Having been a manager and responsible for review models and merging my employee's review scores with other managers I know some of the challenges encountered. In these meetings I knew I would need to defend reward decisions I had made. Some would be easy, some moderate, and some hard. As a manager of managers I didn’t always have direct knowledge of the work every employee did so I would try to make sure I was briefed on accomplishments, especially on areas we thought might be controversial or I had less familiarity with. The meetings would be long, tension would be high by the end, disagreements would come up, and I’d have to negotiate for my team's rewards. Over the years I managed some individuals that were exceptionally good at making my life easy – these were individuals that kept me informed of their accomplishments in a simple succinct way which meant I always knew what I was going to say about them (because they had told me what to say). In this post I’m going to offer you some suggestions that will help you make your boss’s life easy and consequently your life better.
Generally employees are asked to create a set of goals at the beginning of the review period, and to make them measurable and trackable. Human resources usually provide a bunch of tools to do this and a schedule for when to have check-ins and an outline for the conversation. I’m over simplifying by saying there are two types of goals – explicit hard target focused goals (like revenues, customers acquired, business generated) and these are often reviewed against the calendar, and very likely your boss is responsible for the roll-up of the numbers. Then there are goals that are squishier in nature even though you’re told to apply the SMART framework to them (SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely). These are often not explicitly driven by the calendar or a hard number but are more-free flowing and can be debated as to whether they've been truly achieved.
Frequently employees and their bosses are too busy to follow the formal steps and often it’s a frustrating mad dash towards the end of the review year to find out how people have performed against their goals.
The more you can do to make it easy for your boss to remember what you’ve done and how well you’ve done it the better. Your boss has to represent several people in review meetings so make sure she remembers what you’ve accomplished.
1. Feed your boss sound bites throughout the year
Your boss is a busy person and is constantly juggling work items and people. Your job is to make sure that if someone stopped her and asked about what you did or how you were doing that she is prepared to answer the question. Trust me, she will always say something in response to the question but whether it’s in alignment with what you think is not guaranteed. You are responsible for crafting the elevator pitch that your boss can deliver about what you’re doing and how it’s going. Think of it like a mini-ad campaign– have a few expressions related to your work that you use whenever talking about your work to set context and 2-3 bullets on where you’re at, and expected results. Use the same expressions and format when sending status updates.
2. Make sure a few peers of your managers know what you do (throughout the year)
When management review meetings happen, you can make your boss’s life easier by making sure some of her peers know who you are and what you’ve accomplished. This is critical if you work on something a little obscure or not visible to the bigger team. It doesn’t have to be all her peers but those that you feel comfortable in updating or those that might be interested in what you’re working on or have input for you. When your boss is defending your accomplishments it helps no end to have another one or two people in the room who understand what you’ve been up to.
3. Pre-drafting of accomplishments (6-7 months before your review)
It is really never too early to complete this task as its strategic planning for your benefit. Take a look at the goals you created at the beginning of the period and think about what is reasonable to accomplish and when. When goals are written at the beginning of a review period we often have lofty visions of what we’d like to do and then as the year heads off we get busy with the real stuff. About 6-7 months before the formal review discussions happen it’s good to take a look at your goals and start to draft some bullet points that you’re planning to say about each goal at the end of the review period – anticipate your accomplishments and see what you think of them. It’s a good reality check and it will help you with crafting your sound bites for your boss – you’re working on creating a consistent positive message about what you’re doing.
4. Revising your schedule on when to deliver on your goals (6-7 months before your review)
Exactly when are you going to deliver on your goals? It’s easy to think of the review period as a 12 month cycle but it’s not really. Often goals get signed-off on after the 12 month period has started and then the evaluation will start ahead of the 12 months being up (again, this is most relevant to individuals who work in areas that aren’t tied to real number goals attached to calendar dates). With a little bit of extra thought it’s worth figuring out what you can complete 8-12 weeks ahead of the official review end-of-year write up. Why so soon? If you deliver results several weeks ahead of the end of the review period it allows you to make sure the right people hear about the results, see the impact, or provide input for the future of the work. Many times I’ve seen people plan to deliver on projects a week or two before the end of the review cycle and although they technically have delivered on the work the visible exposure of the project doesn’t allow full recognition of the project (for example if your boss’s boss suggests sharing the results with her leadership team there's no time time to do it). So if you’ve got some projects (like whitepapers, or presentations) that you have control of when they are delivered make sure to get them delivered early to allow maximum visibility. How does this help your boss? If her peers are familiar with the project, results, etc. it means she can spend time embellishing your achievements rather than talking just about what the project is and aspirations for how the project will close out over the next months.
And while you may be thinking this feels like smarmy self-promotion it’s not, it’s positioning the great work you’ve done in the best possible light for others to see what you’ve achieved. Remember this post is about making your boss’s life easy to discuss you in the review meetings.
5. Mini-review with boss (8 weeks ahead of review)
8 weeks ahead of the formal review process is a good time to reinforce your message and make sure your boss can speak on your behalf. Some suggestions:
Email your boss a short bullet list of accomplishments – use consistent phrases, and simple statements about contribution to the business or challenges. These have got to be simple. Include a few names of people who will vouch for work. Overall make sure your boss will be able to remember the content without reading it (or at least a quick glance is all that’s needed)
Have a 1:1 with your boss and talk her through the list. It’s not a heavy weight discussion, but quick reminder of what has been accomplished through the year – we bosses have a hard time remembering what got accomplished at the beginning of review cycles 10 months earlier.
6. Final reminder (2-4 weeks ahead of review)
Down to the wire, you should be reinforcing what your boss knows about you and any last minute accomplishments. Use the same mini-review mail you used a few weeks earlier with your boss, and highlight any updates. Keep the subject line findable so she can easily get to it when preparing for review meetings.
If you’ve taken action on any feedback from your boss’s peers then now is a good time to let them know you did or what the outcome or next steps are so that they’re reminded of what you’ve been up to.
7. Anything else you need? (1-2 weeks ahead)
Final step is to proactively ask if your boss needs anything else for the meeting. It never hurts to offer this.
That’s it! There is nothing worse than realizing after the management review meetings happened that your boss forgot some of your accomplishments or misunderstood your achievements. Taking these few actions will make your boss’s life easier AND make sure you’re seen in the best light possible during review season take a few of these steps.