Most companies these days use a performance management process that is based on objectives. As I’ve complained before, I’m not a big fan of this approach. It’s very difficult to make it work, and seems too heavyweight for me. There’s got to be an easier way.
That said, let’s face facts. If you work in a company that has more than 200 employees and you’re not in charge, you’re not going to change the appraisal process. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to play well within the performance appraisal system or be passed over. That’s just one of the sad facts of life in corporate IT. Sorry.
Most performance management processes include a self-appraisal. This is your estimation of your performance and helps guide your boss’s thinking as she does her part of the review. Most people treat the self-appraisal as kind of a diary of the work they did through the year. This approach is a mistake because it doesn’t help you create an influential brand for yourself that will stick in the mind of your boss. You need to use the appraisal process to influence your boss to think about you in terms of the key capabilities/attributes you have that make you special and effective.
What does that mean though? Does it mean you write a book at the end of the year, detailing every good thing you did throughout 2006? What about every mistake you made? Do you treat the performance review process like a court case, where you’re trying to “prove” you belong in the top 10%?
My experience is that this almost always backfires. There are two aspects to the performance review process, and most people neglect one of them. First, there is the written appraisal. It’s the least important aspect, but if neglected can really screw you up. Second, is the perception of your actual performance. How do people think you performed, regardless of what your self-appraisal says? If the two don’t jive, it won’t matter what you write. A self-appraisal must reinforce the beliefs others already have about you or it will be discounted. If you write about what a great communicator you are, but people see you as a person who rambles on pointlessly or is irrationally negative, then forget about getting credit for communicating well. You won’t, because you don’t.
The first step in WRITING a self-appraisal is PERFORMING a self-appraisal. What are you good at? What situations are you best suited for? What stresses you out the most? When are you most afraid you will fail? When do you feel most confident? What do people compliment you for? What sort of situations do your co-workers seem least interested in working with you?
Ask these questions of yourself and others. Don’t be a defensive jerk about it. Just gather the data and think about it. Then make a list, focusing on two things: strengths and weaknesses. This list is the beginning of your self-appraisal.
Check your list of strengths and weakness against the facts. Did they come into play in the work you did? How? Write this down in your self-appraisal. If you think you have strengths that never got an opportunity to be put in the game, note them. You’ll use them in the last section: desired opportunities.
Don’t go overboard with examples to support your strengths/weaknesses claims. Pick the most glaring successes and failures and describe them in terms of how your attributes made them turn out the way they did.
By this point you’ve probably asked yourself whether it’s really a good idea to discuss your weakness and how they contributed to failures openly. Won’t this lower your rating/ranking/whatever? Perhaps. I suggest you make up your mind now that you won’t give a crap about it. Incomes go up every year, for the most part. Some go up slowly, some go up quickly. Hiding your weaknesses might help you with short-term gains, but in the long term failing to own up to them and overcome them will hurt your income potential far more than disguising them. Besides, I’ve found it is ALWAYS better to discuss your failures on your own terms than on someone else’s. Address them pre-emptively. You can influence your boss’s perception of your failures more than you might think.
Okay, so now you have two sections of the self-appraisal: strengths, with examples. Weaknesses, with examples. Now you’re ready for the next section: desired opportunities. What situations will give you a chance to demonstrate heretofore unused strengths and abilities? What steps can you take to learn about and improve weaknesses? Once you’ve improved them, what opportunities do you need to demonstrate that you’re better?
Write it down. Then hand it to your spouse or someone else who loves you but isn’t afraid to laugh at you. Listen to what they have to say, then change it up. Then, turn it in. Don’t obsess about it anymore. You’re done.
I get a lot of comments asking me to write or help write appraisals. Sorry, but it’s not what I do, so save your keystrokes.