Do you dread the annual performance review from your boss?

Working with bosses of different types means that one can never be sure of what the end of the year performance review from your boss would be like – unless there is a structured approach right from the start. And having said that, research states that most people come of the review meeting feeling blindsided, because one goes in believing you have performed to your full potential, but the boss believes that you have met expectations and not been exceptional. So, where was this mis-communication happening?

For most of my colleagues, I saw the end of the year appraisal treated akin to the end-of-year report card we use to expect in school – a sheet detailing your A+’s and B-‘s. A good grade earns you rewards like a promotion or a bonus and an average grade makes you one among the faceless workforce.

If this happens to you and you cannot figure out the why of it, let me tell you the why of it? The boss has specific expectations of you, which may or may not have been communicated to you in specific words. He might just expect to you realize it from your infinite wisdom and function accordingly. But his expectations might be (read most of the times) different from your viewpoint.

For example as a team leader you are expected to keep the team motivated and performing well. For a manager, if there are no evident issues that come up, he might believe it you had done your job but not proved yourself to be an exceptional employee. According to your manager to be ranked exceptional, you should have executed a project different from your designated portfolio that brings credit to your manager and vertical.

During conversation with an exceptional star employee about performance reviews, I started to contemplate on how to change the power equation in appraisals when he said, “for him his performance review was the method of getting to where he wanted to go in the organization. He used it to set expectations for the future with his boss and extract promises that help him advance.”

So, instead of waiting a version of Hamlet’s dilemma of ‘will it be good review or not’, direct your appraisal and your boss with your agenda through the following ways.

Set Expectations

At your one-on-one meeting, ask your boss for what is his vision for the team in the coming year. Get your boss to define his expectations of you (at least 3 specific goals) and the measurement metrics for the same. Use that to design your trajectory for the coming year.

At the end of the conversation, send him an update e-mail with detailed notes on the specific goals listed, the measurement metrics and any promises made by him like a promise of promotion or bonuses. At the end of the year, this email will serve as the informal contract between the both of you on your performance.

Metrics vs. Achievements

Every quarter send updates documenting how you’ve been tracking on the set goals against its measurement metrics. These reinforce the message that you are functioning as per the manager’s long-term goals for the team. Make it clear you expect to be rewarded for your accomplishments.

If the manager changes the expectation or metrics, set up a meeting to discuss and agree upon the new metrics and record that in another email leaving no space for ambiguity at the end of the year.

Create impact

Remember that the exceptional performance is not doing that job that is detailed, but going beyond it. Whatever is the goal set, figure out how you can amplify your impact within it.

Distinguish yourself from your co-worker and team by detailing ways you have taken on additional responsibilities, or stepped up without being asked and completed a particularly challenging project that was beyond the scope of your job. Have a ‘stretch goal’ for the year accomplishing which will rank you above all in the calibration process.

Drive the Discussion

At the end of the year, pull together a comprehensive draft of all your accomplishments based on the email exchanges with the bosses expectation and metrics vs. your accomplishments. Maintain a file of commendations received or positive feedback and attach them to the document. Remember to associate how your actions lead to achievement of larger organizational goals.

During the review, maintain poise and direct the conversation on the goals met and promised rewards. Also have a partial agenda prepared for the next year’s goals. Start by enlisting your boss’s support in your career goals and enumerate how it ties in with the teams and his career development. Together, you can work on an action plan to help you achieve those goals, or set some new ones

Remember the 360-degree feedback is not just about measuring your individual performance, but how you positively impact the organization’s performance in comparison to others in your level. To be put on a leadership fast track, remember to always function with that in mind.

Let me know if you have any other innovative methods that have worked successfully, so I can add it to my shortlist.

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