these steps – reviewing last year’s review, taking action to address any lingering items, making an accomplishment list, reviewing this year’s form, thinking about goals for next year, and taking action to address potential new items – will put you on the right path to a successful review.  And with annual reviews having the potential to directly impact your income, your employment status, and your career prospects, investing your time now can pay off in your review. 


In the next two weeks we’ll address handling the review itself, what to do after your review (whether it is excellent or not), and how to handle reviews for people you manage.  In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments. 


Keep in mind that you don’t have to be alone in working on your career.  Coaching with Apochromatik can help with many of the issues you may be struggling with and want to address; we’ve worked with clients on developing confidence in meetings, improving client relationships, developing professional presence, and a host of other areas.  We also work with clients who don’t know if they want to stay in their careers or with their current employer, including coaching them through deciding on the path they want to pursue, on interview coaching, and even resume review. 


Our past clients attest that investing in your career by hiring an Apochromatik coach pays huge dividends.  In addition, many law firms and other employers will hire coaches to work with those who have shown a commitment to improvement and to their career.  Whether you hire us or your employer does, our goal is to help you eliminate distractions and distortions and build the career and life you want, rather than tolerate.