Best practices for annual reviews and objective setting?
July 2, 2013 4:37 AM   Subscribe

I've just begun my first corporate job after leaving academia, and I absolutely love it. It's now the end of the company's fiscal year, and I have to submit 2 things: a self-appraisal of my work thus far that will go into my annual review, and my objectives for the next 2 quarters. What are your best tips for this practice? How do I make sure I impress my managers?

Overall this is very foreign to me. I understand basic principles, such as "in self-evaluation, discuss difficulties you encountered, systems you put into place to overcome them, and how that worked," or "underpromise, overdeliver" on objectives. I do have access to other employees' past objectives, but no guidelines for the self evaluation, other than it should be "a few paragraphs."

As I said, I really love this job. What are your best practices, either as an employee or a manager, for presenting oneself well in a self-evaluation and objective setting? Especially given my context as a newish employee?
posted by amelioration to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing to think about is the type of company you are in and your relationship with your manager. If you have good reasons to believe they play fair, you can be a bit more open in the appraisal and goal-setting. If it's still early days I would only write down positive achievements (if you have any mails where people have said "great work by amelioration" then you can mention those for instance). Save any more difficult points for a face to face meeting, and even then be cautious until you have some trust in the company.

For goal setting I'd normally expect to do that in discussion with your manager.
posted by crocomancer at 4:51 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a tip for self assessment. Think in terms of successes, challenges, training needs and goals. This is especially true where you are new to the job.

Your successes are your chance to talk about what has worked well, what you have achieved, and what you have enjoyed.

The challenges are where you acknowledge things were not always easy, but you position them in a way to talk about what you have learnt from them. Also - the challenges are not just about where you need to be better but also perhaps where the organisation needs to do something different too.

Your training needs are partly where you acknowledge your own limitations and lack of expertise but also where you basically make the pitch that if you got training in those areas you'd be even more awesome.

Your goals are what you want to achieve, couched to some degree in terms of "... and therefore it would bring this value to the business."

I would be wary of what you write in self assessment unless you are super clear on who the secondary audience is. The last thing you want is to be very open and find someone you don't know judging you on it.

And I'd be wary of blowing your own trumpet too much. When you think about what is impressive, think about in terms of how your boss or boss's boss will see it. One of my managers once gave me the corporate form for promotion recommendation and on it was "successfully organised the business unit social events."

For your objectives, sit down and discuss them with your manager. Really, it is a two way thing. You can give indications about where you want to develop but objectives have to be based on an agreed conversation between you and your manager.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:40 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to keep in mind is that you always, always get some constructive criticism. (I did not like this, coming from a place where I was absolutely stellar, if I can toot my own horn.)
Also, if you're grading yourself, make a range of the grades - so not all 4s out of 5s, but vary it up. Definitely put in anything concrete you can - making deadlines, putting on a great presentation that people gave you good feedback on, good emails, etc.
I have no comment on the goals, because I ... really don't give a * about my goals. :-)
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:42 AM on July 2, 2013

Treat your self-assessment much the same way you would if you were adding this job to your resume; and the nice thing is you can go into more detail than you would on a resume. You don't want it to come across as all bluster, but by all means highlight your successes. This is an opportunity to advocate for yourself, and influence what the written record has to say about your performance.

If your company has explicitly stated descriptions of the primary duties associated with your job title, that's an option for how you might organize your thoughts: if one of the main things I am expected to do is X, then I might lead with, or emphasize my achievements in X (and point out how I might have gone above and beyond what was expected, resulting in concrete benefits Y and Z).
posted by fikri at 5:59 AM on July 2, 2013

Good advice here so far...every company is different though--some like you to talk about your cultural activities as well, some would prefer straight goals/accomplishments. I write mine like a story usually: "This quarter began with X Y and Z happening and this is how I dealt with it." I'd also beware of being too harsh on yourself. Don't bring up any challenge or area of improvement unless you have a solution that is ALREADY underway. "I think I still have room to improve as an analyst which is why I've taken on the task of ABC which is doing wonders for my skills."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:09 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that in some firms the goal setting/performance review is used as metric to guage your improvement year over year as well as becomes a factor in your promotions. Instead of just sitting down once a year, make a point to do a formal checkpoint with your manager at least every 3/4months to ensure you've got something to work on. Your boss should also be evaluating you, so ideally both of you will sit down and review both assesments to see where they are the same, and where they diverge and why. If this isn't something that is formally set up, push your manager to do it anyways.

(ie if all you have is one project that you work on and it gets stalled, it is very, very easy to have a mediocore year on paper, but if you have a few side things going on, even if the main project flounders, you can toot your horn on the lower hanging fruit, and then work your "gains" there into a plan for your main project)
posted by larthegreat at 6:17 AM on July 2, 2013

Yeah, don't take this too seriously, no one enjoys it, and it's pretty much a haze of smoke, followed by some mirrors.

Managers get all hot and bothered about SMART goals. So draft a couple of goals where you can do the whole, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound, thing. No whiffy, or ambiguous goals.

If you have a project that you've started, use that as the basis for your goal. Make it fail-proof.

Going to a conference or taking training can be a goal.

As for your performance appraisal, site specific items:

1. Developed the Apex Pricing Spreadsheet
2. Reviewed and scrubbed 130,000 records for the Compass Database
3. Completed the Introduction to Introductions training class and passed the assessment with 99%.

If you encountered any challenges, be sure to site these and put some nice bs around them.

While scrubbing the records for the Compass Database conversion, noted that there were a significant number of duplicates, by using a third-party app, was able to remove duplicate records, and reduce the total number of records to import by 30%. The app saved the project 200 man-hours and saved the project $3,000 in overtime costs.

Like that there.

If you need to improve on something, make it dependent on taking a training class, it's not that you have failings as a worker, it's that you don't have the techniques until you learn them.

You won't impress your managers, in fact ever since I stopped investing in my reviews, I've been a much happier and productive Bunny.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

What Ruthless said. Except for the investing part. Depending on your organization, your boss might might be using your assessment as an cheat sheet to argue for your compensation. If not, and you don't like your compensation changes, you can use your assessment as an objective place to start a conversation. Of course your organization might not tie compensation to performance. In which case, d'oh!
posted by maulik at 6:48 AM on July 2, 2013

I disagree with Ruthless Bunny; I assume this differs from company to company, but where I work, the self-appraisal is read and taken seriously, and is your chance to make your case and identify your contributions. Other people might not realize all the things you did. List your achievements for the past year, with an eye to what's important to the company including leadership and revenue generation (generated revenue or saved money by doing X; made Y process more efficient; led cross-departmental team to accomplish Z). List at least two specific areas where you could improve and how you plan to do that. If there's anything negative, explain briefly why it happened, take responsibility, and describe what you learned from it and what you'll do differently.

Your objectives are a chance for you to direct your own work. Obviously they should be objectives the company cares about, but here's your opportunity to say what you care about and want to work on, and make a pitch for doing it.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:00 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have been known to lift whole sentences from previous year's evaluations, so you can imagine just how closely my company looks at these.

For your goals, I would choose one specific, quantifiable thing like "improve sales margins by X" or "get Y number of new customers", one technology-based thing like "learn how to do pivot tables", and one fuzzy thing like "get better at public speaking."

Then during the upcoming year, be sure to keep track of those things. I have a folder in my drawer called "WHAT HAVE I DONE?" where I drop in reminders of things I've done throughout the year - reports, emails, notes from a meeting, whatever will trigger a memory. You always think you'll remember perfecting that TPS report in November, but come May, you've forgotten all about it.
posted by lyssabee at 7:59 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

In terms of setting goals, you should under promise to some extent. That way you can over deliver and be sitting pretty when the next review period rolls around.
posted by hazyjane at 9:21 AM on July 2, 2013

Go through your calendar and notes, and make a list of accomplishments, no matter how small. For large accomplishments, sell yourself, toot your horn, etc. Do not provide any self-criticism, at all, maybe except for your perfectionism, terrible tendency to arrive early & work late, workaholism, etc. Re-read your job description and list all the ways you've accomplished the job requirements. If you have written, electronic or web-based samples of your fabulousity, bring them. Think about real goals, and then define some measurable accomplishments for those goals. They should be readily achievable. Include resources you need, like funds to attend conferences, software, etc. You don't have to put every detail in your page of self-review, but listing it will bolster your confidence for the process. Bring it to the meeting with your boss, work in as many details as possible during the meeting.

As a supervisor, I never put anything bad in a review that the staffer didn't hear about well beforehand. I loved it when a staff member made it easy for me to write a good review, and helped me work with them to be a great employee.
posted by theora55 at 10:43 AM on July 2, 2013

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